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First of all, I must say that Scott Lange is a brilliant, gifted narrator. The material of this book is tedious at best, and obnoxious at worst; yet Scott manages to infuse the whole reading with interest, and maintain the attention of the reader. He does this, I think, by carefully varying the cadence and pauses, according to tiny variations in the material. I shall look out for further readings by him.
As regards the book, it would take another book to pick it apart its vile views and decadent advice, but hopefully the future listener, whether of the left or the right, will be able to note its defects themselves. Suffice it to say however, that if you are middle class, Alinsky repeatedly says that you lead a boring, meaningless existence, alienated from your children, and your only hope is to become politically active with him on his campaigns as an 'organiser'. Forget about the enjoyment of picnics with your children, or happy days fishing - for Alinsky you are just an empty drone, waiting to be programmed with his 'meaning' on another campaign.
One of those campaign methods is to consume masses of baked beans with your fellow enlightened ones, then go into a concert hall and all fart all the way through, as a form of warfare by sound and smell. Another method is to gang up on a lone woman administrator in her office, then shout her down for 15 minutes in order to achieve a sense of solidarity in your gang of bullies.
What Alinsky advocates is the exploitation of the vulnerabilities of polite, civil, democratic society, in order to achieve what he deems to be superior ends. The obvious consequence is our degeneration into an impolite, uncivil, undemocratic society, and once we've lost those precious qualities, we won't get them back.
Those tactics are all around us now, in the format of current political discourse. We live in an Alinsky framework. The split between left and right is getting wider, the lack of understanding is getting deeper, and the hatred is getting stronger. Alinsky's teaching that the end justifies the means so 'anything goes', is evident in the physical attacks on ordinary Americans for a hat they are wearing, or the shut down of speaker events by threats of violence, or actual violence.
Its only a matter of time before those being physically attacked learn to adapt to the new political environment, then the forces of left and right will be equal again, but we will all be socially poorer. We will look nostalgically at black and white tv debates between opposing sides, done with respect and courtesy. We will be surprised to see historical footage of protests where the opposing sides do not simply try to kill each other.
That is why everyone who is interested in political action should read this book, even when it makes them want to vomit. The ideas of this book are all around us, and leading us to a darker place. A better knowledge of just how corrupting and damaging these ideas are, may allow us to reject them before it is too late.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
I've read many books from the right and the from the left end of the political spectrum. Many authors who take aim at American capitalism fall short with an entrenched bias that weakens their critiques and inevitable solutions. No so with Mr. Alinksky. This is one of the first books that I have read that bore a chilling grasp of reality and an unapologetic commitment to attack thy neighbor. This man is not actually a documented socialist or communist...he's a pure strain of Anti-American capitalism that stands alone in its 'action' ideology. I found myself fearing his thinking as much as I did appreciating the cold logic he brought to bear on these pages. He doesn't seem to really want a peaceful society, but envisions a society that is constantly at war with itself from within. Make no mistake, the ideas of this book are dangerous because they are realistically cunning. He outlines his dismissal of ethics in social warfare and makes the age-old case for the ends justifying the means, step 1 for any evil enterprise. The most horrifying conclusion is who Saul Alinsky identifies as Public Enemy #1 in America. The Middle Class. Me, you, and 87% of Americans. Saul's call to arms is aimed solely at the Middle Class...to undermine that belief system...to ridicule that way of life...to mock and agitate the people of the Middle Class...and ultimately to convert a segment of the Middle Class into an ally against the rest of the Middle Class. Saul evens opens the book with a salute to the 'very first radical' whom he admired...Lucifer. Jeesh.
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Is there anything you would change about this book?
The book is a symptom of the age it was written in. The thoughts that provoke it are roughly 50 years old. Kent State, Vietnam, Race Riots, etc., are the stage for Alinsky's acts. Alinsky generally wants to effect "meaningful" change in the environment that surrounds him, and using "radical" political tactics to attempt it. What I would change about the book is not Alinsky's tactics, because they are just a symptom of the nature of what happens when you have large multinational corporations and all-powerful, unaccountable-to-the-people government actors. What I would change is our tendency in the USA to assume that bigger, larger, more government, "if there was just a law that" unbridled use of force by those in power against those not in power will solve our perception of what ails our country. We are our own worst enemies. It is not a left thing nor a right thing, because both use that power to retaliate against one another when they have it. Inasmuch, it is a vicious circle where human beings in general lose.
What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?
What was amazing to me is that for all Alinsky wants to change, for all his tactics, for all that he visions for the future, much of it has come to pass. Both of the major political parties in the USA use his tactics. Yet 45 years hence, his vision was short-sighted for the very reasons of his "change at any cost" tactics themselves in my honest opinion. "The Way Ahead" is the last part of his book which summarizes the very issues that have motivated Alinsky to write this book. The issues still exist today, regardless of the very use of his tactics. The Democrats are just as much war mongers as the Republicans. The middle-class is disappearing, the very people that he describes as bourgeoisie, and decadent. Yet we find that this class is the one that provides a stability / productivity function for the success of any nation. The poorest 1% of our country are the richest 99% compared to the rest of the world. The police are more militarized than anything we ever saw in the turbulent '60s, and instead of using the art of negotiation to diffuse conflict, the course of action is to shoot first, and manufacture evidence second. There still is no accountability. There is no equality of justice. "The silent majority now are hurt, bitter, suspicious, feeling rejected and at bay. This sick condition in many ways is as explosive as the current race crisis. Their fears and frustrations at their helplessness are mounting to a point of a political paranoia which can demonize people to turn to the law of survival in the narrowest sense." Does not each side of the political process not feel this way about the other? "Of all the pollution around us, none compares to the political pollution of The Pentagon. From the Vietnam War, simultaneously suicidal and murderous, to a policy of getting out by getting in deeper and wider, to the Pentagon reports that strain even a moron's intelligence that within the next 6 months, the war would be won." Can we cut and paste Iraq, Syria, Libya in place of Vietnam and get any different story? These are both the most and least interesting aspects of this story because we have history as our guide. You can't change the corruption of the military industrial complex, the political parties with the corporate lobbyists and PACs that play both sides of the aisle, the DC cesspool where "absolute power corrupts absolutely" by implementing "reforms" and restrictions that put more power in the hands of the corrupt and unanswerable elite and take away the power from the people themselves. The answer is individualism, accountability, competition, and equal justice for everyone, which is the antithesis of how our Federal, State, and Local governments operate today.
Did Rules for Radicals inspire you to do anything?
Yes, it did inspire me to recognize Alinsky's tactics in use today and how to formulate countermeasures against them. "It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle." -- Sun Tzu, "The Art of War", Chapter 3.
Any additional comments?
One of Hillary Clinton's mentors was Saul Alinsky. Understanding Alinsky gives you insight into the political actors that make up government today. They use his tactics on "both sides of the aisle." Regardless of how distasteful I find politics and these tactics, those that do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.
12 of 14 people found this review helpful