Though short, this book can be quite challenging. First, it was written in 1971, an era that evokes images of bad clothing and ill-kempt people (only partially redeemed by some mighty fine music). Second, as are most things leftist, it is relentlessly negative. God, these people are unhappy. Finally, much of the book is written in “leftist-ese,” which means it contains rambling statements filled with the type of hollow thoughts that you get from college professors. They use multi-syllabic words to dress up their ignorance. While it may have been written for people taking LSD, it is, unfortunately, a deadly serious book.
If you are seeking to be offended, it won’t take long. On the third page of the prologue, Alinsky states his belief in “…the realization that all values and factors are relative, fluid, and changing.” Thus, he takes very little time to establish his faith in moral relativism – something you could have no doubt assumed -- but which he quickly confirms.
Alinsky divides the world into the Haves, the Have-nots, and the “Have some but want a lot more.” He has very little respect for the Have-nots, a group of people in America that has produced tremendous business and political leaders because we have income mobility. He writes that “The Have-nots have a limited faith in their own judgment. They believe the Haves are more intelligent and more competent.” He establishes the philosophy that you can lead the Have-nots wherever you want to take them.
Overall, Rules for Radicals is an effective primer on how to start a revolution. Alinsky defines the keywords you need to understand, and how best to communicate them. He dedicates an entire chapter to community organizers (sound familiar?), in which he emphasizes the key points necessary to effectively organize. Another chapter discusses whether the ends justify the means, and he ultimately rationalizes that accomplishing your objectives by virtually any means is acceptable (since by Alinsky’s definition, others have done so in the past).
The heart of the book is the chapter on tactics, in which he enumerates and describes thirteen of them. Let me list the key ones: