Continuing with the chapter by chapter series on Rules for Radicals, today we add our Comments about the chapter called Of Means and Ends.
Synopsis of the chapter entitled Of Means and Ends
The author begins a discussion of political action ethics by saying “The practical revolutionary will understand Goethe’s statement that “conscience is the virtue of observers and not agents of action; in action, one does not always enjoy the luxury of a decision that is consistent both with one’s individual conscience and the good of mankind. The choice must always be for the latter”. Alinsky puts this in his own words as “He who sacrifices the mass good for his own personal conscience… doesn’t care enough for people to be corrupted for them.
The community organizer is given eleven rules for guidance with respect to ethics.
(1) The first rule is “One’s concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with ones personal interest in the issue.” That is to say, the more you care about the issue the less you should care about the methods you use to fight for it.
(2) “judgment of the ethics of means and ends is dependant on the political position of those making the judgment.”
(3) “in war the end justifies almost any means.”
(4) “judgment must be mad in the context of the times…” “ethical standards must be elastic to stretch in the times.”
(5) “concern with ethics increases with the number of means available…”
(6) “the less important the end…the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluation of means
(7) “success or failure is a mighty determinate of ethics.”
(8) the “morality of means depends on whether the means is being deployed at the time of imminent defeat or imminent victory.”
(9) “any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as unethical.”
(10) “do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral arguments.”
(11) Whatever your mission “goals must be phrased in terms like Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Of the Common Welfare or Pursuit of Happiness or Bread and Peace”.
The perennial question of whether ends justify means is a discussion for those who stand on the sides as observers accomplishing nothing themselves. Ethical considerations should not be allowed to interfere with success.
It is glaringly obvious that Saul Alinsky teaches that the ends justify the means. The theme throughout the chapter is that ethics are an impediment to accomplishment and thereby, in the final sense, not ethical at all. Implied in this line of reasoning is the notion that achievement of the goal, which for Alinsky is revolution, will be a great benefit to the society and that there is no uncertainty about it.
The professor cites Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to support his rationalization. Goethe was a highly esteemed German writer, poet and philosopher whose life spanned the 18th and 19th centuries. A writer, poet and philosopher, his genius was in culture. Politically Goethe was pragmatic. He argued against a unified Germany, favoring instead the retention of the existing system of principalitarian dictatorships. His famous premise that virtue lies in the intended result, not in the method employed to achieve the result is often quoted by radicals to justify their actions. Howard Zinn, the noted Harvard historian was another proponent of this line of thought. If lying about the facts of history would lead to a better world than telling the truth, then according to Zinn the historian is honor bound to lie about the facts. Vice is turned into virtue and virtue into vice.
Alinsky’s 11 rules of ethics can be boiled down to 3 basic tenets. An organizer’s ethics must be flexible, the more important the goal the less the organizer should be concerned about ethics and third, if a tactic was successful it was ethical.
Dictionary.com defines ethics as “rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.” It is sad to say that Alinsky’s rules define the Left and much of the Democratic Party as it is today.
Thank you for this site. Ally and I were just discussing this. We’re going to start having her write short political commentaries. I think people will be surprised that she is a lot more forceful and I started to say conservative. But, actually she comes at life from a libertarian perspective. I have a little more faith in the ability to get some good done. Anyhow, thank you for this. I was talking to her tonight about the Ends and Means chapter and how this was the very thing that started me on walking back my positions on quite a lot. The fact that the Left doesn’t care about truth nor really getting things done to make this world a better place really gave me pause to think. So again thank you for this posting of yours. It helped me clarify a few points tonight.
Your comment was 4 1/2 years ago and you were right on!! Now Alinsky’s last rule defines the current assault on the President.
Alinsky’s final rule is by far the most important. The author devotes more pages to an understanding of this rule than to all of the first twelve rules combined. This, of course, is the tactic of personal destruction. Ridicule and personal destruction are the two of the most effective tools known for deflating an enemy’s power and they must be utilized to the fullest extent possible.
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You may appreciate his post, The Zinns of Science
Howard believed an historian had a higher calling than to truth. The higher calling was to report history in such a way that it would benefit mankind. It is arguably conceivable that there could be such a higher calling but only if the historian were flawlessly accurate in knowing the lies would benefit mankind more than the truth. Of course he doesn’t. So if he lies, he is lying to justify his opinion.
Thanks for your comment.
And, Howard Zinn did a lot of the writing of history (or perhaps I should say re-wrote) that is found in American textbook. If ever we get a chance, it will be a daunting task to get history textbooks corrected.
I enjoyed your analysis and commentary about the chapter, “Of Means and Ends”. I’ve been reading ” Rules for Radicals” lately on the premise that it’s best to know one’s enemy. I have to read it in small segments, though. I start feeling like I need to wash my hands or take a shower after I’ve read for a while.