Saul Alinsky: Playing Merry Hell

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Of all the sordid figures of the American “New Left,” few strike the interest of Catholics quite like Saul Alinsky. This is no doubt because of Alinsky’s rather curious Catholic connections in and around Chicago in the 1960s. Many of them disturbing, given how often he collaborated with senior Church officials. It says as much about those officials, perhaps, as it does about Alinsky—who, by his own admission, was on the side of the Devil.

At the start of his best-known work, Rules for Radicals, Alinsky offered this strange and troubling opening acknowledgment—one of three epigraphs on his introductory page:

Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology , and history … 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.

Yes, Saul Alinsky commenced his magnum opus—the one for which he is hailed by progressives, a book not only read by Clinton but used as a text by Obama in Chicago as a teacher of community organizing—with an acknowledgement of the devil. The renowned radical in his book for radicals directed his readers’ gaze to Satan as the glorious “first radical.”

Some key background. Such a take on Lucifer isn’t entirely unusual among socialists. In fact, Alinsky’s angle on Lucifer is very similar to Mikhail Bakunin’s in his own 1871 magnum opus, God and the State, which lauded Lucifer as “the eternal rebel, the first freethinker.”

Bakunin was a 19th-century Russian atheist and revolutionary anarcho-communist. Yes, try to make sense out of that. It confused even Marx and Engels. Yet Bakunin’s best-known work very much reflected Marx’s thinking about religion. “If God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him,” asserted Bakunin in God and the State. Bakunin had a nasty, angry, cynical view of God. He railed against Jehovah as “the most jealous, the most vain, the most ferocious, the most unjust, the most bloodthirsty, the most despotic, and the most hostile to human dignity and liberty.”

Notably, however, Bakunin was not so nasty, angry, and cynical toward Satan.

But here steps in Satan, the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and the emancipator of worlds. He makes man ashamed of his bestial ignorance and obedience; he emancipates him, stamps upon his brow the seal of liberty and humanity, in urging him to disobey and eat of the fruit of knowledge.

This was Bakunin’s good Satan, a “freethinker.” This was a high compliment in the late 19th century and into the early 20th century, as “freethinkers” were in vogue among the progressive Left. This commendable Satan is the great emancipator, whereas God is the great spoiler. Bakunin lamented that God

flew into a terrible and ridiculous rage; he cursed Satan, man, and the world created by himself, striking himself so to speak in his own creation, as children do when they get angry; and, not content with smiting our ancestors themselves, he cursed them in all the generations to come.

Bad God, good Satan.

Again, this glorious rebel view of Satan is not unusual among certain radical socialists. It was how Saul Alinsky framed Satan as well—namely, as the “very first radical… who rebelled against the establishment.”

To avoid overstatement and hyperbole, we should clarify that it would not be quite accurate to say that Rules for Radicals is “dedicated” to Lucifer, as is often claimed by Alinsky’s detractors. Regardless, that acknowledgement, or epigraph, is there, and it certainly tells us something.

To that end, Alinsky elsewhere had favorable things to say about this first rebel and radical, and particularly Satan’s dominion in the netherworld. He was asked about the Lucifer acknowledgment in his well-known March 1972 interview with Playboy magazine near the end of his life. The exchange came at the very end of the interview, with Playboy apparently judging it a fittingly provocative close to the extremely lengthy discussion:

PLAYBOY: Having accepted your own mortality, do you believe in any kind of afterlife?

ALINSKY: Sometimes it seems to me that the question people should ask is not “Is there life after death?” but “Is there life after birth?” I don’t know whether there’s anything after this or not. I haven’t seen the evidence one way or the other and I don’t think anybody else has either. But I do know that man’s obsession with the question comes out of his stubborn refusal to face up to his own mortality. Let’s say that if there is an afterlife, and I have anything to say about it, I will unreservedly choose to go to hell.

PLAYBOY: Why?

ALINSKY: Hell would be heaven for me. All my life I’ve been with the have-nots. Over here, if you’re a have-not, you’re short of dough. If you’re a have-not in hell, you’re short of virtue. Once I get into hell, I’ll start organizing the have-nots over there.

PLAYBOY: Why them?

ALINSKY: They’re my kind of people.

“They’re my kind of people,” said Alinsky. “Hell would be heaven for me.” Alinsky averred that he would “unreservedly choose to go to hell.” That is frightening. Theologians often comfort repentant sinners fearing the flames of hell by assuring them that one must deliberately choose hell to end up there. Well, Saul Alinsky determined that such was his choice, unreservedly so.

It smacks of Karl Marx’s chilling character in his poem “The Pale Maiden.” “Thus Heaven I’ve forfeited, I know it full well,” waxed Marx. “My soul, once true to God, is chosen for Hell.” Alinsky was willing to forfeit heaven by choosing hell.

When I first googled the Alinsky Playboy interview several years ago, I found the above excerpt posted at (among other places) a Satanist website. There, the author, in an article titled, “Saul D. Alinsky: A role model for left-wing Satanists,” writes of the exchange: “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.”

An Alinsky supporter, a liberal Catholic friend of mine who insisted “we Catholics can learn a lot from Saul Alinsky,” shrugged this off as a joke, as Alinsky allegedly being facetious. I asked my friend how she knew that. She admitted that she did not, or at least not for certain. And if those statements and nods to Lucifer and hell were something of a joke, they are not very funny.

Likewise not particularly amusing is one of Alinsky’s most infamous rules in Rules for Radicals: isolate the target and vilify it. This was the thrust of Alinsky’s final and most egregious rule (no. 13): “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” He advised cutting off the support network of the person and isolating the person from sympathy. He cruelly urged going after people rather than institutions because people hurt faster than institutions. That is most assuredly not what Jesus would do. This surely isn’t something Catholics can learn from Alinsky.

Incidentally, there were no acknowledgments to Jesus Christ at the start of Rules for Radicals, only Lucifer.

Unfortunately, Alinsky has followers in our day, including Democratic Party presidential nominees and an elected president, from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama. And even more unfortunate, so apparently does the devil. For a really shocking example, consider a recent piece the Huffington Post called “The Death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Pushed Me to Join the Satanic Temple.” Its author is a young soccer mom and, no, it’s not a parody.

“Just like other faiths,” she writes,

the Satanic Temple has a code that their members believe in deeply and use to guide their lives. Reading through the Seven Tenets, I was struck by how closely they aligned with the unwritten code I had used to try to guide my own life for several years. I realized, happily, that these were my people and that I had been a Satanist for several years without even knowing it.

This mom celebrates:

This is an organization I want standing up for my rights and for my daughters’…. We need creative, resolute thinkers who are willing to stand up for what they believe in and take concrete action to do so, and the Satanic Temple is full of those kind of people. I am proud to now count myself among their ranks.

Note the Alinsky-ish “my kind of people” sentiment.

So, maybe Saul Alinsky was ahead of his time. It might take a while for other leftists to warm to this Satan figure. Let’s hope that’s not the case, and that this mom is very unusual. I fear, however, that she may be another indication of how post-Christian America could become a scary place. Saul Alinsky’s nod to Lucifer may have been a harbinger of bad days ahead.

At the very least, none of this is funny. I’m not laughing, Saul.

[Image: The Fall of Lucifer by Gustave Doré]

Paul Kengor

By

Paul Kengor is Professor of Political Science at Grove City College, executive director of the Center for Vision and Values. He is the author, most recently, of The Devil and Karl Marx (TAN Books, 2020).

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