First published in 1971, Rules for 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.
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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.