News and Commentary

Stop The Alinskyization Of The American Right

Saul Alinsky, the famed 20th century Chicago-based community organizer whose left-wing revolutionary zeal and penchant for a certain brand of grassroots populism came to inspire a young Hillary Rodham and Barack Obama alike, was a man of deep amorality. Alinsky, though raised in a strict Orthodox Jewish household, came to embrace in young adulthood a profound skepticism of moral certitudes and a concomitant theological agnosticism. He famously dedicated his most widely-read book, Rules for Radicals, to the “very first radical”: Lucifer.

Lest there be any doubt what Alinsky meant by “Lucifer” (the nature of the Satanic concept being a rather marked point of disagreement between Jewish and Christian exegeses), Salinsky made clear in a Playboy interview near the end of his life what he meant:

ALINSKY: Let’s say that if there is an afterlife, and I have anything to say about it, I will unreservedly choose to go to hell.


ALINSKY: Hell would be heaven for me. All my life I’ve been with the have-nots. Over here, if you’re a have-not, you’re short of dough. If you’re a have-not in hell, you’re short of virtue. Once I get into hell, I’ll start organizing the have-nots over there.

PLAYBOY: Why them?

ALINSKY: They’re my kind of people.

It was in the aforementioned Rules for Radicals that Alinsky devoted an entire chapter to a discussion of means-end justification. An iconoclastic revolutionary and Lucifer-praising pagan who unreservedly rejected as fantasy the very notion of absolute truth, Alinsky promulgated eleven rules concerning the ethics of means and ends. For purposes of American political discourse in 2017, I am bolding what I believe are the most salient of the famed organizer’s rules.

  1. One’s concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one’s personal interest in the issue.
  2. The judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment.
  3. In war, the end justifies almost any means.
  4. Judgment must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred, and not from any other chronological vantage point.
  5. Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa.
  6. The less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of means.
  7. Generally, success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics.
  8. The morality of a means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory.
  9. Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.
  10. You do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments.
  11. Goals must be phrased in general terms like “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” “Of the Common Welfare,” “Pursuit of Happiness,” or “Bread and Peace.”

​Considering all eleven but focusing more closely upon the five bolded rules, it follows rather obviously that the famed heretic’s teachings amount to an apologia for the notion that a cause’s ends can almost always justify its means. After all, all one needs to do is convince oneself that the cause is just, that the opponent sits in a position of loftier power, that the current predicament is best described as a “war,” and that anything less than drastic action in this very instant would lead to calamity.

A man with normative preferences regarding society’s “haves” and “have-nots” reeking of Marxist provenance, Alinsky would come to inspire generations of American left-wingers. He regularly corresponded with then-Hillary Rodham in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He famously inspired his posthumous successor, Barack Obama, as a leading Chicago community organizer. Ever since the campus radicals of the 1960s, more generally, Alinsky’s influence on the American Left has been nothing short of ubiquitous. Today, the frequent incendiary excesses of sundry left-wing groups like Black Lives Matter and Students for Justice in Palestine follow quite clearly from Alinskyite precepts; ditto the very nature of the on-campus “safe space,” the illiberal “micro-aggression,” and the fascistic shouting down of polemical right-of-center orators such as the hapless Charles Murray.

None of this is new or remarkable. What is fairly remarkable, however, is the lamentable extent to which this Alinskyite sentiment, hitherto confined to the American Left, has insidiously corroded large pockets of the once-immune political Right.

What good is our fight, after all, if we become so consumed with victory that we lose sight of why we are fighting in the first place?

Many who supported Donald Trump in the GOP presidential primary did so not based on a desire to see any concrete policy position effectuated, but based on the amorphous notion that Trump “fights.” It didn’t matter that Trump espoused non-conservative positions on nearly every policy litmus test imaginable. What mattered, instead, was the cocksure attitude of many that Trump was so anti-establishment, and was such an outsider, that he would be best equipped, by his very nature, to vanquish the Leftist foes. Insofar as the perceived end of a true anti-Leftism “fighter” justified the means of a candidate who did not actually philosophically adhere to anything resembling conservatism, GOP primary voters dabbled, however subconsciously, in Alinskyism.

Last September, an over-hyped and rather insipid piece of pseudo-intellectual fare, “The Flight 93 Election,” pervaded the conservative blogosphere like oil in the Gulf of Mexico gushing from Deepwater Horizon. The basic argument of “The Flight 93 Election,” that the republic would instantaneously wither and die with a Hillary Clinton presidency but might be so fortuitous as to live to die another day with a Trump presidency, encapsulated the binarist mentality that many on the pro-Trump Right evangelized in the months leading up to the general election. Insofar as the piece posited imminent defeat (of the entire American experiment, no less!) without taking the drastic action prescribed by its pseudonymous author, the piece advanced the pro-Trump cause in a distinctly Alinskyite fashion.

Last Wednesday, after a deranged Bernie Sanders-supporting Leftist ideologue hunted down and tried to slaughter congressional Republicans practicing baseball in suburban Virginia, many on the Right instinctively reacted by blaming the toxic atmosphere and aggressively combative rhetoric that currently permeates the nation’s political discourse. Conservatives, who traditionally defend the human agency of individual actors, and who properly lambasted Leftist attempts to blame right-wing talk radio for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and Sarah Palin for the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011, fell prey to the collectivist mindset and diminution of individualistic capacity for rationality in decision-making. Insofar as this reaction to the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and others on the baseball field last Wednesday evinced an idiosyncratic ethical judgment strictly dependent upon one’s own political position, it was Alinskyite.

Finally, last Friday, right-wing provocateurs Laura Loomer and Jack Posobiec decided to publicly disrupt a controversial showing of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in New York City’s Central Park. Notwithstanding that the Right has (properly) excoriated on-campus Leftist “snowflakes” for years over their penchant for the heckler’s veto and obstinate refusal to consider speech that may potentially offend some members of the university populace, many on the Right took to defend Loomer and Posobiec. Some did so on the hopeless grounds that the situations can be morally or intellectually distinguished (spoiler alert: they can’t); many others did so (and have previously done so) on the least common denominator grounds of stipulating that we on the Right have gotten to the point where we simply cannot unilaterally disarm, and that we must fight fire with fire. But insofar as this mentality relies upon a distinctly civil war mindset that is rhetorically provocative but also irresponsible and ultimately inaccurate, this race to the bottom that imitates the Left’s amoral tomfoolery is emblematic of Alinsky’s third rule—in war, the end justifies almost any means—for means-ends justification.

Much to the chagrin of those in the Posobiec/Cernovich/Infowars “Right,” many of us urging such a calibrated combative strategy still fight the Left harder than almost anyone else. Speaking personally, I literally first entered the world of conservative writing with a firebrand piece entitled, “Why We Fight.” I concluded thusly:

For the future of our republic, it is imperative that Leftists be stopped in their tracks. They are wrong and they are dangerous. When Benjamin Franklin spoke of “a republic — if you can keep it,” it was with folks precisely like contemporary Leftists in mind.

All of us want to see the Left, as political opponents, defeated. We all want conservatism to prevail, for human flourishing to endure, and for government to be limited to a size only large enough to serve its original Lockean purpose of securing the people’s preexisting natural rights. But the way to defeat the Left is not to stoop to the Left’s level, in terms of tactics. It is not mere sanctimony to urge that we wage combat in the public battle of ideas—in the iterative processes of persuading the public of our meritorious correctness and resisting the calcification of progressivism’s century-plus long one-way ratchet—in a way that corresponds to basic norms of civility.

What good is our fight, after all, if we become so consumed with victory that we lose sight of why we are fighting in the first place?

So stop the relativistic mindset of only caring about winning the “war,” be it against the institutional political Left or the Left’s supine sycophants in the fourth estate. Instead, endeavor to re-discover and re-promulgate a principles-based conservative policy agenda.

So stop this profound pessimism that the United States of America, the greatest force for good that mankind has ever known, could be one leadership change away from possible political extinction. Instead, focus on dedicating ourselves, as it pertains to our political rivals, to a “live and let live” sentiment that is most naturally channeled through the constitutional conduit of American federalism.

So stop this belittling of individual human agency and glorification of the collective. Instead, we can strive, as Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro put it, “to use language we can defend morally,” whilst also recognizing that, in a free society, individuals are always responsible for their own actions.

So stop imitating the campus Left’s inane “snowflake” frailties. Resist the temptation to utilize heckler’s vetoes to ostentatiously protest or shout down discordant or even offensive speech. Instead, recognize, as Justice Anthony Kennedy put it in the majority opinion of the well-known U.S. Supreme Court case of Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010), that “it is our law and our tradition that more speech, not less, is the governing rule.”

We are better than the Left is. For decades, we on the Right fought valiantly against our political foes and sought to win new converts to our cause whilst also claiming the moral high ground. It is time to start acting like that again. It is time to stop imitating the tactics recommended by a man who literally dedicated his magnum opus to Lucifer.

Stop Alinskyizing the American Right.

Follow Josh Hammer on Twitter

The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  Stop The Alinskyization Of The American Right