Saturday, May 09, 2009

Thoughts on Saul Alinsky and "Rules for Radicals"

I started reading Saul Alinsky's book "Rules for Radicals."  I expected a ridgidly ideological screed with lots of capitalist denunciations, "power to the people" and other leftdumb slogans. However, I have been quite surprised at how good the book is and how free of dogma.  

On the subject of dogma, he writes:
This book will not contain any panacea or dogma; I detest and fear dogma.  I know that all revolutions must have ideologies to spur them on. That in the heat of conflict these ideologies tend to be smelted into rigid dogmas claiming exclusive possession of the truth, and the keys to paradise, is tragic.  Dogma is the enemy of human freedom.
Alinsky was a leftist, of that there is no doubt.  However, in the prologue and the first couple of chapters,  he says many things that I agree with and that are insightful and even wise.  He counseled the youth of 1971 to "fight for a better world" by working within our democratic system.  He says to them something that could have been spoken by Ronald Reagan:
We are not concerned with people who profess the democratic faith but yearn for the dark security of dependency where they can be spared the burden of decisions. Reluctant to grow up, or incapable of doing so, they want to remain children and be cared for by others.  Those who can, should be encouraged to grow; for the others, the fault lies not in the system but in themselves. 
A chapter that I find particularly instuctive is "Of Means and Ends."  He discusses the ethics of "the end justifies the means," but it isn't what you might think.  Alinsky disputes that the ends always justify the means; however, it may be true that in a particular situation, the particular end justifies the particular means.  He uses Churchill as an example.  Churchill was a devoted anti-communist, but allied himself with Stalin to defeat Hitler.  He was asked if he found it embarrassing to support the communists against Nazi Germany.  Alinsky writes:
Churchill's reply was clear and unequivocal:  "Not at all.  I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby.  If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons."
A modern example of particular ends justifying particular means might be the use of waterboarding on captured terrorists.  The sought after end was to stop planned terrorist attacks before they happen.  (And that is exactly what did happen, preventing a planned 9/11 style attack on Los Angeles.)

In spite of the many good points one might derive about Alinsky, he drops many clues as to his philosophy:  that he believes that we are our brother's keeper; that the plight of the have-nots, or the poor, can only be satisfied by taking away from the haves.  It is the mistake all socialists make, the false premise that undermines all of their proposed solutions:  that there is a finite amount of goodies in the world, be they houses, cars, food, clothing and Fender Stratocaster guitars (I want a red one).  To the socialists, the economy is a zero-sum game; rich people are greedy folks who have taken more than their fair share at the expense of the poor and underpriviliged.   The way to correct the situation is through revolution, the forcible redistribution of wealth.  It's a bankrupt philosophy.

I will keep reading the book, however.  It is well written and has a lot to interest me.  In the game of chess with the Left, it is wise to study your opponent's methods and strategies, so that he is the one who is checkmated rather than you.

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