Demonization of Saul D. Alinksy — mea culpa?

January 14, 2011

In a post titled Hoax Jared Loughner Facebook Profiles Created, January 10, 2011, Richard Bartholomew said the following about a hoax profile falsely depicting Jared Loughner as admiring various leftists:

The list of left-wingers is so stereotyped as to be absurd – Saul Alinsky in particular is primarily famous these days as a figure in conservative demonology rather than for anything else.

As I’ll explain below, I’m probably at least partly responsible — though unintentionally so — for today’s demonization of Saul D. Alinsky by conservatives. So, I’ll now speak up in Alinsky’s defense and respond to a few of the more egregious falsehoods that some right-wingers have spread about him.

I was probably the first person on the Internet to call attention to the now-notorious Saul D. Alinksy Lucifer quote. His book Rules For Radicals contains the following:

Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.

I quoted this back in 2006, on a page titled Saul D. Alinsky: A role model for left-wing Satanists, along with a couple of other quotes that seemed to be hinting at some form of Satanism/Luciferianism. I then wrote:

I’m not sure whether Alinsky really was a Satanist/Luciferian of some sort or whether he was just joking. He may well have been just joking. The man certainly did have a sense of humor.

When asked his religion, he would always say that he was Jewish. But, on many levels, he seemed to have distanced himself from his Orthodox Jewish background. For example, in Rules for Radicals, when praising Moses as a “good organizer,” Alinsky did so in a manner rather irreverent toward the egotism of the Biblical God (pp. 89 to 91).

Starting sometime after I posted this, right wing “conspiracy theorists” have had a field day with the Alinksy Lucifer quote. So have other, more mainstream conservative commentators.

Alinsky’s mention of Lucifer winning “his own kingdom” is apparently an allusion to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, in which Satan is the main character. Milton’s Satan was seen by various Romantic poets as a heroic rebel against tyranny. For example, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake argued: “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

See also my page on Satan and “Evil” in Christianity (and Satanism). Regardless of whether Alinksy’s reference to Lucifer was joking or serious, it will be helpful to you, dear reader, to understand some basics of Satanism/Luciferianism before we continue, if you are not already familiar with them.

In today’s religiously overheated world, it may seem very strange for a political activist leader, of any stripe, to make casual admiring or sympathetic remarks about Satan/Lucifer. But the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were a very different era.

The April 8, 1966 issue of Time magazine asked, on its cover, “Is God dead?” Soon afterward, Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan was founded. At least two celebrities (Jayne Mansfield and Sammy Davis Jr.) joined the CoS. Many years later, Michael Aquino wrote, in the Temple of Set’s General Information and Admissions Policies (GIAP) document:

In the United States the 1960-70s CE, despite [and in part because of] periodical psychopolitical strains such as the Vietnam War, generally represented a period of flourishing liberalism and freedom in personal affairs. Exploration and innovation were tolerated and encouraged in society. It was a time of breakthroughs in civil rights; of increased respect for racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious groups. There was controversy; but on the whole it was constructive and progressive in tone. By the end of the 1970s, despite continued growing pains, Western culture appeared to have moved decisively into the utopian “Age of Aquarius”.


During the 60s-70s religion was generally dismissed as something quaint and obsolete: superstition embarrassing to an age of science, computers, and Project Apollo. “God was dead”, and Christianity was invoked merely as an excuse for Christmas revelry and other entertainments (such as Jesus Christ Superstar & the “Jesus Freak revolution” of 1970). Even the formation of the Church of Satan in 1966 was somewhat anticlimactic: It didn’t arise in response to a “threatening” Christianity – for Christianity already appeared to be a dead horse. The carcass was there to be kicked around a bit for the sake of theatre, but there was no expectation that it had any energy left to get up and kick back.

Of course, things are very different today. By 1980, the most conservative and intolerant forms of Christianity had once again become a political force to be reckoned with. A major panic about “Satanism” ensued, together with libelous propaganda campaigns against various minority religions. (See Against Satanic Panics.) By the mid-1990’s, paranoia about Satanism ceased to be respectable among academics and among relevant government officials, but, since then, ever-growing armies of religious fanatics and “conspiracy theorists” have worked hard to keep anti-Satanist paranoia alive.

When I posted the Lucifer quote, my aim in so doing was to validate left-wing politics within the Satanist scene. The leading Satanist organization, Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, tends to endorse laissez-faire capitalism. Alas, the Satanist scene also attracts a small but vocal minority who espouse neo-Nazism. (See my collection of writings Against neo-Nazism among Satanists.) As a result, quite a few public Satanist spokespeople equate Satanism with right wing views, at least on economic matters — though, usually, not on social matters.

To some readers, it may seem odd that many Satanist spokespeople would embrace right wing views — just like our worst enemies, the Christian religious right wing. In my opinion, this situation is another artifact of the 1960’s, the era when LaVeyan Satanism was born. Back in the 1960’s, there was not yet such a strong correlation between Christian religiosity and right wing views as there is now. According to Pew Forum, there was a slight negative correlation between Christian religiosity and right wing views during 1963 to 1970. (See American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us: A Conversation with David Campbell, Pew Research Center, January 7, 2011.) So, in the 1960’s, it might have made sense to think of laissez-faire capitalism as “Satanic” — especially in San Francisco, where the prevailing culture was solidly left-wing.

Nevertheless, even back in 1972, it made sense to Saul D. Alinsky to use Satanic/Luciferian metaphors to describe his left-wing views.

Now for what some right wingers have to say about Alinksy. David Horowitz wrote the following, on August 16, 2009:

For this first post, let’s just focus on the dedication of the book — to Satan:

“Lest we forget, an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical:” (Pause there for second. Now continue): “from all our legends, mythology, and history(and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”

So Alinsky begins by telling readers what a radical is. He is not a reformer of the system but its would-be destroyer. This is something that in my experience conservatives have a very hard time understanding. Conservatives are altogether too decent, too civilized to match up adequately, at least in the initial stages of the battle, with their adversaries. They are too prone to give them the benefit of the doubt. They assume that radicals can’t really want to destroy a society that is democratic and liberal and has brought wealth and prosperity to so many. Oh yes they can. That is in fact the essence of what it means to be a radical — to be willing to destroy the values, structures and institutions that sustain the society we live in. Marx himself famously cited Alinsky’s first rebel (using another of his names — Mephistopheles): “Everything that exists deserves to perish.”

No, Saul D. Alinksy did NOT aim to “destroy a society that is democratic and liberal.” Quite the contrary. In Part 10 of a 1972 Playboy Interview with Saul D. Alinsky, he said:

My only fixed truth is a belief in people, a conviction that if people have the opportunity to act freely and the power to control their own destinies, they’ll generally reach the right decisions. The only alternative to that belief is rule by an elite, whether it’s a Communist bureaucracy or our own present-day corporate establishment. You should never have an ideology more specific than that of the founding fathers: “For the general welfare.” That’s where I parted company with the Communists in the Thirties, and that’s where I stay parted from them today.

But his “belief in people” did not translate into utopian idealism. Also in Part 10 of the 1972 Playboy interview, Alinsky said:

People don’t get opportunity or freedom or equality or dignity as an act of charity; they have to fight for it, force it out of the establishment. […] Reconciliation means just one thing: When one side gets enough power, then the other side gets reconciled to it. That’s where you need organization — first to compel concessions and then to make sure the other side delivers. If you’re too delicate to exert the necessary pressures on the power structure, then you might as well get out of the ball park. This was the fatal mistake the white liberals made, relying on altruism as an instrument of social change. That’s just self-delusion. No issue can be negotiated unless you first have the clout to compel negotiation.


In fact, of course, conflict is the vital core of an open society; if you were going to express democracy in a musical score, your major theme would be the harmony of dissonance. All change means movement, movement means friction and friction means heat. You’ll find consensus only in a totalitarian state, Communist or fascist.

My opposition to consensus politics, however, doesn’t mean I’m opposed to compromise; just the opposite. In the world as it is, no victory is ever absolute; but in the world as it is, the right things also invariably get done for the wrong reasons. We didn’t win in Woodlawn because the establishment suddenly experienced a moral revelation and threw open its arms to blacks; we won because we backed them into a corner and kept them there until they decided it would be less expensive and less dangerous to surrender to our demands than to continue the fight. I remember that during the height of our Woodlawn effort, I attended a luncheon with a number of presidents of major corporations who wanted to “know their enemy.” One of them said to me, “Saul, you seem like a nice guy personally, but why do you see everything only in terms of power and conflict rather than from the point of view of good will and reason and cooperation?” I told him, “Look, when you and your corporation approach competing corporations in terms of good will, reason and cooperation instead of going for the jugular, then I’ll follow your lead.” There was a long silence at the table, and the subject was dropped.

Jed Babbin, writing in Human Events, March 9, 2007, is a bit more honest about Alinksy. After quoting Alinsky’s Lucifer remark, Babbin says:

Alinsky never saw himself as the devil, but as some radical angel who could bedevil “the Establishment” and force it to change to assuage pressures from community organizations.

True in the sense that Alinsky did not see himself as “evil,” although Babbin seems to have missed the point of literary Satanism.

On various right wing sites, which I won’t bother to link, it is claimed that Alinsky was the primary role model for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. No, that’s not possible, even if indeed they admired Alinsky (among however many other people they’ve admired). Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both politicians, which is very, very different from being a political activist organizer. For starters, an organizer brings pressure to bear against the establishment, whereas a politician is part of the establishment. Organizers champion specific groups and causes, whereas a politician cannot champion any one cause too strongly, but instead needs to be able to reach out to a wide variety of people with a wide variety of agendas. Politicians blow with the political winds, whereas organizers are among the people who make the political winds blow.

Of course, the reason why many right wingers like to claim that Alinksy was both Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s main mentor is for the sake of guilt by association: Look! Obama and Clinton are disciples of a man who praises the Devil!

Ironically, these days the American right wing — in the form of the Tea Party — is now using Alinsky’s methods to a far greater degree than Clinton or Obama ever did, as far as I can tell. (See Know Thine Enemy by Noam Cohen, New York Times, August 22, 2009.)

One Response to “Demonization of Saul D. Alinksy — mea culpa?”

  1. Raybee Says:

    i was wondering if u can tell me bout, me being a zambian, coz i think am the only one here?

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