I continue this look at Saul Alinsky’s 1972 book “Rules for Radicals”* that – I believe – has exerted and continues to exert a substantial and deforming influence on national politics.
His third chapter is entitled “A Word About Words”.
He is going to be concerned with “words” (p.48) Which is not at all a bad thing, but ‘words’ are only approximations of objective realities. They are in some way the equivalent of looking through the viewscreen on the bridge of a starship (recall your ‘Star Trek’?): you aren’t actually looking through a window out at whatever’s there; you are looking at a clear picture, but one that’s been put together by the ship’s computers to correspond to whatever sensory data the computers have gotten from the sensor array.
He moves quickly to his point: “Even the word ‘politics’ itself, which Webster says is ‘the science and art of government’, is generally viewed in a context of corruption”. He backs this up immediately by noting that “the dictionary synonyms are ‘discreet’, ‘provident’, ‘diplomatic’, wise’”. (p.48)
But first of all, it’s highly dubious whether ‘politics’ is “generally” viewed in a context of corruption. Yes, there’s a great deal of that corruption (and certainly so in the 40 years since his ideas were shot into the nation’s political bloodstream IV-push). And God knows there’s more room now for used-car salesmen and their ‘deals’ to not only survive in the Beltway but actually rise to the top of the heap. But folks still have a sense that it’s politics or nothing – at least, nothing if you mean to keep a democratic republic.
But Alinsky here is trying to convince his organizers that their work is both necessary and justified because ‘politics’ is a corrupt thing and the country (implicitly) needs something else.
Alinsky is not a ‘purifier’, however. He is not an 1850s abolitionist, seeking to purify a country that had taken a wrong turn back there in 1787 by not getting rid of slavery outright (had the Framers tried it, there would have been no country in 1787). Rather, he is going to make a virtue (though he’d never use the term) out of ‘reality’ and get as rough and tumble and muddy and dirty as the corrupt politicians.
But I can’t see how he can see his ideas justified by the examples of synonyms that he has given here. ‘Discreet’ is a bad thing? Or ‘diplomatic’? Or – good grief – ‘wise’? Or even ‘provident’, a neat little concept that my big Webster’s** defines as “having or showing foresight, providing carefully for the future, mindful in making provision for, economical, frugal, thrifty, cautious, prudent”.
Can you think of any time in the past 40 or so years that there was too much of this sort of stuff being demonstrated by the Beltway? But of course, in that same 40 years – and especially in those early years right around the publication of his book – such terms would be used as weapons to deride and discredit anybody who expressed concerns about the wisdom or prudence of whatever ‘reform’ or ‘change’ was being touted that day as The Next Great and Good Thing.
Attack the Family. Attack the Beyond. Attack males. Attack the industrial ethos. Attack industry itself. Attack Iraq. (Oops.)
So the organizer must learn to “use other words – words that mean the same but are peaceful, and do not result in such negative emotional reactions”. (p.49) But what’s wrong with a negative emotional reaction? The whole idea of a democratic deliberative politics is precisely that you say what you think, and then other Citizens say what they think, and you all go from there.
But this isn’t at all what Alinsky is going for. Because he’s already pooh-poohed the idea of a democratic deliberative politics as being either wrong and deceitful in itself or at least part of the ‘status quo’ and therefore tainted by association.
So We head into the politics of euphemism and of misdirection and of Spin, of the use of words that are not designed to express what is really going on, but rather to hide and gussy-up in shiny sheep’s-clothing ideas that – if they were really expressed clearly – would no doubt have elicited some mighty negative reactions indeed. (Recall that when the Dems first tried to inject Identity Politics into the national bloodstream at their 1972 Convention the body-politic rejected them so thoroughly that they took only one State.) ***
In a shrewdly psychological analysis – echoing the manipulativeness of the professional ad-man as much as of the professional revolutionary (and the two callings arose around the same time, in the late 19th century) – Alinsky advises that “by using combinations of words such as ‘harnessing the energy’ instead of the single word ‘power’ we begin to dilute the meaning; and as we use purifying synonyms, we dissolve the bitterness, the anguish, the hate and love, the agony and the triumph attached to these words, leaving an aseptic imitation of life”. (p.49)
“We begin to dilute the meaning” … and can any concept be more in keeping with Orwell’s warnings about what happens when language is debased so that words no longer correspond to what is actually happening or what actually has happened or what is actually going on?
And can it be mere coincidence that American politics has now become so diluted that it seems very much to have no substance and no meaning beyond the adolescent and childish name-calling and breakfast-table-argument rhetorical tricks that any rational parent in a pre-Alinsky-ite age would have tried to elevate into more mature form of discussion?
And have you noticed how the ‘words’ that go into ‘law’ – domestic and international, municipal and Constitutional – no longer seem to ‘mean’ what they appear?
And have you tried listening to a professional economist recently?
Or sitting in on a college professor’s lecture?
Or making sense of ‘the news’?
He wants to get rid of ‘emotions’ and feelings. A deep game, but far more complex than even he could imagine or control. A politics of nothing-but-feelings, a politics of emotion, is a recipe for political catastrophe (at least, in a mature deliberative democracy). BUT the initial emotional reactions of hearers (Citizens all) to a proposal are a vital element in the deliberative political process and you can’t short-cut around that phase and still retain the integrity of the democratic politics.
But no. He wants to ‘purify’ the language so as to short-cut around emotions. He wants to ‘dissolve’ (I am going to say that he wants to ‘sidestep’ and ‘evade’) all the passions that humans might feel when huge change is proposed to their most vital living arrangements and, the hearers might rightly feel, to the integrity and continued success of their common-weal.
He would rather produce through the shrewd and crafty selection of ‘words’ “an aseptic imitation of life”.
‘Asepsis’ – Webster’s again – means “free from the living germs of disease, fermentation, putrefaction”. So, much like Lenin advising his cadres that until they had real power they would have to say they supported ‘ballots’ – when they got power they would use ‘bullets’, Alinsky wants to use words merely as a Trojan Horse to get inside the heart of the political process. Tactically, then, as the Greeks saw long ago when they built the Horse, you want to lull your enemy’s senses, so that you can get inside with the least amount of time and effort. Once inside, well – that will be a different story.
Passions – powerful, expressing great and deep and often dark human things – must be neutralized at the outset. They are not to be neutralized or worked-through in the process of democratic deliberation. No, they are to be dulled and lulled until the Citizens have already let the danger within the walls.
Passions – to the extent that they can oppose him – are for Alinsky “disease, fermentation, putrefaction”. They are the energies that might be deployed against the ‘change’ he wants, which – almost by definition – is always ‘good’ change. They are, by his own schematic, powers in the service of the ‘status quo’, of the Haves, and they will obstruct the Have-Nots.
Does ‘fermentation’ hint at a dynamic process of incorporation? Still too slow and wayyyy too iffy. Better to sneak the ‘change’ in and then impose it when you’ve gotten closer to the heart of political authority than the Citizens themselves.
I recall sometime in the 1990s (or maybe the late 1980s) Jesse Jackson saying about the entire ‘civil rights’ thing as it had morphed by that time, that when you came right down to it, it was all just about “getting a bigger slice of the pie” . The media – debauched by that time – didn’t see fit to pick up on the comment but I think that his unguarded bit of candor revealed an awful lot about what had already been going on for a couple of decades by that time.
Alinsky is concerned first, last, and always with “power”. Power “is the very essence, the dynamo of life”. (p.51) It’s not what you’d call a comprehensive view or vision of human life; it’s an examination of an animal merely by looking at its teeth. But then, in the animal kingdom, some form of ‘teeth’ or ‘claws’ is pretty much all that stands between being a diner and a dinner. You’d like to think that human beings, being a rather large (mind, soul) step above your average mammals, would have constructed a social reality that more comprehensively reflects their more comprehensive menu of gifts, but ‘red in tooth and claw’ is Alinsky’s take on human affairs, as it was Marx’s and Lenin’s (and the latter added oceans of blood to the mix).
But it’s a loaded word and he doesn’t think it ought to be discussed since so many people are under the impression that “Power corrupts” when – he lectures accurately enough – Lord Acton actually said that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. [emphasis Alinsky’s]
So, Alinsky says, the trouble is not with power, but with ourselves. “Great men” – to finish out that quote of Acton’s – “are almost always bad men”. Again, I’d like to know how Acton defined ‘bad’ but I’m hardly inclined to disagree with the core insight of his thought here.
Since Power, in Alinsky’s vision, is ‘neutral’ (although Acton saw, in that very quote Alinsky chose not to complete, that the chances of corruption increase with the ‘greatness’ of your task or your status or your achieved power), and since it seems that humans can’t even lift a finger or take a drink of water without Power, then Alinsky doesn’t see what the fuss is about.
In a way, he’s preaching (to his organizers, not quite so much for public consumption … although he did go and write the book) that they should be as confident in their embrace of Power as most of their generation was becoming in-your-face about the embrace of ‘free love’ or Sex.
Power “might be a man-killing explosive or it might be a life-saving drug”. Neato.
But he stops well before the problem that I see: what if you give the WRONG drug to somebody? What if that particular patient’s system can’t tolerate it? What if a deliberative democratic politics can’t take so much organized and premeditated assault and such over-shrewd manipulation in such fundamental matters as truth?
I need to be careful here since so much of Identity Politics – the profusion of Identities and the advanced organization of its ‘Advocacies’ – took place after he died. How could he have imagined that the very ‘Establishment’ that he knew as late as 1968 would by 1972 be adopting his anti-status-quo approach with the wings of the Great Eagle itself?
But could he actually have failed to see what was implicit in his entire approach? Or what the possible, or perhaps probable, consequences were if some of his tactics – let alone his core vision – were to remain active in the national bloodstream in large quantities or for long periods? Or both?
I agree with him that “it is impossible to conceive of a world devoid of power” (p.52) BUT that’s not the point. The point is whether the Approach he advocates is healthy to introduce into a democratic deliberative politics.
Now he has already sidestepped that problem by claiming that such a description of American politics is naïve and illusory, and that – the world being the world – it works wittingly or unwittingly merely to serve the Haves and an unjust status-quo.
And you have only to look at the history of the increasingly intensifying complexity of 19th century America**** to realize that humans, given the volatile energies and possibilities of this country in that era, and the immense concentrations of Power and Wealth, will manage to commit the most greedy depredations AND convince themselves that they’re doing the right thing.*****
But by trashing the entire concept of Ideals, and adopting (though he tried to baptize) Marxist-Leninist praxis, he essentially tosses whatever the Framers were trying to do that qualifies as humanity’s Great American Experiment. Which, as I have been saying, is why after 40 years of his book injecting itself into the Beltway and the national politics it’s kind of hard to sense much substance left to the Vision of 1787 (however ‘quaint’ or ‘defective’ it might be).
It being impossible to conceive realistically of a world without Power, then – he says – “the only choice of concepts is between organized and un-organized power”. (p.52) But if you are going to organize along the principles of Marxist-Leninist vision because you can’t see any real difference between the Czarist autocracy and a constitutional democratic republic and a deliberative democratic politics OF the People, BY the People, FOR the People, and if on top of that you are going to therefore consider no-holds-barred to be a legitimate way to get things changed (and also assume that any ‘change’ is Good change if it takes Power) … then you are playing with some mighty dangerous fire.
Which, being as how they weren’t fools and realized that vital fact themselves, was why the Framers were hugely careful and prudent in what they expected and how they imagined the whole thing could be sustained over time.
And so then, when Alinsky quickly intones that “to know power and not fear is essential to its constructive use and control” (pp.52-3), I respond that it is precisely BECAUSE Power is so volatile, and all human beings (Haves and Have-Nots) so imperfect in their own self-control (so as to sustain, say, effective commitment to a genuinely great Ideal), that in dealing with Power you MUST ‘fear’. You absolutely must have a healthy fear of and respect for the terrible and awesome energy of political Power.
It is not something to be shuffled about like a used-car on a back-lot. (So too with Sex, although the Boomers didn’t realize that either – at least until some of them, being hugely well organized, realized that it would be a great way to beat their gender-enemies.) There was a reason why frontier-folk were so careful and spoke so respectfully around each other: many had the ‘power’ that came from carrying around a Great Equalizer, a six-shooter, and so life in a frontier settlement was like walking through a minefield – things could go Boom very very quickly, and you wanted to sort of minimize that possibility.
Boomers feared little – except boredom and conformity and being said-No-to. It’s one of the things that did them in as a generation entrusted with the Great American Experiment.
“Self-interest”, he says, shrouds itself in negativism and suspicion like a Puritan (the historical cartoons again, so adolescent). But his own Approach pretty much demands Suspicion, eternally so, by the Have-Nots against the Haves. And knowing of that eternally-advised suspicion, no doubt the Haves (not a few guilty or feeling guilty for Having) will respond in kind with even more Suspicion – and the beat will go on, and the band will play on, ad infinitum.
But he’s going for a justification for “self-interest” and reaching all the way back to the ancients and the Bible to spiff up his assertions. There is, he says, on the part of all of those worthies “universal agreement on the part that self-interest plays as a prime moving force in man’s behavior”. (p.53) Yes, there is. Although unlike Alinsky, they don’t stop there. They also recognize the human capacity for idealism and generosity and even sacrifice.
But, he says, ‘morality’ is simply the cloak for covering-up the naked self-interest that abides, however its immediate objective may shift. Though Machiavelli “makes a mortal mistake when he rules out the ‘moral’ factors of politics and holds purely to self-interest as he defines it”. (p.54) Alinsky doesn’t want to dismiss the concept of ‘morality’ since it will probably come in handy to cloak whatever naked but good grasping for Power from some Haves might be attempted. So, yes, Alinsky is going to improve on Machiavelli who – really –wasn’t cynical enough.
Alinsky rehearses selected bits of the U.S. history of relations with the USSR from the pre-war to the Cold War (he dies, don’t forget, in 1971, 20 years before the USSR so unexpectedly collapsed). The gist of it all is that over the course of time the Russkies were our enemies, our bosom-Allies, our Cold War enemy – even as commies who sought to pursue a line independent of Moscow were treated a little less like enemies than the Russkies themselves.
Yes, and a torturous road it was. As was Churchill’s early wartime comment – in 1941 – that if Hitler invaded Hell he – Winston – would at least make a favorable passing reference to the Devil in the House of Commons. This wasn’t cynicism – this was humanity trying to chart a dauntingly complex course through fiendishly treacherous and troubled waters.
But Churchill never embraced a ‘realism’ so profoundly and thoroughly cynical and calculating as Alinsky (or Stalin, whose immediate predecessor was one of Alinsky’s great conceptual models).
But Churchill, of course, was a Have. Although hardly perfect – so in that sense a Have-Not. But since Power is the only axis of analysis for Alinsky, then Churchill is neatly and quickly pigeon-holed as a Have and the march can continue.
“We repeatedly get caught in this conflict between our professed moral principles and the real reasons why we do things – to wit, our self-interest”. (p.58) But it strikes me as insufficient to claim that when Churchill is changing tack in relationship to Stalin because Hitler’s invasion of Russia has now made Stalin a potential ally in a life-and-death struggle of nations, that therefore Churchill is merely acting out of “self-interest”.
First, a government is not a person and has no central core like a person does. It is only in a metaphorical sense that a government can be said to have a ‘self’. It has ‘interests’ but those are the distillate (never purely refined and sometimes grossly unblended) of a welter of sub-interests. It most surely does have such ‘interests’ – sometimes appears to be defined by them – but those interests are not generated by or grounded in a single person (not even in the days of divine-right monarchy, I think, could a government be characterized as totally reflecting the desire, will, and interests of its Sovereign).
Second, Churchill’s personal interests are hardly his own as merely a Have. He is a patriot, but he is also – and Alinksy picked the example – blessed (I should have to say) with an enemy so purely and utterly evil (Hitler) that on the basis of the monstrousness of the Nazi vision alone – attached as it was to the control strings of a powerful military – something Large had to be done. BUT life rarely offers so ‘perfect’ a foe as a Hitler in his prime at full tilt; not even Stalin in his prime sought so violently to expand (although as a direct and intended result of his orders probably more human beings – citizens of the USSR mostly – were killed than under Hitler).
Hitler was a “child of war” as is discussed in Michael Burleigh’s “Moral Combat”. If I can connect one useful dot between Hitler and Alinsky, it is that ‘war’ – when turn you it loose – takes on a life of its own, and more often than not winds up taking you with it, on roads and into consequences you never expected when you planned it. (To the extent – can you say Iraq War? – that you planned it at all.)
Nor does it let Alinsky off the hook that he is precisely claiming that what he calls ‘war’ had been going on all along and all he’s done is go with the flow.
He strikes an encouraging note by claiming that “compromise” “is a key and beautiful word to the organizer”. (p.59) Politics – because it is based in human nature – has to include some compromise: not often do all concerned and affected parties see things the same way and even less frequently can a ‘pure’ political program be drawn up that’s acceptable AND workable within the context of a democratic political process. (Of course, short-cuts can always side-step those types of problems, but too much of that sort of thing for too long is going to wreck the integrity of the entire process.)
Despite the fact that it “carries shades of weakness, vacillation, betrayal and ideals, surrender of moral principles”, Alinsky very much likes ‘compromise’.
But that’s because of his recommended Method of Operation: “If you start with nothing, demand 100 per cent, then compromise for 30 per cent, and you’re 30 percent ahead”. This isn’t a political process so much as a business-ploy. The presumed political process would be something like this: citizen(s) have a proposal, present it to others, and deliberate to agreement. The Alinsky-ite process is: organized citizens approach ‘system’ with ‘demands’ deliberately set excessively high (having perhaps sent out blast-faxes to media painting their grievance in the most vivid if not lurid terms), and happily sit down to see how much they can get away with.
Too much of this sort of thing can truly corrupt and degrade a political process. Of course, in the Alinsky-ite vision, the process is corrupt and degraded to begin with. Always.
And, of course, a ‘war’is indeed such a process: “A free and open society is an on-going conflict, interrupted periodically by compromises”. (p.59) There is always going to be imperfection and dissatisfaction in any society, and things that need to be improved. (And things that don’t need to be improved or ‘changed’ except that some organized groups need airtime.)
Not that the Framers didn’t envision the bubbling of the human stew and provide a means for addressing and resolving them. Which is NOT how the Russian czars handled things. Which is why Marx saw what he did and then why Lenin came up with the Methods of Operation that he did.
Alinsky figures that – minus the autocracy and the czar, and human nature being what it is in an industrialized society and power-structure – then the same thing will work here and indeed is called-for here. 24/7, 365 days a year, and the more the merrier. And, in an accident of history and political greed, the Dems came to agree with him. The vision and approach representing Alinsky’s lifelong struggle against the status-quo became the status-quo itself. Perhaps had he lived longer, Alinsky would have been temperamentally constrained to conduct an Alinsky-ite campaign against the government-connected Alinsky-ites.
Funny how the historical night moves.
To the permanently-pony-tailed, it may seem a great victory that under sustained Alinsky-ite assault the American Constitutional democracy and republic is faring almost as badly as the Romanov autocracy. But I’m not so pleased. And, of course, Alinsky-ites now come in the sans-pony-tail, over-coiffed, Beltway power-suit mutation, smiling an awful lot through teeth with better ivory than an elephant’s.
But Alinsky’s only take on it is that “a society devoid of compromise is totalitarian”. (p.59) Which avoids the problem of assessing whether the ‘drug’ he wants to force-feed to the patient is going to save life or wreck it. But that – for his Method – is thinking too much: you have your “life-saving drugs” and your “man-killing explosives”, and since he certainly doesn’t have an explosive in his prescription kit, then whatever Dr. Alinsky prescribes will save your life. This is a level of analysis and thought you don’t even get from kids playing with plastic stethoscopes and those little mirrors doctors used to wrap around their forehead.
He concludes with his take on Conflict. This, he says, is another word that has gotten a bad rap in public opinion. And there are two reasons for that.
The second (bear with me here) is that the “Advertising Culture … emphasizes getting along with people and avoiding friction”. (p.62) If he and I are in sync on anything, it’s on the Advertising Culture. But in this matter, and as things have mutated since after the Dems made him their secret-guru, it’s a pre-existing Political Correctness that the Ad Culture is simply reflecting: you want to be very nice in order to show you are tolerant, and disagreement indicates Intolerance and Insensitivity, and probably Rigidity and Shrillness too. In fact, Correctness wants to keep things nice because – in order to make sure there’s ‘space’ for whatever may come along - a society and its culture and its people must be so ‘flexible’ and ‘plastic’ as to be, for all practical purposes, invertebrate.
You’d think that elites claiming to be educated would reason that if human beings don’t do well in Invertebrate Mode then their human organizations won’t do well in that mode either. But ‘reason’ is one of those things that have been taken off the table for the past 40 years, and you merely demonstrate yourself to be patriarchal, oppressive, and largely unclubbable if you have the consummately poor taste to bring it up in polite company.
And in the first place, there is – wait for it – “organized religion, which has espoused a rhetoric of ‘turning the other cheek’ and has quoted Scriptures as the Devil would never have dared because of their major previous function of supporting the Establishment”. (p.62)
I can’t quite follow his text here; that entire second clause is hard for me to follow. Why would the Devil not have dared to quote Scriptures – he’s famously literate and notoriously voluble when the cameras are on. And does the “their” refer to organized religion(s)? Or to the Scriptures? But if so why is their function “previous” and who turned that function off?
But my take is that he’s on about Scriptures because they support the status-quo. Although you can’t have a civilization without some sort of solid and structured consistency (see Costner’s ‘Waterworld’, as I mentioned in a previous Post). And if ANY such Consistent Shape is per se a ‘status quo’, then Alinsky has a recipe for ‘war’ on any and every human organization.
If politics is ‘war’ then We are on the way back to a Hobbesian world.
And as far as ‘turning the other cheek’ goes, I recall that the Australian author, J.M. Coetzee, notes this in his 2007 book of essays entitled “Diary of a Bad Year”. In the vision of Hobbes, the world without an organized State and the rule of law is a rat’s nest of “internecine warfare without end (reprisal upon reprisal, vengeance upon vengeance, the vendetta” (p.3)******
While there is a modest – but hugely incomplete – psychological value to seeing somebody ‘paid back’, Coetzee later points out that as best he can make out after watching the world – and especially South Africa after apartheid was abolished but Identity grievances crept back – ‘vengeance’ or ‘revenge’ simply continues the cycle of offense-revenge that locks BOTH perpetrator and victim into a darkling level of existence.
(In a later chapter, Alinsky will lustily relate how the ‘reaction’ of the Haves, of the ‘enemy’ you have chosen, is absolutely vital to feeding the dynamic you need to force ‘change’ and ‘wrest power’. And, as you may imagine, the ‘reaction’, the ‘conflict’, is what drives the melodrama of the ‘story’ for the media.)
And that a polity where the Citizens are constantly at war among themselves is doomed.
In that regard, by the way, Coetzee – no ‘religious nut’ – comes to the sober conclusion that Christ really is the only one to get it right by advising that one must ‘turn the other cheek’ lest the cycle of violence in interpersonal and societal and national and international affairs simply continue ad infinitum.
Governments have many options open to them besides considering themselves in a ‘war’, diplomacy being not the least.
Individuals have an even larger range of options, which in a democracy include uniting together and working for change. The nation as a whole is not the South of the Jim Crow Era nor is it Russia of the Romanovs only with warmer weather.
Alinsky’s Approach is the equivalent of driving a vehicle equipped with heavily-studded tires, suitable for a winter in Montana, on the roads of Florida. Or of driving an entire State-full of vehicles so equipped over the Florida roads. Or maybe, the equivalent of driving a main battle tank with its heavy treads on the roads; war is hell on roads.
And this reflection of Coetzee’s about Christ would no doubt be taken as heresy by the Alinsky-ite school, but there it is.
And thus the cycle of offense-vengeance would be broken.
But Alinsky’s approach not only suffers from the perhaps unforeseeable historical fact (rather stunningly anomalous in itself) that a democratically-elected government actually embraced his recipe for perpetual civic-war and erected it into a Plan. It also suffers from its simplistic core analysis that all of human society is a ‘war’ in the first place and can never be and will never be anything more than that. As if humans cannot climb at least to some extent beyond their sinfulness (a concept Alinsky would not use, I agree).
No cycle is going to be broken in Alinsky’s Approach because Alinsky takes it for granted that A) human Greed is the primary motivator, the governor, of ALL human activity and that this dynamic can never be changed, and that B) that same Greed functions the same in a democratic polity as it did in Czarist Russia or in the anomalous American situation of the Jim Crow South.
Czarist Russia and the Jim Crow South – neither are sufficient descriptions of the American political process or scene. Neither were ever intended to conform to the Framer’s Vision and in the latter case was designed precisely to sidestep or even undermine that Vision.
Alinsky’s ‘drug’ – in its essence and then, after his death, as it was force-fed by vote-addled pols – could not and did not bring ‘health’ to the American polity or to the American political system.
And here We are today.
*My copy is the paperback Vintage Books/Random House edition that reprints the original 1971 edition. The ISBN is 0-679-72113-4. All my quotations and page references will be taken from this edition.
**My dictionary here is “Webster’s Encyclopedic Un-abridged Dictionary of the English Language”, 2200 pages or so, the 1996 edition. (Where does the time go?)
***Which, as I mentioned in one of the earlier Posts, makes me think that Watergate wasn’t really about Nixon at all (and no, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the man nor any liking for him). Watergate was about the Dems and the ‘liberals’ having irrevocably cast in their lot with the Identity-Gambit, with creating entirely new ‘demographics’ and therefore teaching a lesson to all the folks who had rejected them in 1972: you rejected us and elected him? Well here’s what we’re gonna do to him (and, before long, to all of you … that sort of message). And the dedicated revolutionaries that the Dems had embraced and shielded with the aegis of Beltway power went on to attack just about every element of the culture (and society and civilization) that had rejected them in 1972 in a fair fight. And all the while spinning it – as they still do and as far far too many Americans still naively believe – as ‘reform’, ‘progress’ and all the rest of the ‘words’ that covered up what was really being imposed on the country.
****An excellent starting point, and an easy though meaty and stimulating read, is “Rebirth of a Nation”, the newly-released book by Jackson Lears that examines and describes the politics and culture of America from 1877 to 1920. Believe me, I do not entertain a rosy view of American politics or the realities of pre-1968 American society and culture. The book is out in paperback – which makes its 355 pages of text convenient to carry and read.
*****I had occasion to be in Newport, Rhode Island not long ago and contemplated the mighty pile that was the cliff-top ocean-view mansion of Senator Nelson Aldrich, hugely influential and wealthy mover and shaker of late 19th century American politics (his daughter married old man Rockefeller’s only son in one of the great American weddings of the Gilded Age). He basically thought of ‘democracy’ as just so much sentimental poppycock and expected the wealthy (‘Christian gentlemen’ assumed) to stop dithering and kow-towing to the silly concept and get on with making the country great; he didn’t need to pick up the phone – such as they were at the time – to talk to McKinley or Teddy Roosevelt but could have just barged into the White House and buttonholed them, if he wasn’t having them over to dinner. Having read Alinsky, I can understand where Saul was coming from.
******Coetzee, J.M. “The Diary of a Bad Year”. New York: Penguin: 2007. The edition I am using is the paperback: ISBN 978-0-14-311448-2. This book is curiously structured: each page is divided into three sections, with the top section being his essays. They are well worth the read, especially his reflections on Thomas Hobbes and his vision and the consequences that flow from it.
Labels: Saul Alinsky