Saul Alinsky remains the man the right perennially most loves to hate. Somewhere in Heaven — or Hell — Alinsky’s surely enjoying a fine laugh.
Dr. Ben Carson, in his speech before the GOP Convention , departed from his prepared remarks. He extemporaneously added a riff on Saul Alinsky. He debuted this right wing crowd-pleaser in his keynote speech at the Faith And Freedom Coalition Gala, a speech which I critiqued at length in an essay at ThePulse2016, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, Saul Alinsky, and Donald Trump ). Here’s how it goes:
Now, one of the things that I have learned about Hillary Clinton is that one of her heroes, her mentors was Saul Alinsky. And, her senior thesis was about Saul Alinsky. This was someone that she greatly admired and that affected all of her philosophies subsequently.
Now, interestingly enough, let me tell you something about Saul Alinsky. He wrote a book called, “Rules for Radicals.” On the dedication page it acknowledges Lucifer, the original radical who gained his own kingdom.
Now, think about that, this is a nation where our founding document, the Declaration of Independence talked about certain inalienable rights that come from our creator. This is a nation where our Pledge of Allegiance says we are one nation under God.
This is a nation.
This is a nation where every coin in our pocket, and every bill in our wallet says, “In God We Trust.” So, are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer? Think about that.
I’m a card-carrying (low serial number!) member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy and a genial Theist to boot. I’m also deeply immersed in, and devoted to, the legacy of Saul Alinsky. There’s no contradiction.
Dr. Carson’s sly riff was riddled with errors, omissions and innuendos. It culminates in a rather shameful imputation of a Satanic cast to Hillary Clinton. Let’s set the record straight.
Alinsky’s “over the shoulder acknowledgement to the very first radical,” Lucifer, was amidst the epigrams to, not the dedication of, Rules for Radicals (which in truth is dedicated to Irene, Alinsky’s wife.) It is the third of three epigrams, following:
'Where there are no men, be thou a man.' — RABBI HILLEL
'Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul…' —THOMAS PAINE
His third epigram, mischievously referencing Lucifer, is contextualized by Alinsky’s lifelong credo stated by Rabbi Hillel. Hillel was one of the greatest and most revered of Jewish sages. That is followed by a patriotic epigram from the first of America’s Founders, Tom Paine, moreover referencing “the misery of devils.”
The context puts quite a different light on the over-the-shoulder “Luciferian” epigram:
Lest we forget at least an over the shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins – or which is which), the very first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom – Lucifer.
Alinsky (much as is Carson) was a provocateur. In Yiddish a mazik, an imp. He obviously intended to épater les bourgeoishere. The third epigram is entirely in the spirit of another provocateur, Sir Winston Churchill, who once observed, on the eve of Operation Barbarosa, “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” These fillips do not implicate either Alinsky or Churchill in Satanism.
Alinsky was conveying the opposite of the meaning inferred by Dr. Carson. In a long interview published in Playboy shortly after, before his untimely 1972 death Alinsky (a genial agnostic and proudly self-identified Jew, no Satanist, not even an atheist) was probed and responded:
ALINSKY: Sometimes it seems to me that the question people should ask is not “Is there life after death?” but “Is there life after birth?” I don’t know whether there’s anything after this or not. I haven’t seen the evidence one way or the other and I don’t think anybody else has either. But I do know that man’s obsession with the question comes out of his stubborn refusal to face up to his own mortality. 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.
Hello Dr. Carson? This is a counsel of compassion. Not evil.
If Dr. Carson had taken a moment from his misplaced glee even to casually study Saul Alinsky he would have discovered that Alinsky’s spiritual mentor was none other than Jacques Maritain , one of the great Catholic philosophers of the 20th century and a prime author of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Alinsky and Maritain maintained a multi-decade affectionate correspondence, collected in The Philosopher and the Provocateur .
In his final letter to Alinsky, Maritain writes, of Rules for Radicals,
A great book, admirably free, absolutely fearless, radically revolutionary. It brings to us the fruit of your experience as an incomparable creative organizer, –an experience which is both indomitable generosity and magnanimous sadness with regard to human nature, and which proceeds from the life-long dedication of the greatest man of action of our modern age. … I regard the book as history-making; in your final pages, about middle-class people and the possibilities they offer, have crucial importance; if middle-class people can be organized, and develop a sense of and a will for the common good,–and if Saul is there to inspire them!—they are able to change the whole social scene, for the sake of freedom.
Alinsky inscribed Maritain’s copy “To my spiritual father, and the man I love from his prodigal and wayward son.” Maritain goes on gently and trenchantly to dispute two of Alinsky’s points although not the epigram to Lucifer. Maritain does so with profound nuance and with deep respect: “you appear to me (that’s what you are in reality) as an incurable idealist, a living, I would say a heroic witness of Judaeo-Christian tradition and true democracy.”
“The greatest man of action of our modern age.”
“A heroic witness of Judaeo-Christian tradition.”
Alinsky was no Satanist. Nor was he a Stalinist, nor a communist of any stripe. Alinsky, in that Playboy interview, upon being asked whether he ever considered becoming a member of the Communist Party:
I’ve never joined any organization — not even the ones I’ve organized myself. I prize my own independence too much. And philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it’s Christianity or Marxism. One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as ‘that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you’re right.’ If you don’t have that, if you think you’ve got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide.
To anchor this point further, note that Alinsky was summoned to Milan by its then cardinal archbishop Giovanni Montini (later to become Pope Paul VI) to advise him on how to counter the “increasing grip of the Communist Party on the population of the Italian industrial North. They hoped that Saul might come up with ideas on how to reverse the rising tide without reinforcing the reactionary elements who had less interest in democracy than in squelching the working man.”
Saul Alinsky: Commie Fighter.
The plot further thickens.
Alinsky utterly detested Big Government.
Alinsky publicly called LBJ’s Great Society and War on Poverty “political pornography” … much to the consternation of Lyndon Johnson’s acolyte Sargent Shriver, its architect . If Dr. Carson had read past the page of epigrams in Rules for Radicals he might have encountered this passage at pages 122-3 (among many others displaying an identical ethos):
Self-respect arises only out of people who play an active role in solving their own crises and who are not helpless, passive, puppet-like recipients of private or public services. To give people help, while denying them a significant part in the action, contributes nothing to the development of the individual. In the deepest sense it is not giving but taking — taking their dignity. Denial of the opportunity to participate is the denial of human dignity and democracy.
Of course, Dr. Carson’s real target is not Saul Alinsky. Alinsky is a mere proxy by which to implicate Hillary Clinton via guilt by association. This attack, too, misfires.
Yes Hillary Rodham wrote her honors thesis on Alinsky (from whom she turned away, choosing instead to advance her humanitarian aspirations within, rather than outside, the System). I have written about it here in The Secret Hillary Rodham, Parts One and Two . The thesis is the work of a prodigy, well worth reading in its entirety. One passage especially stands out:
[S]ome New Left strategists …, although, disenchanted with Alinsky-like faith in individuals, apply many of his tactics in confrontation politics.
The problems inherent in such an approach, including elitist arrogance and repressive intolerance, have become evident during recent university crises.
Hillary turned down Alinsky’s job offer. And there is nothing unseemly in her thesis. Rather the contrary.
Hillary, notwithstanding our deep policy disputes, presented and presents as an excellent Methodist . Not a Satanist. Not a Marxist. Just an idealistic young woman concerned with social justice and how best to bring it about.
Alinsky had a major impact on, and might even be said to have redefined, modern politics. It is no accident that young Barack Obama and young Hillary Clinton, influenced by his work, went on to political glory.
Our political culture has not yet assimilated Alinsky’s profound ethos of human dignity — abjuring “elitist arrogance and repressive intolerance” — to the same extent that it has assimilated his tactics. Alinsky’s legacy very much remains a work in process. It’s a really valuable one that should be explored rather than grotesquely caricatured.
Misunderstanding and misrepresenting Saul Alinsky is an obsession on the right. Dinesh D’Souza is a notable recidivist perp . Charles Koch, in an essay in The Wall Street Journal , made the manifestly absurd accusation that Alinsky was a collectivist and was opposed to free and open debate. These are two principles to which Alinsky was passionately, courageously, devoted.
Newt Gingrich made Alinsky a regular epithet throughout his 2012 primary campaign. The list is too long to cite in full yet lest we forget, at least an over the shoulder acknowledgement to true fellow radical David Horowitz’s uniquely lucid critique of Alinsky, Barack Obama’s Rules For Revolution: The Alinsky Model .
Journalist Clarence Page concluded “I’m changing my view of Gingrich’s Alinsky obsession. It might be the result of love more than hate. After all, they have so much in common.”
Saul Alinsky, ironically, is the chief object of fascination of the most enthusiastic provocateurs of the right.
Currently prominent among these: Dr. Ben Carson.
Think about that.
Originating at Forbes.com .