Alinsky’s prescription of polarization makes our common life worse, not better.
We are now several days removed from racist provocateur Richard Spencer’s descent onto the University of Florida’s campus. The Governor declared a state of emergency; the National Guard were called out. Thankfully, Mr. Spencer largely came and went without incident.
Frankly, Richard Spencer’s antics really don’t concern me much. His pigheaded belief in the morally bankrupt creed of Nazism is more laughable than anything else. Many people believe ignorant or evil things. Let me know when Richard Spencer tells his followers to commit violent acts for the sake of his pipe-dream racial utopia, and his followers do.
But why are gadflies like Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Ann Coulter receiving such sustained attention now? If you listen to many pundits, those who listen to these speakers are doing so because they agree with what the speakers have to say. I expect this is true in a few cases, but not the majority.
Spencer, Milo, and Coulter all say things that intentionally transgress the staunchly PC, leftist culture prevalent on most American college campuses. So do more mainstream figures who regularly speak at universities, like Ben Shapiro or Charles Murray. Many of those who come to hear these speakers, I suspect, are attracted to them because they hate the oppressive nature of campus culture. Perhaps some of them have even been personally harmed by it.
They want someone to make the culture bleed. They want a fight. They want change.
There is nothing wrong with this motive per se, but something is wrong when it becomes the only motive, the Prime Mover. We may find ourselves justifying statements and actions that are straightforwardly wrong or stupid, just because it made the “other side” sputter.
I remember hearing such excuses when pro-Trump protestors interrupted Shakespeare because a scene depicted someone who looked like Trump being assassinated. And this line of argument is still trotted out as a justification for our President’s less-than-Presidential behavior. “Yes, yes – but he fights!”
Yet the Left has used public disruption and narrative-making to create social change for decades. Many of their strategies emerged from the mind of Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicals.
Alinsky’s mission in writing Rules for Radicals was to propose a system by which those out of power in the culture – those whom Alinsky called the “Have-Nots” – could gain power. Alinsky laid out thirteen Rules aimed at relentlessly provoking conflict with those in authority, profiling them as “the Enemy,” demonizing and demoralizing them with constant ridicule and pressure, increasing their anxiety. Alinsky’s entire approach is summed up well by the last Rule: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Under this assault, Alinsky promised, the targeted institution will eventually begin to break down.
This approach to power-seeking may sound familiar. It is prevalent in modern media and politics. And it has been successful at provoking change. But at what cost?
We live in a culture formed by Alinsky’s Rules. Our national conversation is chock-full of drummed-up conflict, narrative journalism, and political sling-throwing designed to engender hatred. Then there’s the world of social media, where the Rules are practically law. We easily fall into them, as if by instinct, because the influencers practice them. Through the Rules the other side can be cowed into temporary silence, and we can win a fleeting victory.
And now conservatives, so long reluctant to engage in the mud-slinging manipulation the Rules require, have finally begun to embrace it. Dick Armey, founder of right-wing advocacy group FreedomWorks, famously handed out copies of Rules for Radicals at the height of the Tea Party movement. The rise and election of President Trump was largely cheered on by those who embraced his transgression of Leftist values.
This leaves us at a horrible impasse. The center no longer holds; there can be no compromise; the polarization deepens. Both sides dig in and lob ideological nukes. Every day is Armageddon in this new phase of the “culture war.”
But what if there were another way?
Another group of warriors once fought a similar, culture-destroying evil. They created change by setting right what was wrong, out-of-place, or unjust. They had massive, map-changing success in their quest to do so, and they had their own set of Rules.
These warriors were the Medieval knights, and their Rules were the Code of Chivalry.
Several versions of this Code still exist. One of the more famous is contained in the epic Song of Roland, handed down by the great French ruler Charlemagne. It also gives direction to change-seekers, but its advice is very different than Alinsky’s.
Knights took an oath “to protect the weak and defenceless; to give succor to widows and orphans” – the truly vulnerable in need of aid. They lived “by honor and for glory,” but avoided unnecessary insults. They spoke truthfully and shunned unfairness and deceit, living orderly and upright lives.
Would a knight back down from a fight when evil reared up in their path, threatening the “welfare of all?” Far from it. In fact, knights swore to never refuse such a challenge, and would persevere until they had set right what was wrong, never turning their back on a foe. When the cause was just, a true knight would be the most fearsome and dogged opponent of evil there was.
The Code of Chivalry lays out a positive, life-affirming, and bold roadmap for victory. While Rules For Radicals acknowledges the rebellion of Lucifer as inspiration in its preface, the Chivalric Code calls for devotion to God and foundational social institutions like the church and the family. It contrasts sharply with the conflict-creating, chaotic tactics proposed by Alinsky – as well it should.
Alinsky’s prescription of polarization makes our common life worse, not better. The Code of Chivalry demonstrates a more constructive way forward. We can courageously fight evil and set things right in our broken culture without resorting to the destructive strategy of those who tear it apart. We should resist the siren song of radicalism and embrace knighthood.
Connor Mighell is a third-year law student at The University of Alabama School of Law with an undergraduate degree in Political Philosophy from Baylor University. He is a contributor at Merion West and Lone Conservative, and the curator of weekday newsletter “Five in a Flash,” a weekday newsletter. His work has been featured at The Federalist, SB Nation, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Hill, The Dallas Morning News, and The New Americana. He may be found on Twitter at @cmigbear.
This article originally appeared at Lone Conservative.