Monday, October 11, 2010


I continue with an SO-specific look at Saul Alinsky’s 1971 book “Rules for Radicals”*. There is a corresponding Post on my other site here.

As I’d said, the Master Post for this 3rd installment contains a discussion with all the page quotations.

Here I will simply get to the SO-relevant material.

In this chapter of his book Alinsky deals with Ends and Means: how do you determine what is an acceptable or unacceptable Means to achieve an End, a purpose?

Simple, Alinsky says: there is no general rule. In each particular situation, you have to apply your judgment to the particular use of a Means to achieve the End you want.

But this effectively rules out any Higher Law or any already-existing law as being allowed to interfere with that you want to do in this particular situation.

You can see where this could (and did) go when it comes to SO Mania laws: there is no Higher Law such as God’s, and there isn’t even the Constitution. You’ve got this ‘emergency’ here, this ‘war situation’, and you have to judge for this particular situation. (But, of course, he’s removed all the Law or law by which you must judge your options, leaving you with a wide-open choice of options for yourself. Neato!)

Machiavelli, whom Alinsky quotes even more than he does Marx or Lenin, came to the conclusion that as late-Renaissance European life and culture began to speed up, it was clear that ‘God’ wasn’t going to be a reliable referee for the game as it was now being played: God, as the gospels say, is willing to “let the tares grow with the wheat" until the Master of the Harvest comes at harvest time and separates the weeds from the wheat.

This doesn’t work for Machiavelli’s more human time frame, which – not surprisingly – seems to Machiavelli the more important time frame in Western culture as it was picking up speed and complexity in his day. The tares-and-wheat idea was maybe OK for a slow-moving, agrarian society built on agriculture and animal husbandry, but for a ‘world’ now building upon ‘business’ and ‘trade’, you needed referees who would reliably police the game in the here-and-now.

And clearly God could not be relied upon to do that.

The result for a Prince – responsible for governing and keeping safe and prospering his realm – is clear, in Machiavelli’s take on things: any Prince who tries to be ‘honorable’ and ‘virtuous’, trusting that God will vindicate him and keep him and his realm safe, is setting himself up to be a hot lunch for any opposing Prince who’s willing to ignore God’s rule and ‘do whatever it takes’. So, Machiavelli says, given the stakes of the matter, the only ‘moral’ thing for a Prince to do is to get down and get dirty and to get there faster than any opponent. Otherwise, not only the Prince but his people and realm will pay the price for his ‘honor’ and ‘virtue’. The only ‘virtue’ is to be the biggest, baddest guy in the valley.

You can see what might happen to a government – the Beltway, say – when ‘advocates’ start quoting Alinsky who is quoting Machiavelli.

Since God can’t do the referee work, then the government will just have to step up and take His place. That God – or the Constitution – might be working on a different frame of time and events OR that the Framers wisely foresaw the possibility of Stampedes and built protective speed-bumps and fences into the Constituion itself … those are not things Alinsky (or Machiavelli) thinks about; after all, the ‘stakes are too high’ to trust the situation to an unreliable referee or policeman like God, so the government will do God’s police-work for Him. And, no doubt the Beltway figured, do it better.

This, you might imagine, could set off some sort of race-to-the-bottom. And I think that with the SO Mania Regime it has.

Marx and Lenin, faced with the staggering complexities and incomplete justice of one of the world’s last great Divine Right monarchies (the Romanovs) that was at the same time developing into an Industrial power, though ruled not only by Wealthy businessmen but by a dense layer of hereditary Aristocracy … well, you can see where they figured they needed to give themselves all the space they could to ‘do whatever it takes’.

But Alinsky tries to ‘baptize’ the Techniques without all the ‘Communism’ and set this sort of dynamic loose in the US.

Yet the US is a constitutional republic with a democratic and deliberative politics. How can you deploy weapons that were designed to assault the rock-solid layers of a completely different type of society and polity? It’s like using a rocket-launcher designed to blow up tanks in order to open the door that’s stuck on your car … you’ve brought a lot more to the job than you can reasonably or safely use.

But the Beltway was eager to please a new powerful demographic, or at least please the Alinsky-trained organizers and advocates who claimed to represent the interests of that new big demographic. And it was the early Nineties, and the USSR had collapsed, and Billary was in the White House and there was no stopping ‘change’ now!

Alinsky had said that “The real arena [of life] is corrupt and bloody. Life is a corrupting process from the time a child learns to play his mother off against his father in the politics of when to go to bed; he who fears corruption fears life”. (pp.24-5)

Alinsky is a long long way from Carol Gilligan’s crowded but clubby breakfast table, with Mommy exercising her ‘intuition’ with all the authority of a Benevolent Despot to calm her squalling brood around the table.

And it didn’t do the Beltway any good to hear that ‘corruption’ is just a part of life and you make what use of it you can manage, as long as you mean well and it’s in a Good Cause.

Surely Bush-Cheney didn’t need to figure that they were being advised – and by one of the great and early ‘liberal thinkers’ (and Alinsky isn’t quite that at all) – that ‘real men’ embrace corruption and harness it; you can hear echoes of this in Cheney running up the flagpole the idea that America might just have to “walk on the dark side” to get her Great and Good Work accomplished.

But you can most certainly sense Alinsky’s presence in the SO Mania Regime. Here is a Great and Good Work, and an Emergency to boot, and if there’s anything that’s corrupt, it’s Sex Offenders, and so let’s do ‘whatever it takes’ and legislators would fail in their responsibility to their people if they let soething as general as the Constitution or some old abstractions like Due Process and Statutes of Limitation and Rules of Evidence and Presumption of Innocence stand in the way of doing the Right and Good Thing.

And if life is so corrupt (Alinsky) and Males are so permanently and naturally sexually violent (radical feminism) and if ‘victimization’ in these areas is running 10 or 50 or a 100 times more than anybody dares to think (Victimology) then you can see where there isn’t going to be too much left standing to slow down the Mania or at least try to keep it within some kind of proper channels.

By this point, Alinsky (like Lenin before him), in company with the radical-feminists and the Victimology types,has given so much away to the darknesses of human existence that he can’t imagine how any responsible man of action could in good conscience (so to speak) legitimately neglect ‘the low road’. (And does any of this sound familiar from the days of Bush-Cheney and the run-up to the Iraq War?). He draws an almost cartoonish pair of alternatives: you can either be some bloodless philosopher in an ivory tower or you can go out and do whatever it takes to accomplish some good in the world. Again with the adolescent oversimplification.

There is only the “low road” in politics, he says. Real men take it and don’t sit around worrying about it. Neither the radical Victimology types nor Cheney had to hear this sort of thing.

Alinsky offers several ‘Rules’ for determining the ethics of Means and Ends.

His first Rule is that the further away from being affected by a problem you are, the more you will waste time on ‘ethics’. The SO Mania Regime solved this problem by making Sex Offenses everybody’s problem because – it was insisted – Sex Offenders were everywhere, slavering like monsters or masquerading as ‘normal’ folks.

His second Rule is that your ethical judgment depends on where you sit. If you are in the middle of the bulls-eye drawn around you and your family by Sex Offenders, then you know what you have to do.

His third Rule is that in war, the End (Victory for you) justifies almost any Means. So there had to be a ‘war’ against Sex Offenders (or at least Sex Offenses, which is a distinction a little too fine for most folks). And Alinsky’s Revolution is more than just a ‘war’; it is and has to be a civil-war of Citizens against Citizens. Or at least against one group of Citizens who have been demonized to the point where they no longer have the rights of a Citizen and are, for all practical purposes, just another ‘enemy’. Call it a 'civic war'.

His fourth Rule is that you have to really be there in order to judge, and if you’re not there then you can’t judge. Neat – if you’re not part of the Stampede, you have no right to say whether the Stampede is a wise thing to set in motion.

He talks about Sam Adams, who played a great role in getting the so-called Boston Massacre going: heartless British troops firing on innocent colonial civilians. Unfortunately, one of the shot-up civilians, soon-to-be-a-martyr, confessed on his well-attended death-bed that actually, the Brits were just minding their business doing guard duty when a mob of tanked-up folks attacked them. This threatened Adams’s entire plan and so by extension threatened the possibility that there would ever be an America. What could Adams do? He had to denounce the dying man in public, calling him in a round-about way a drunken Irishman who was also probably a closet-Catholic. (Harsh words in those days – although, come to think of it, the ‘Catholic’ part seems eerily familiar, doesn’t it?)

Alinsky has no problem with that. And says nobody who was not in Adams’s shoes has the right to judge either. Which pretty much removes the entire rug out from under anybody who has to judge anything at all. But it’s war and stuff happens.

Do a bunch of folks have to be degraded and derided in public, even if the charges you are making against them aren’t really – ummm – true? If it’s in a Good Cause then it’s OK. This type of thing never ends, as anybody can see looking at the Sex Offense Mania regime.

The fifth Rule is that if you don’t have many Means available, then you really can’t waste your time passing judgment on whatever Means you do have. So if all you’ve got is a Hammer, then hammer away. Which explains, I think, why so many SO Mania laws don’t really seem to get at the source of such problem as there actually is.

The sixth Rule is that the more important the End, the less time you can spend on ethical stuff. But if this is a ‘war’ against the most heinous (perhaps evil) creatures on the planet, and if it’s an Emergency – then that means you don’t have time and cannot legitimately take time to think things through. In fact, legislators who might have objections to this or that SO Mania law have to be kept from taking up everybody’s time with their own ‘hang-ups’, don’t they?

The seventh Rule is that if you win, then nobody’s going to question your ethics. You can imagine easily that this is truly the LAST thing anybody should have told Bush-Cheney. But long before that, this was considered cutting-edge justification for the legislation – and the legislators – of the SO Mania laws. They figured that they’d be greeted as liberators and as the wise but efficient lawmakers who saved the helpless settlers from the terrible Injuns known as Sex Offenders; they will have cleaned up Dodge; or like Ben Cartwright and his boys, they will have come down from the Beltway-Ponderosa into Virginia City to clear out all the Sex Offenders.

The eighth Rule is that if you are losing and you have to do a particularly nasty thing, well that’s OK because you gotta do what you gotta do when you’re fighting a war in a Good Cause. Notice here that you have already declared yourself to be fighting a war in a Good Cause, so you have pretty much written yourself a free ticket for whatever you figure you have to do.

The ninth Rule is that anything you do that works is automatically going to be termed unethical by the opposition (and the people you use it against). So, of course, Sex Offenders will naturally claim that your Mania Regime is unconstitutional and corrosive of good government and of the integrity of legislation and legislators and jurists and prosecutors alike. But you just have to expect that sort of baloney from them – after all, you’ve ‘caught’ them.

But then too, as your integrity and the integrity of the entire ethos and edifice of Constitutional safeguards drains away, you’ve caught yourself in a terrible net as well. When Ben Franklin told everyone that America has a democracy if We can keep it – he wasn’t just referring to foreign enemies. In fact, he probably figured that the country was in greater danger from its own Citizens and elected officials than it was from any foreign invasion.

The tenth Rule is that you do what you have to and use nice words to make it seem moral. And anybody who has ever had to sit through an explanation of why this or that SO Mania law is ‘good’ will recognize this dark scam. (Although pols are verrrry careful not to talk – or be recorded talking – about their part in these laws, except at the particular rubber-chicken appreciation dinners thrown for them by the particular lobbyists and/or advocates.)

The eleventh Rule is that your goals and objectives must be phrased in nice and catchy terms that will get people to like what they hear. Packaging and appearance is everything, and don’t worry about the substance or the reality of the thing. You couldn’t read some of the pious legislative bleating that introduces the text of these SO Mania laws, or read some of the court Opinions and Decisions, without feeling like you were supporting the bestest thing in the whole world.

I haven’t overstated Alinsky’s Rules, although I’ve paraphrased them. You are welcome to follow the link to the other site and read them as quoted verbatim. It shocks to realize that this entire programme has been making the rounds of the Beltway (and assorted State capitals) as ‘cutting edge’ thinking.

But it explains, I think, an awful lot about where the stunningly repugnant SO Mania Regime and its laws came from and out of what noxious brew they were hatched. Alinsky is essentially deploying the ‘war tactics’ developed by Lenin for use against the Russian Czarist autocracy, and he is deploying them against the ethos of the Constitution. And, in a further ‘refinement’, his approach then passed through the filters of radical-feminism and Victimism, and the result is … what the SO community knows so well.

I think future generations of historians, when they look back at the period 1990-2010 in this country, are going to be amazed at how such a system came to be accepted with so little substantive and effective objection by the elites but also by the Citizenry.

Part of this is explainable by the fact that Alinsky’s system so cunningly and shrewdly masks itself – like the Trojan Horse or a chameleon – in the ‘acceptable’ language of democratic process that lulled so many into merely accepting the surfaces and appearances of the new policies without any serious Kicking of Tire.

And of course, for 20 or more years prior to 1990, the Goebbelsian technique of manipulating public opinion, itself a close cousin to the far more ‘innocent’ American approach to advertising (‘creating desire’ and ‘creating needs’), helped develop both the ‘Emergency’ that generated the Mania and the necessary public Stampede and also the Correctness that pre-squelched any skepticism and objections.

And Alinsky’s approach had, by 1990, already done its lethal work on American politics itself: a ‘war’ and a ‘civic war’ – some Citizens versus some other targeted group of Citizens – is all that American politics had to offer by then.

And in order to keep up emotions and precisely to avoid careful, objective, and even constructively skeptical Tire-Kicking and analysis and wide deliberation (which is exactly what any ‘revolutionary’ wants to avoid), that American politics had degenerated into a Manichaean us-vs-them dynamic, with each Party’s ‘base’ consisting only of those ‘true believers’ who were already convinced and were convinced that ‘facts’ would only confuse issues that to them were already ‘clear’.

So again I say to the SO community that the roll-back efforts do not simply help all of the persons caught up in the toils of the SO Mania Regime, but also help to recall the entire country BACK toward some more mature and effective politics than the lethal soap-opera into which We have descended, which is an abyss that will – I guarantee it – swallow the republic and the democracy and end that phase of American history that can legitimately be termed “The Great American Experiment” as the Framers envisioned it and “the last best hope of mankind” as Lincoln described it.

So much remains to be done.


*My copy is the paperback Vintage Books/Random House edition that reprints the original 1971 edition. The ISBN is 0-679-72113-4. All my quotations and page references will be taken from this edition.


To chez orig


  1. I find this very interesting. One has to wonder if citizens were REALLY allowed into the process of enacting laws, how many of these law makers would be caught in their own web ?

    Susan Ford writes about SHADOW WORK. This is not news, as Shakespeare quoted "the lady doth protest too much". People most outraged by things are often perpetrators of such transgressions.

    If the laws around sex offenses - all sex offenses including prostitution, adultery and sexting - were punishable, who would be caught in the web ? Brett Farve ? Tiger Woods ? Eliot Spitzer ? Bill Clinton ?

    Who ever followed up on the fact that John Walsh (Adam Walsh laws / Most Wanted) had a relationship with a 16 year old when he was over the age of 18.

    Who investigated Mark Lunsford - who was downloading pornography when his daughter was murdered ? (the authorities comment was that he had suffered enough, and did not prosecute)

    Senator Larry Craig (airport incident) pleaded to a lesser offense and avoided sex offender status.

    Who decides what is entertainment and what is a crime ? Consentual sex between teens a few years apart may result in lifetime sex offender status, but an MTV-like show can plan to have their "star actors" streak naked at a sporting event with young children present and walk away with minor violations that are paid off by the network.

    When compared to the "war" against drunk driving or drugs, which claims thousands of victims every month, habitual "killers" are given 2nd, 3rd, 5th and even an 8th chance to redeem their lives. Why are sex offenders shot after one conviction (or sometimes after a plea bargain)?

    How many tax dollars are spent on registration and policies that don't work to prevent sexual violence or crime ?

    Show us where the registration of sex offenders is working. Is it not always the begining of the news - "A registered sex offender ... arrested" Why did the system fail ?

    Law enforcement's nightstick approach to crimes that are psychological will never work. Knowledge and understanding of human behavior may be the key.

    Time to get smart !

  2. As with so many laws – especially in the past 40 years, when it has become Standard Operating Procedure – the idea was precisely NOT to let the Citizens participate through prior wide public deliberation supported by objective and accurate (and accurately phrased) reporting.

    Instead the corporate lobbyists and the organized (in the Alinsky-ite sense) social and cultural Advocacies, all of whom concentrated on the Beltway pols, staffs, and bureaucracy and the national media outlets there, did ‘deals’ in a classic (but no-smoking) version of the old ‘smoke filled room’ legislating.

    The reason for this was that so much of the stuff was precisely understood to be wayyyy toooo unacceptable to the majority of the Citizenry (‘majoritarian’ is now a dirty word among the Correct) except when they’re trying to spin a program as having wide public support. After all, since the ‘majority’ of The People ‘just don’t get it’, then you don’t waste your time with them … that’s an axiom straight out of Introduction to Revolution 101.

    BUT as the world has seen soooo often, those who make the laws (knowing, I think, what baaad consequences they would have) made sure that they themselves wouldn’t be dangerously exposed to the laws themselves.

    And THIS dynamic, I think, is especially dangerous in a democracy because it insulates the legislators from a vital reality (the laws’ effects on themselves) that provides a sort of ‘reality principle’ to legislators before and after the fact of their passing the law.

    And in the legislative histories of all of the major SO legislation you find that the laws themselves were voted on in ways that were designed either to shut-up any legislators who would make public objections on the floor or who would have qualms about having their name attached to a law by formal voice vote.

    Thus some SO Bills didn’t go through committee (where they could be debated ‘privately’ and thoroughly by the legislators on the committee) but were simply sent straight to the floor for a vote (so that if you had an objection you would have to make it on the floor and thus be open to media mau-mauing as being ‘for’ Sex Offenses or ‘soft’ on Sex Offenders or some such.

    And the laws were passed by voice vote: in that method the Speaker’s Chair simply asks for Ayes and Nays, listens to the loudness or lack of it, and pronounces the Bill passed into law on the basis of what s/he thinks s/he heard. No record of individual votes. L

    Later, legislators can tailor their ‘support’ for those particular rubber-chicken gratitude or fund-raising events thrown by ‘friendly’ and therefore ‘safe’ audiences, and the Press Release can be tailored accordingly to be passed along by a cooperative local media.