Saul Alinsky was a left-wing activist in the 1960s and 1970s whose “community organizing” was influential to subsequent political agitators, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. His book Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals gives his tactics for dealing with opponents and seizing political power.
Rich Logis has written a fascinating piece in at The Federalist entitled How Democrats Are Using Saul Alinsky’s Smear Tactics Against Brett Kavanaugh. (It was written before the #MeToo allegations against Kavanaugh from his high school days.)
In the interest of sharing the left’s tactical playbook, here are Alinsky’s 13 rules. From the leftist site Open Culture,,which adds the brief descriptions:
1. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood.
2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.
3. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.
4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.
5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.
7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news.
8. “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new.
9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.
10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.” It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign.
11. “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.
12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem.
13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
Note how people who disagree are characterized as “the enemy.” Note too the other military metaphors: “weapon,” “attack,” “target.”
Do you think conservatives could use these tactics? Certainly “ridicule” has become popular, on the right as well as the left.
I would say “conservative radicals”–defined as conservatives who have no other controlling principles, such as religious faith–could use them. But that Christians, for example, would have a problem with them, or at least should have a problem with them. Not only do they dehumanize the “enemy” (as opposed to “loving your enemy” [Matthew 5:44]), they also work on the assumption that the end justifies the means, which violates Christian ethics.
What applications of these rules have you noticed?
Photo: Saul Alinsky by Pierre869856 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons