Rules for Radicals

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Rules for Radicals
Rules for Radicals.jpg
Author Saul Alinsky
Year Published 1971
Language English

Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals is the third and final book written by community organizer Saul D. Alinsky. His best-known work by far, it is a follow up to his first book, Reveille for Radicals, and admirers of and even advocates for its modus operandi (see method) rather than its goals exist right across the political spectrum, including conservatives like Dr Carol Swain and David Horowitz as well as military and business strategists like Lawrence Freedman.


In Rules for Radicals, Alinsky wrote specifically to the 1960s generation of New Left radicals: "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."[1]

His "rules" derive from many successful campaigns where he sowed the seeds of class warfare with community organizing, getting people fighting power and privilege, whom he convinced people were the root of all their "problems". He uses several authors in the book who are associated with individual liberty, such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine. Alinsky uses the following quote from Tocqueville in the prologue:

unless individual citizens were regularly involved in the action of governing themselves, self-government would pass from the scene.

Tocqueville, like Jefferson, believed that government was best when it was limited. Alinsky believed the opposite, and in the book takes time to lament Jefferson as only caring for his own "naked self-interest in the clothing of "freedom," "equality of mankind," "a law higher than man-made law," and so on."[2] It becomes quite clear that when Alinsky wrote of "self government", he meant nothing more than base materialism and wealth redistribution.

The Hillary Letters

1971 Letter by Hillary Rodham[3][4]

In a letter written in 1971, Rodham had asked Alinsky when his new book, Rules For Radicals was going to be published:

"When is that new book coming out - or has it come and I somehow missed the fulfillment of Revelation? I have just had my one-thousandth conversation about Reveille [for Radicals] and need some new material to throw at people. You are being rediscovered again as the New Left-type politicos are finally beginning to think seriously about the hard work and mechanics of organizing. I seem to have survived law school, slightly bruised, with my belief in and zest for organizing intact."

Hillary's correspondence with Alinsky reveals that she has a primary focus on the ends, more than the means.[5] It also highlights that the correspondence is more than just run of the mill fan-mail. Alinsky's secretary, Georgia Harper, wrote that "Since I know his feelings about you, I took the liberty of opening your letter because I didn't want something urgent to wait for two weeks."

Despite the importance[6] of the discovery of these letters, it went unreported in the Mainstream Media.[7]


Clinton has been described as "Alinsky's Daughter"

In her 1969 thesis entitled "There Is Only The Fight"[8] she praised Alinsky and his methods for community organizing:

"His are the words used in our schools and churches, by our parents and their friends, by our peers. The difference is that Alinsky really believes in them...Alinsky is regarded by many as the proponent of a dangerous socio/political philosophy. As such, he has been feared - just as Eugene Debs or Walt Whitman or Martin Luther King has been feared, because each embraced the most radical of political faiths - democracy."[8]

Furthermore, she described Alinsky this way:

"He is a neo-Hobbesian who objects to the consensual mystique surrounding political processes; for him, conflict is the route to power."[8][9]

Because of the reverence that Hillary had for Alinsky and his methods, David Brock described Hillary as ""Alinsky's Daughter."[9][10]

The Alinsky Method

For Alinsky, organizing is the process of highlighting whatever he believed to be wrong and convincing people they can actually do something about it. The two are linked. If people feel they don't have the power to change a situation, they stop thinking about it.

According to Alinsky, the organizer — especially a paid organizer from outside — must first overcome suspicion and establish credibility. Next the organizer must begin the task of agitating: rubbing resentments, fanning hostilities, and searching out controversy. This is necessary to get people to participate. An organizer has to attack apathy and disturb the prevailing patterns of complacent community life where people have simply come to accept a situation. Alinsky would say, “The first step in community organization is community disorganization.”

Through a process combining hope and resentment, the organizer tries to create a “mass army” that brings in as many recruits as possible from local organizations, churches, services groups, labor unions, corner gangs, and individuals.

Alinsky provides a collection of thirteen rules[11] to guide the process. But he emphasizes these rules must be translated into real-life tactics that are fluid and responsive to the situation at hand.[12]

  • Rule 1: Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy 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 the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.
  • Rule 4: Make the enemy 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 that 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 usually more terrifying than the thing itself. When Alinsky leaked word that large numbers of poor people were going to tie up the washrooms of O’Hare Airport, Chicago city authorities quickly agreed to act on a longstanding commitment to a ghetto organization. They imagined the mayhem as thousands of passengers poured off airplanes to discover every washroom occupied. Then they imagined the international embarrassment and the damage to the city's reputation.
  • Rule 10: The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. Unceasing pressure results in reactions that are essential for the success of the community organizer's campaign.
  • Rule 11: If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive. Every positive has its negative.
  • Rule 12: 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 13: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Don't try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

According to Alinsky, the main job of the organizer is to bait an opponent into reacting. “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.” [13]

The astute reader can readily identify many of these rules on the "Talk" pages of Conservapedia. The enemies of conservatism and Christianity (or indeed any Religion) have practiced without end, Alinsky's "rules", especially numbers 13, 8, 5 and 4.

Of Means and Ends

In addition to his more well known set of 13 general rules for community organizers, Alinsky sets out a set of 11 rules on means and how to achieve any end.[14]

  • The first rule of the ethics of means and ends: One's concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one's personal interest in the issue.
  • The second rule of the ethics of means and ends: The judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment.
  • The third rule of the ethics of means and ends: In war, the end justifies almost any means.
  • The fourth rule of the ethics of means and ends: Judgment must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point.
  • The fifth rule of the ethics of means and ends: Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa.
  • The sixth rule of the ethics of means and ends: The less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of means.
  • The seventh rule of the ethics of means and ends: Generally success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics.
  • The eighth rule of the ethics of means and ends: The morality of a means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory.
  • The ninth rule of the ethics of means and ends: Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.
  • The tenth rule of the ethics of means and ends: You do what you can with what you have and clothe it in moral garments.
  • The eleventh rule of the ethics of means and ends: Goals must be phrased in general terms like "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," "Of the Common Welfare," "Pursuit of Happiness," or "Bread and Peace."

Alinsky concluded that anybody asking the proverbial question of "Does the End justify the Means"" is always asking the wrong question. The real question is and has always been "Does this particular end justify this particular means?"[15]

Politicization of all aspects of life

Alinsky did not believe that "politics" should be confined to political topics. He believed that non-political topics could be politicized for the opportunities they represented. In Rules for Radicals, Alinsky wrote:

All of life is partisan. There is no dispassionate objectivity. The revolutionary ideology is not confined to a specific limited formula.[16]

In this quote as well as his activities, such as the piss-in/fart-in campaigns, no aspect of life was off limits to be used for political gain. Nowadays everything is politicized and partisan. But in Alinsky's day, this was brand new.


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