"We have four boxes with which to defend our freedom: the soap box, the ballot box, the jury box and the cartridge box." - Congressman Larry McDonald M.D.
(1 April, 1935 - 1 Sept., 1983)


God Save The Republic

28 June 2010

Knowing The Rules

"The enemy, properly goaded and guided in his reaction, will be your major strength." - Saul Alinsky

If you are a frequent listener to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, you have no doubt heard them make reference to Saul Alinsky and his book, "Rules for Radicals." For the most part, the rules they speak about usually pertain to stratagem used by members of the current regime to help bring about a desired end by manipulating human behavior in opponents and the court of public opinion.

So, I decided it was time I learned more about Alinsky; to get inside his head so that I could better understand what his rules for radicals are, how many there are and why Alinsky had a desire to scrap truth, justice and the American way.

Prior to doing my homework for this posting, I had pretty much assumed that Saul Alinsky was an evil socialist son of a bitch and that his book, "Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals" was intended as a guide for all the evil socialist sons of bitches who are intent on the "fundamental transformation" of America. But, it seems I may have been wrong in my assumption.

Alinsky was an American community organizer and writer who died in 1972. He is generally considered to be the founder of modern community organizing. His organizing skills were focused on improving the living conditions of poor communities across North America, primarily in African-American ghettos. His ideas were later adapted by some U.S. college students and other young organizers in the late 1960s and formed part of their strategies for organizing on campus and beyond.

For Alinsky, organizing was the process of highlighting whatever he believed to be wrong and convincing people that they can actually do something about it. If people feel they don't have the power to change a situation, they stop thinking about it. (Note as a possible parallel: Alinsky was once ask, if because of his strict Jewish upbringing, he ever encountered anti-semitism while growing up in Chicago during the early 1900s. He replied, "it was so pervasive you really didn't even think about it; you just accepted it as a fact of life.")

During an interview, Alinsky was asked if he ever considered becoming a Communist party member and he replied, "not at any time. I've never joined any organization, not even the ones I've organized myself. I prize my own independence too much. I could never accept the rigid dogma or ideology, whether it's Christianity or Marxism." Playboy Magazine had compared Alinsky to Thomas Paine as "one of the great American leaders of the non-socialist left.

Alinsky was a Democrat (of the old school) who believed Americans, in the 1970s, were living in frustration and despair, worried about their future and ripe for a turn to radical social change and to become politically active citizens. He feared the middle class would be driven to a right wing viewpoint, "making them ripe for the plucking by some guy on horseback promising a return to the vanished verities of yesterday." His stated motive: "I love this goddamn country and we're going to take it back."

In the opening paragraph of chapter one of Rules for Radicals, Alinsky writes, "What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be, The "Prince" was written by Machiavelli for the Haves, on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots, on how to take it away.

Whether Alinsky was a bad guy with bad intentions or, a good guy whose ideas became little more than a useful tool from a useful idiot, to be used by evil, for evil, I'll leave for you to decide.

Alinsky's Rules: (He emphasizes these rules must be translated into real life tactics that are fluid and responsive to the situation at hand)

Rule 1: Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have. If your organization is small, hide your numbers in the dark and raise a din that will make everyone think you have many more people than you do.

Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people. The result is confusion, fear and retreat.

Rule 3: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of an opponent. Here you want to cause confusion, fear and retreat.

Rule 4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. "You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity."

Rule 5: Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. It's hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.

Rule 6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy. "If your people aren't having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic."

Rule 7: A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag. Commitment may become ritualistic as people turn to other issues.

Rule 8: Keep the pressure on. Use different tactics and actions, and use all events of the period for your purpose. "The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this that will cause the opposition to react to your advantage."

Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself.

Rule 10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, "Okay, what would you do?"

Rule 11: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don't try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

And that's it! Eleven simple rules that, when applied to nearly any confrontational interaction, can bring about, a somewhat predictable, desired end. However, in a separate chapter, Alinsky suggests that the perennial question, "does the end justify the means," is meaningless as it stands. The real and only question regarding the ethics of means and ends is, and always has been, "does this particular end justify this particular means?"

I believe it's important to know and understand these rules so that they can be recognized when put into play. This may allow for a non-predictable response to be given, turning their desired end into their failed end.



  1. About two years ago, I remember telling my wife, "if the enemy's playbook is 'Rules for Radicals', we'd better get a copy so we know what's coming next. It's stupid to talk about it like it's some sort of system that's impossible to beat."

    It's like we have to beat them at a game, and we don't even know what the game is.

    You know how, in tactical training, they talk about being behind the curve? When your situational awareness isn't good enough and you're suddenly looking at a drawn gun?

    Yeah, it's like that.

  2. Very informative post.

    Along the lines of what GrayBeard stated, we need to understand the tools and tactics they employ, and use them against them.

    Look at how successful they've been. Our country is as socialist as it has ever been in our history. They have patience and resolve. They are experts at propaganda. As Rohm said, they never let a good crisis go to waste.

    They've also found the weak, soft under-belly of their primary opponent - the Repugs - money and (at least temporary) power. Buy off one of the bastards, and you can get your way. The socialists understand this, and put it into practice.