Rules for Radicals, Part 2

2 02 2010

As I mentioned yesterday, there were a few important things I missed out on or simply didn’t have room for while writing my book review on Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.

For one, I simply didn’t feel that it was necessary to belabor the fact that yes, many of those in power now (or those that advise them) have successfully internalized much of what Alinsky outlined.  Conservative talk hosts and pundits have done a great job driving this point home, but I’m not quite sure to what end: yes, Obama may have used it to get his first state senate speech and every position of power that followed, but that doesn’t make it a bad method.

I’m worried that a potentially invaluable set of political tactics may have been hopelessly stigmatized because of the values that they have been used to advance, not any inherent flaws or evils in the tactics themselves.  Think of them in the same way I like to think of guns: on the one hand, you have brutal murderers like Mao Zedong recognizing that “political power grows from the barrel of a gun,” and on the other, you have underdog American Revolutionaries using guns to overcome a mighty empire.  Tactics, like guns, are tools, and can be used for good or for evil.

And on that violent note, I’m pretty impressed that Alinsky shunned violent tactics early on in his text.  He criticized the young, self-destructive and violent revolutionaries of the 60s as suicidal cop-outs, destined to polarize public opinion against the leftist cause.

Hell, he even panned flag burnings, instead suggesting that one should reclaim the true meaning of a great and beloved national symbol—work to make it stand for true liberty, true justice, and true equality instead of simply creating a public spectacle.  I may fervently disagree with the man’s conception of what the true meanings of those words are, but I think you can see the brilliance and simplicity of his point.

When even a leftist like Alinsky calls you an ineffective loser...

That ties nicely into a larger, broader theme: working within the system.  Conservatives and libertarians may be tempted to, in effect, work outside of the system by latching on to third parties or just sitting seemingly fruitless elections out, but Alinsky would recognize this as a cop-out.  We are blessed and cursed with an electoral system in which 51% of the mob takes all; this can be used to our advantage.

Instead of clamoring for a third party or bitching about the lack of good GOP candidates, get involved with your local GOP and take charge.  As Alinsky urged, be the delegates the next nominating convention.  Will this take a lot of work?  Yes, but that’s the price one has to pay to consider oneself an active, engaged citizen.  If you cannot in some way commit and contribute to this cause, you have no right to complain when someone you emphatically disagree with gets elected to the office of the President, the governor, or the local dogcatcher.

And as for proof as to whether this type of behind-the-scenes, low-intensity activism works, look at who is President now.  Would a candidate like Obama have been nominated thirty or more years ago (and no, I’m not talking about race), let alone win?  You don’t have to wear a beret and go down in a hail of gunfire to be a revolutionary; in fact, while you might wind up on a t-shirt, you won’t get a whole lot done in the long run.  Seize control of the political machinery at your disposal.

Lastly, since this is getting long, it’s important to keep focus on the long-term goal you are fighting for and keep a positive, upbeat, and confident demeanor as you move forward.  Probably my favorite quote from the book:

A word about my personal philosophy.  It is anchored in optimism.  It must be, for optimism brings with it hope, a future with a purpose, and therefore, a will to fight for a better world.  Without this optimism, there is no reason to carry on.

Yeah, yeah, I know, the Hopemeister may have taken this theme a bit to far during his campaign (and yes, there are a bunch of passages concerning change in the text as well), but there’s a reason Obama made “hope” such a central feature of his campaign.

Conservatives and libertarians are often portrayed (by other students of Alinsky, no doubt) as “anti-progress.”  We’re slowing down society’s natural, humane evolution, or some such garbage.

Before we even try winning elections, we need to combat that perception.  Leftists do not have a monopoly on brighter, more hopeful futures. I believe that freedom, be that economic freedom or personal freedom, is the real key to a better world.  I’m sure many of you do as well.  Never lose sight of the fact that this is the true reason you are fighting for liberty.

It’s easy to be defeatist, especially in light of current economic circumstances.  But if you are a defeatist, that implies that someone has already defeated you.  Throw off the chains of defeatism, go forth, and be a revolutionary.

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One response

3 02 2010
Min

Well said, Graham.

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