Saul Alinsky

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Saul Alinsky (30 January 1909–12 June 1972) is Satan incarnate was a 20th-century American activist who campaigned for the poor in Chicago and elsewhere in the US. He was born to poor Jewish immigrants and raised in the Jewish faith; as an adult, he considered himself an agnostic[1]:108-109 but always answered that his religion was Judaism.[2] He is most famous for his final book, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (1971). He explained that he wrote the book because Machiavelli had written The Prince for the Haves, but nobody had written an equivalent book for the Have Nots. As you can probably deduce from the book's title and the reason it was written, Alinsky is one of the right-wing's gold-level liberal boogeymen. Notably centrist, non-radical Democrat Hillary Clinton was formerly an admirer, writing her senior thesis on his ideas, which led a lot of right-wingers to hate both of them even more when they found out the connection.[3]


Rules for Radicals sets out rules for organizing and campaigning, while leaving it open exactly what to organize and campaign for - he believed in letting communities decide that. His rules pay attention to the importance of appearances and optics, such as with ridicule and fear. He argues for constant pressure, while being flexible in how that is applied, recognizing that groups need to change their tactics if individual attacks fail to land or counter-attacks strike home. He also emphasized the importance of making campaigning something that's not too much of a grind and people actually want to be involved in, something others often miss.[4]

The Rules[edit]

  1. "Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have."
  2. "Never go outside the expertise of your people."
  3. "Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy."
  4. "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules."
  5. "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. There is no defense. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage."
  6. "A good tactic is one your people enjoy."
  7. "A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag."
  8. "Keep the pressure on."
  9. "The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself. "
  10. "The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition."
  11. "If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside; this is based on the principle that every positive has its negative."
  12. "The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative."
  13. "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."

Right-wing influence[edit]

However, writers ranging from Brooke Obie at[5] to film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times[6] have noticed that far-right activists -- notably, leaders of the Tea Party movement -- often use Alinsky's methods to drum up support. For fundies and other wingnuts who would rather cut off their hands[7] than touch anything directly associated with Alinsky, there is a conservative rip-off version with a lookalike cover, called Rules for Conservative Radicals by Michael Patrick Leahy.[8] In short his writings seem to work as a good way of organizing a political movement of any stripe.

External links[edit]


  1. Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky by Nicholas von Hoffman (2011) Nation Books. ISBN 1568586779.
  2. Playboy Interview with Saul Alinsky: A Candid Conversation with the Feisty Radical Organizer (March 1972) Playboy reprinted in New English Review.
  3. Ben Carson Said Saul Alinsky Was Hillary Clinton's Hero. Who Was He?, Time, July 20, 2016
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Rules for Radicals.
  5. Brooke Obie (February 1, 2010). "The right-wing media hates Alinsky, except when he's shaping their movement", Brooke Obie, Mdia Matters, February 1, 2010
  6. Roger Ebert. "Saul Alinsky comes to the Tea Party", Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
  7. As ordered by Jesus in Matthew 5:30 and its redundant repeat, Matthew 18:8.
  8. Rules for Conservative Radicals at