Saul Alinsky’s 1971 political commentary book “Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals” is framed as a practical guidebook for far-left progressives and organizers. It lays out step-by-step directions on how to change society and take power away from those in leadership roles in the community and country and instead disperse the power to the people. The book is often used today as the foundation for tactics and beliefs of many radical groups and organizations.
Alinsky establishes his notorious notions before the prologue even begins, with an epigraph of a quote by Alinsky himself: “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history … the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom—Lucifer.” Highlighting and acknowledging Lucifer, the devil, at the outset of the book implicitly lets the reader know where Alinsky stands, and where he, the reader, should find himself as well.
The prologue then points to the “almost unbelievable idiocy of our political leadership,” which Alinsky says the generation of his day grew up witnessing. He writes, “This negativism now extends to all institutions, from the police and the courts to ‘the system’ itself.”
Today, our political leaders, police officers, and members of the justice system and other institutions are harassed, belittled, and criticized on a daily basis: for racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism—the list goes on. But the evidence for these claims is sparce, and Alinsky can tell us exactly why that is.
In a chapter titled ‘In the Beginning,’ Alinsky spells out how to stir radical change, and the first step is to simply invent whatever issue the organizer feels will eventually get him to his desired end. “In the beginning the organizer’s first job is to create the issues or problems.” A community may have a problem already, but the organizer must magnify the problem until it becomes a real issue, at which point he can blame the “system” for its inherent racism, sexism, or whatever it may be.
How does the organizer create issues? “He must search out controversy … must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent … He must create a mechanism that can drain off the underlying guilt for having accepted the previous system for so long a time.”
The previous passage precisely describes the Black Lives Matter movement occurring today. The organizers, or BLM protestors, have made racism the most prominent issue in our nation by relentlessly stirring up exasperation and inciting violence out of nothing. They have created mechanisms of “white guilt” and “white privilege,” shaming people for tolerating this racist society for so long.
Alinsky says the organizer’s job is to agitate the target. “When those prominent in the status quo turn and label you an ‘agitator’ they are completely correct, for that is, in one word, your function—to agitate to the point of conflict.” Protests and riots work well as means of agitating, which we have seen no end of in 2020.
The tactics to do this comprise a significant section of “Rules for Radicals.” Alinsky writes that, when choosing a target, “it must be a personification, not something general and abstract such as a community’s segregated practices or a major corporation or City Hall.” Minnesotans saw this in action blatantly this summer, when BLM protestors chose President of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis Bob Kroll as their target following the death of George Floyd. They protested directly outside of Kroll’s home in Hugo, Minnesota, yelling vulgar statements and engaging in disorderly conduct.
The chapter titled ‘The Education of an Organizer’ gives a list of the qualities an organizer needs to have in order to effect change and flip power. One of these essential qualities is irreverence, which comes from curiosity. The “questioner” must wonder about every aspect of society as he knows it, examining constantly whether the status quo is ethically right for the majority of people.
“The function of an organizer is to raise questions that agitate, that break through the accepted pattern,” Alinsky writes. His “Rules for Radicals” functions as an absurd call to action among progressives. It demands that young radicals manipulate their leaders and enemies, and that they victimize themselves by blaming others.
If the left-leaning population in our country continues to rely on the teachings of Saul Alinsky, on the rhetoric that says agitating and disrespecting is the best and only way to create change, we will not have the perfect society Alinsky alludes to. Instead, we will have a nation full of angry, discontent, violent people—on both sides of the political spectrum—and more problems than we had to begin with.