William F. Buckley, Saul Alinsky, and the Ideology of Perpetual Destruction

by Daniel Mallock (November 2018)



There are many who know little or nothing about the recent and distant past. They are often disinterested about such things and when pressed can find no value in its study.



When attempting to understand political leaders and mass movements, it is necessary to know what the leadership believes and the followers think they believe—even if they do not clearly articulate those beliefs. Unarticulated, but assumed universal truths that are thought to be understood and accepted by all in a given movement, in this case the American left—around identity politics, rigidity of thought, utopianism, globalism, intolerance to opposition, for example—unite the movement and separate it from the wider world and most certainly from the opposition. Understanding the complexities and hot emotionalism of the current political environment is not difficult if we wade back a little into history.


“She ‘agreed with some of Alinsky’s ideas,’ Clinton wrote in her first memoir, but the two had a ‘fundamental disagreement’ over his anti-establishment tactics. She described how this disagreement led to her parting ways with Alinsky in the summer before law school in 1969. ‘He offered me the chance to work with him when I graduated from college, and he was disappointed that I decided instead to go to law school,’ she wrote. ‘Alinsky said I would be wasting my time, but my decision was an expression of my belief that the system could be changed from within.’” (Washington Free Beacon, 9.21.2014)


tactical elements have recently been resurrected by Sanders’ supporters in opposition to other democrats.



The ideas of ‘60s anti-institution and anti-establishment radicalism are now at play once again, this time fostered not by a fringe radical activist author but rather by a former President of the United States and a former secretary of state and failed presidential candidate and their millions of blinkered followers.


The irony of the situation is only offset by the danger it presents to the open society of ideas and reverence for the constitution and institutions as well as societal cohesion that are the foundations of American political life and national existence. If the ‘60s and early ‘70s were significantly shaped by Mr. Alinsky and his followers, the present moment is the consequence of the ascendancy of his philosophical children.


It is difficult to know if Mrs. Clinton and former President Obama share Mr. Alinsky’s view of human development as described below. The Alinsky method for all its claims of aiding the poor is really a cover for something else entirely—the destruction of institutions and the undermining of societal stability. In a 1972 interview published in Playboy magazine, Mr. Alinsky articulated his worldview quite clearly.


For such an antithetical philosophy to be the moral and ethical guidance of an American President (Barack Obama) and the recently defeated former presidential candidate of the Democrat party (Hillary Clinton) is difficult to conceive.


Early in 2017, a video of William F. Buckley, Jr., a leading conservative, noted intellectual, and founder and editor of National Review magazine interviewing Alinsky on his, at the time, well-known television program Firing Line (Episode 079, recorded on December 11, 1967) was posted to the internet. It is an hour length interview well worth watching as Alinsky illuminates his beliefs and approach quite clearly in reply to Mr. Buckley’s insightful queries, and presents a short period of a sort of entertainment that is intellectually, historically, and politically important while simultaneously enervating and profoundly disturbing.


Saul Alinsky’s concepts of progress and power and their direct relation to threat is contrary to American views of how progress within the constitutional democratic experiment occurs. We have parties, and debate, discourse, discussions, and an open society that is meant to provide the environment in which people operating within the constraints of the constitution and the institutions that support it, and often motivated by ethical and moral concepts that were formerly universally held, can improve the experiment, improve the lives of themselves and their fellow citizens, and solve problems and challenges.


Such an experiment, built upon stability and reverence for institutions, is not as speedily reactive as those who agitate for rapid shifts and changes generally prefer. This seemingly ponderous nature of the institutions is seen by many today as a failure of the institutions. Thus, there is always a conflict, built in to the system itself, between desires for change and improvement all while sustaining the sometimes-slow moving institutions themselves that provide an environment of freedom and safety in which those changes can occur. This sort of American systemic change, essential to American democracy, too time consuming and complex for many, is rejected by Alinsky.



It is the inequities of existence, a universal truth, against which the pragmatic decent and the fallen utopian always rebel. The great difference of course is that the utopians will not wait, and justify whatever means are required to reach the end point, while the decent retain their moral and ethical core and are prevented from excess by those same moral and ethical codes. In this upside-down worldview of Alinsky, the end point is never to be reached apparently, and the goal is simply conflict, revolution, upheaval, and pressure in perpetuity. Such are the foundations of dystopia built with a façade of advancement and benefit by utopians of the left.


Concomitantly, those who oppose resolving the central problems of humanity can only be seen as “evil.” In this way, the opposition is properly demonized, all functional discourse and the flow of ideas are halted, and the utopian program, in this case perpetual conflict (at every level), is pressed forward by well-meaning followers who are deluded into believing that through the breaking of institutions and the fall of cities, states, and countries, the vexing problems of human existence can be resolved.


Open societies and open markets always mean that some will be more successful than others, that some will have more than others, and that some, unfortunately, will have to struggle harder than most to attain what they desire or need. Such things exist within every political system and every society that has ever existed as these are truths of humanity despite the fantasies of utopians—we are not all equal in ability, desire, capability, discipline, wisdom, wealth, etc. Any society constructed on such falsehoods will fall.


Relieving the inequities of life and of any political system are at the heart of most desires for positive change. That Americans would be motivated to reduce poverty as much as is possible, for example, is a laudable goal motivated entirely by concern for one’s fellow citizen in addition to the health and welfare of the entire body politic. Such a combination of prudence and compassion is inherent in the American national character—entirely denied in the Alinsky worldview.


What is a person who believes that any establishment is inherently an obstruction to the advancement of humanity and must be eliminated and replaced by some new establishment (whatever it might be) so that humanity can advance? And that such creation and destruction of institutions should continue ad infinitum? This is a philosophy of endless revolution and change (for its own sake) and the embodiment of the opposition to stability and government of laws and institutions. Where in chaos then do the people find comfort, resolutions to problems, equity, equality, fairness, safety, and compassion? The answer is clear: they do not.



That this issue of constant pressure against any and all institutions and “establishments”—whatever they might be—is a matter of humanity-wide concern and not limited only to American considerations makes the Alinsky view and the current American leftist approach a utopian one. That is, they believe that their struggles are for the benefit of humanity, and not just the Democrat party or the American people.


Such it is that Saul Alinsky opposed then and his current acolytes in the American left and beyond now oppose in the same confused tradition of the reverence of conflict, strife, and deconstructionist, absurd perpetual revolution instead of the challenging, difficult, and laudable elevation of the individual over the state protected and supported by constitution and institutions.


In matters of utopian solutions in which there are those who stand in opposition to them, it is easy to see why the supporters of utopianism would view those who do not share their beliefs with derision and hatred. What kind of person could possibly oppose the advancement of humanity other than an evil person, a misanthrope? This was an essential lesson of the French Revolution—where decent people with decent motivations went off the rails, pressured and corrupted by the mob, then finally themselves becoming the mob, and committed wholesale barbarisms to ensure the success of their purported revolution for freedom and equality. Barbarism is no element of democratic freedoms (as noted by John Adams and Edmund Burke) neither is it but an unfortunate marker on the path to such goals of political freedom and individual rights (as suggested by Jefferson at the time). When the freedom revolution turns to barbarism, it is no longer a freedom revolution at all, but something quite the opposite.


What of those who believe that they are patriots while they undermine the institutions and the state that protects them and their freedoms? The #walkaway movement is a perfect illustration of what happens when those in such a movement see the truth—they walk away. As thousands have already professed to walking away from the Democrat party they aren’t all walking toward the Republican party. As of June, 2018, the #walkaway movement had over 100,000 members on their Facebook page. They tend to sustain a general classic form of American liberalism, uncorrupted by utopianism, globalism, and bizarre theories of human evolution. Such a massive shift is how old political parties die, and new ones are born.


Similar calls for incivility and worse came months before from Maxine Waters, a Democrat member of Congress, and went widely noticed but unpunished by the Congress itself. Such rhetoric that suggests harassment and violence are acceptable in American political life should result in at least a Congressional censure if not expulsion. That nothing was done at all by the Congress in response to Miss Waters’ outrageous and dangerous rhetoric is a catastrophic failure on the part of Congress to sustain American norms and censure and remove those who will not uphold them. Such a failure by the Congress to protect itself and the officials of the government cannot stand and sets a dangerous precedent of ignoring direct threats to institutions and individuals. The Congress must act in such situations, as protecting itself and our democracy are essential elements of its mandate.



There are those who consider American politics to be about political parties working within an accepted system/framework that is both of great value and that functions (though not as fast as some might prefer). There are unstated assumptions and assertions on both sides that drive belief and heartfelt action and that keep these political tribes/communities/movements/parties intact. After the defeat of Mrs. Clinton and this recent call for incivility from the apparent leader of the American left, the true nature of American politics is now clear.




Daniel Mallock is a historian of the Founding generation and of the Civil War and is the author of The New York Times Bestseller, Agony and Eloquence: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and a World of Revolution. He is a Contributing Editor at New English Review.

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