20 August 2009 • 7:00 am

Saul Alinsky’s Rules for (Consultants)

Saul_AlinskyOne of the most memorable books I was required to read in graduate school was Saul Alinky’s Rules for Radicals. The class, as I recall, was called “Power and Politics in Organizations,” and Alinsky’s slim yet compelling text stood out among the three or four books my classmates and I had to complete during the ten weeks of that valuable class.

Saul Alinsky was born and raised in Chicago, where he became known for his organizing of meatpackers and later, civil rights groups. He is generally regarded as the originator of the term “community organizer” which was front and center in the rhetoric of last year’s U.S. presidential campaign – Alinsky’s teachings and writings influenced Barack Obama’s community organizing work in Chicago. Alinsky has always been a polarizing figure, even 37 years after his death in 1972. In the opening lines of Rules for Radicals, Alinsky wrote,

“What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.”

Alinsky wasn’t subtle, nor was he deferential. In plain language, he expressed his passion for change, and generations have learned from his wisdom.