Radicals are focused on the future – usually the distant future – the moment when they will achieve power and institute the reign of social justice. Consequently they view and evaluate the present and the past instrumentally – as means to annihilating their adversaries and achieving power and thus instituting the happy future. From an instrumental perspective, it is always helpful in a political battle if your opponents can be portrayed as defending an indefensible and — better still — evil past rather than whatever it is they actually happen to be defending, and thus if they can be identified with that evil themselves.
If conservatives defend the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, and oppose racial preferences, why not compare them to slave owners and call them “racists?” If they oppose disloyal, dishonest and violent radicals, it might be helpful to call them Nazis. If liberals or even other leftists who share your progressive goals, nonetheless don’t like your methods, how about referring to them as “objectively” fascist?
This was in fact the exact term Stalin used to denounce the Marxist critics of his policies during the Thirties before he put them in front of firing squads. Alinsky’s logic and strategy are the same. Critics of the methods radicals use, Alinsky writes, are really critics of the methods the Have-Nots use against the Haves. “In fact, they are passive — but real – allies of the Haves.” And therefore of the Nazis:
“These non-doers were the ones who chose not to fight the Nazis in the only way they could have been fought.” (pp. 25-26)This is the way Alinsky’s mind works, and it is the way the totalitarian mind works as well. There is one party, one strategy, one tactic, one truth. And on the other side, there is the personification of evil.
Alinsky refers to himself and other radicals on the very first page of his book in these exact words:
“Few of us survived the Joe McCarthy holocaust of the early 1950s.”What holocaust? There was no holocaust or extermination (or even jailing) of Communists because they were Communists during the 1950s – or at any other time in America. And this, even though Communists were loyal to a foreign power and committed to their own country’s destruction. Alinsky’s remark is a lunatic discourse, but he can introduce it casually and without needing to defend it because he can be confident that his radical readers – the president of the United States included – will not find it so . Because that is their discourse: the forces of light against the forces of darkness — the champions of the poor and oppressed against their racist, sexist, homophobic oppressors. And if this is the case, what other morality could there be besides “which side are you on”?
Alinsky’s rules for dismissing all ethical concerns are the totalitarian rules of radicals from Marx to Lenin, to the Khmer Rouge and Hamas . They derive from a common Manichean outlook which sees the world as being ruled by the forces of darkness – the racist, sexist Haves – and challenged by the forces of light: the Have-Nots who are guided, naturally, by the people’s vanguards, the Communist Party then, the progressive left now. Do Palestinians deliberately blow up little children and use innocents as human shields to advance their cause? They do it because they have no choice. Because defeating the Nazi Jews is the only way to achieve their liberation. (Don’t get me wrong on this. Do Nazis exist? They do. But Americans and Israelis are not examples – are not remotely examples – of the species. The term Nazi is applied to Americans and Jews instrumentally, as a weapon of political war.)
Alinsky moves right on to summarize this advice as a rule:
“The judgment of the ethics of means is dependent on the political position of those sitting in judgment.”And then explains the rule:
“If you actively opposed the Nazi occupation and joined the underground Resistance, then you adopted the means of assassination, terror, property destruction, the bombing of tunnels and trains, kidnapping and the willingness to sacrifice innocent hostages to the end of defeating the Nazis.” (pp. 26-7)Note the principle that governs the argument: which side are you on? If you’re on our side, which is the side of the “people” and you are in a war, anything goes. And for the radical it’s always a war.
“The third rule of the ethics of means and ends is in war the end justifies almost any means.” (p. 29)