Thanks to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, most Americans have at least heard of the godfather of community organizing, Saul Alinsky (1909-1972), and his 1971 book, Rules for Radicals. Turn on conservative talk radio any day and there’s a good chance you’ll hear Alinsky’s Rule No. 13 cited derisively: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, politicize it and polarize it.” It’s important to understand this rule, but I think it’s more important to understand why Alinsky wrote this book that continues to influence the American left.
In the book’s prologue, Alinsky wrote:
“The revolutionary force today has two targets, moral as well as material. Its young protagonists are one moment reminiscent of the idealistic early Christians, yet they also urge violence and cry, ‘Burn the system down!’ They have no illusions about the system, but plenty of illusions about the way to change our world. It is to this point that I have written this book.”
Sprinkled with religious language, profanity, Scriptural references as well as a dedication to Lucifer, Alinsky sought to guide members of the younger generation interested in changing their world.
Yet it’s apparent that Alinsky sought to give them something much more important than rules for radicals. He wanted to give them meaning for life. In the prologue he continued, “Today’s generation is desperately trying to make some sense out of their lives and out of the world. . . . The young are . . . looking for what man has always looked for from the beginning of time, a way of life that has some meaning or sense.”
On the last page of this manual that teaches community organizers how to take from the “Haves” and give to the “Have-Nots,” Alinsky wrote, “The human cry . . . is one for a meaning, a purpose for life—a cause to live for and if need be die for. . . . This is literally the revolution of the soul.”
According to the Chicago-based organizer, there were no fixed principles by which the community organizer should live, other than the 13 rules for radicals. He said that the organizer “knows that life is a quest for uncertainty. . . . He knows that all values are relative, in a world of political relativity.” Yet the atheist Alinsky wrote, “[T]he organizer is in a true sense reaching for the highest level for which man can reach—to create, to be a ‘great creator,’ to play God.”
He said that the young “are searching for an answer, at least for a time, to man’s greatest question, ‘Why am I here?’” In short, the writer told his followers to find life’s meaning and salvation in conflict-based community organizing for the purpose of taking from the Haves and giving to the Have-Nots.
When we think of Alinsky, we miss the bigger picture if we focus on Rule No. 13. However misguided, he sought to give his followers meaning for life. By sharing the gospel with modern-day community organizers, we can show them true salvation in Jesus Christ and life’s meaning and purpose in glorifying God.