Ralph Benko

Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicals, was one of the 20th Century’s most iconic provocateurs. “Alinskyite” has become a banal epithet on the Right. Many conservative politicians routinely link Barack Obama with Alinsky.

Obama and Alinsky never met. Alinsky died of a heart attack in 1971 when Barack Obama was around 11 years old and living in Jakarta or Honolulu. Extensive research has failed to uncover even a single reference by Obama to Alinsky. A short essay by Obama was compiled into a book entitled After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois. It concludes:

In return, organizing teaches as nothing else does the beauty and strength of everyday people. Through the songs of the church and the talk on the stoops, through the hundreds of individual stories of coming up from the South and finding any job that would pay, of raising families on threadbare budgets, of losing some children to drugs and watching others earn degrees and land jobs their parents could never aspire to — it is through these stories and songs of dashed hopes and powers of endurance, of ugliness and strife, subtlety and laughter, that organizers can shape a sense of community not only for others, but for themselves.

Vintage Obama … far more lyrical than Alinsky.

Alinsky was an aggressively anti-communist, anti-big government, populist with a healthy contempt for liberals. He seemingly would be more at home in the Tea Party than the Democratic Party. Jacques Maritain, Pope Paul VI’s mentor and prominent drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights called Alinsky “one of the few really great men of our century.”

Rules for Radicals, popular lore aside, is not dedicated to Lucifer, but to “Irene” — Saul’s wife and soulmate. Alinsky considered the highest good to be human dignity. Rules for Radicals, p. 122:

We learn, when we respect the dignity of the people, that they cannot be denied the elementary right to participate fully in the solutions to their own problems. 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.


Ralph Benko

Ralph Benko, author of The Websters’ Dictionary: How to use the Web to transform the world. He serves as an advisor to and editor of the Lehrman Institute's thegoldstandardnow.org and senior advisor to the American Principles Project.
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