Our Right & Left have lost their way. Saul Alinsky points to a better politics.

Summary: As US politics becomes a cacophony of lies and nonsense (now descending into street violence), we need to know that it can be better. This post reminds us of Saul Alinsky’s famous “Rules for Radicals”, which will work for any political movement.

“Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul …”
— Thomas Paine in The American Crisis (1783).

Let's reimagine the rules

American politics has become polarized by the conflict between two revolutionary movements, Left and Right, both seeking large-scale changes to America that would create a New America. Both are inchoate, immature in doctrine — in their early stages of evolution, fumbling towards goals neither yet understands. Both have lost their way. Their recourse to violence after the moronic Campaign 2016 shows their intellectual decay.

In 1971, Saul Alinsky published his Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals. It gives valuable advice for anyone seeking drastic reforms to America, no matter what their politics. Contrast these well-proven maxims with the folly guiding both factions today.

  1. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”
  2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.”
  3. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
  4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
  5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”
  6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
  7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
  8. “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”
  9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”
  10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”
  11. “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.”
  12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
  13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

The good news: the weakness of America’s Left and Right provides an opening for a true reform movement to gain support. It will begin with the decision to act by individuals — like you.

Rules for Radicals
Available at Amazon.

About the book

From the publisher.

“First published in 1971, Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals is Saul Alinsky’s impassioned counsel to young radicals on how to effect constructive social change and know “the difference between being a realistic radical and being a rhetorical one.”

“Written in the midst of radical political developments whose direction Alinsky was one of the first to question, this volume exhibits his style at its best. Like Thomas Paine before him, Alinsky was able to combine, both in his person and his writing, the intensity of political engagement with an absolute insistence on rational political discourse and adherence to the American democratic tradition.”

From the Preface and Conclusion.

“Today’s generation is desperately trying to make some sense out of their lives and out of the world. Most of them are products of the middle class.  …They have seen the almost unbelievable idiocy of our political leadership — in the past political leaders, ranging from the mayors to governors to the White House, were regarded with respect and almost reverence; today they are viewed with contempt. This negativism now extends to all institutions, from the police and the courts to “the system” itself.

“We are living in a world of mass media which daily exposes society’s innate hypocrisy, its contradictions and the apparent failure of almost every facet of our social and political life. …The search for freedom does not seem to have any road or destination. The young are inundated with a barrage of information and facts so overwhelming that the world has come to seem an utter bedlam, which has them spinning in a frenzy …”

“The great American dream that reached out to the stars has been lost to the stripes. We have forgotten where we came from, we don’t know where we are, and we fear where we may be going. Afraid, we turn from the glorious adventure of the pursuit of happiness to a pursuit of an illusionary security in an ordered, stratified, striped society. Our way of life is symbolized to the world by the stripes of military force. At home we have made a mockery of being our brother’s keeper by being his jail keeper.

“When Americans can no longer see the stars, the times are tragic. We must believe that it is the darkness before the dawn of a beautiful new world; we will see it when we believe it.”

Politics of Change

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about ways to reform America, about Campaign 2016, about Trump and the new populism, and especially these…

  1. Populism arises amidst American workers abandoned by both Left & Right.
  2. 2016 revealed the true nature of America’s left & right. It’s bad news.
  3. The “sucker punch” at the Berkeley riot reveals the rot in our politics.
  4. Fear the rise of political violence in America. We can still stop it.
  5. Stories of the Left & Right about the Berkeley riot reveal much about us.

Books to help understood what’s happening on the Left.

"Listen, Liberal" by Thomas Frank
Available at Amazon.
Right-Wing Populism in America
Available at Amazon.


9 thoughts on “Our Right & Left have lost their way. Saul Alinsky points to a better politics.”

  1. Reading the quote by Thomas Paine it is hard to realize that such wisdom and clarity actually once was the bedrock of this nation and republic. Meaning ….at the individual level how seemingly rare is it to be concerned about making a whore of my soul. And at the institutional,level those are foreign words, another language perhaps. How simple a code to live a life with.
    Following that there is “From the Prefqce and Conclusions”. Did Saul write that?
    We will see it when we believe it!
    Using the name Saul Alinsky in the title should garner a lot of reads and comments? No?

    Good one, FM.

    1. Breton,

      “Did Saul write that?”

      Yes, its from the book. I’ll tweak the header to make that clearer.

      “Using the name Saul Alinsky in the title should garner a lot of reads and comments? No?”

      No, unfortunately. Posts like this get fewer than normal page views. People want exciting tribal myths. About NAZIS and COMMIES and RUSSIAN PAWNS and PEOPLE DESTROYING THE PLANET. In other words, I desire for comics has spread from the big screen blockbuster films to the daily news.

      Citizens read the news to get informed and guide their actions. Proles read the news for thrills. We are the weak link in America.

  2. Fabius, you garnered my attention in the DNI days. I commented my disagreement and scepticism to your belief the Republic is dying.

    I kept returning. Now, all these years later, I have seen your points and feel foolish but with clearer idea about our condition.

    The Alinsky header didn’t turn me off because I know better now and see how I was duped by the “Right”

    After deep study of your site with all your links took a lot of time and turned out to be very worthwhile.

    Thank you for the information and kind regards

    1. Jordan from Croatia

      Ah don’t worry Longtrail, FM contributors were also right wing loonies scaring people about government deficit and debt while the private debt was the real problem. Also scarring people about ineficient US Army fighting while forgeting about lunacy of Middle East war policies.
      After so much arguing and FMs being selfapointed arbiters of who’s reference can be used and what economist is proper and can be used as a reference they started to learn something. They have a long way to go still concerning economic knowlege, but they got on the right track. But after all that, they still are not realizing connections of economic justice and social order.
      And still this will be taken as a badly motivated critique instead of encouragement to continue to understand money, banks and debt, or economy as a whole.

      1. Jordan.

        (1) “FM contributors were also right wing loonies scaring people about government deficit and debt while the private debt was the real problem.”

        Lies. I have always been clear that these are different problems.

        (a) My earliest posts on the FM website described private sector debt as a serious near-term problem. See this from Feb 2008, when people were still denying we were in a recession.

        (b) I advocated massive government deficits during the great recession. See this from October 2008.

        (c) I have described the US government’s debt, as do most economists, as a serious long-term problem — but have frequently debunked the doomsters (e.g., Governments cannot go bankrupt from 2010).

        (2) “Also scarring people about ineficient US Army fighting while forgeting about lunacy of Middle East war policies.”

        That’s a totally goofball comment. We have spent trillions on the military since 9/11, mostly buying weapons of little use — while failing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nations.

        (3) “And still this will be taken as a badly motivated critique”

        It’s taken as lies, for which you supply not a shred of evidence. Good-bye.

  3. Reading those rules, it seems like the Right learned them better than the Left ever did. But then a lot of the conservative thought leaders, I have heard, were pretty steeped in campus radicalism – they just ended up switching sides.

  4. The problem I have with Saul Alinsky is that he promotes tactics, primarily for disruption and doesn’t seem to have any thought for what is to happen when one side “wins”.
    He, himself, promoted far left ideas with little thought as to how they would really affect society. A prime example, although he is probably thoroughly pleased, were the Great Society programs. While appealing to the idea of helping the poor they tied the poor to the government for survival. The programs were continuously expanded and increased in funding until now roughly half of the population is dependent on the government for survival and a middle class life. The programs destroyed the family structure in the bottom fifth of the population, particularly among the black community. As little as 15 years earlier the black community had higher percentages of marriage, more children in wedlock, faster increasing income than the rest, and good prospects. Now it is the reverse for some 80% of the people in the lower fifth.

    Tactics do not win a war. Strategy wins the war, tactics win the battles. The left has strategically nearly completely radicalized the professors in a large majority of colleges, both big and small. The tactics were gradually dominating many large, liberal foundations and funds, and then using contributions to support particular people for college presidents and department heads. As a result, many graduates from 1980 on have only heard liberal views on nearly every social topic and have moved into nearly every nook and cranny of the educational system, much of the government civil service and down to the local level.

    Now it appears that the tactic is to make radical, impossible goals, such as medicare for all, into headlines for political campaigns.

    1. Logical,

      “primarily for disruption and doesn’t seem to have any thought for what is to happen when one side “wins”.”

      That nails it. It’s a common limitation of revolutionary theory. For example, Lenin developed an effective way for terrorists to overthrow a State, but did not explain how to keep the terrorists out of the new regime.

      “Now it appears that the tactic is to make radical, impossible goals, such as medicare for all, into headlines for political campaigns.”

      Hardly a new tactic. The conquest of space. The War on Poverty. The War on Drugs. The War on Cancer. The War on Terror. The War to Prevent Climate Change. That’s not a complete list.

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