Rules for Radicals – Alinsky

At heart I am a radical. Alinksky showed me that.

Rules for Radicals is a book on many things; how to motivate people, how to make decisions, but most importantly, it is a call to arms for the radical within us all.

This is one of my favourite non-fiction books ever. A book in the purest sense of the word. If you are a leader, please read this book. If not, please read it also.

Reading Notes:

  • Human progress stumbles forward in revolutions.
  • Humour is recognising the absurd.
  • Every revolution breeds a counterrevolution. It is the passing of the eternal flame of human progress.
  • Mankind must learn that there is no option but a moral life; any other is no sustainable.
  • Inequality begets violence. If you prevent another man from his bread, he will kill you for it.
  • Our ethics only come into play when there are multiple alternative options.
  • Morality is most often used as a rationalise for existing view/actions; a cloak of pardon.
  • Most books are on idea at the beginning and then a whole lot of filler. R4R is a true book. From start to finish it builds one solid argument out of many smaller ideas.
  • Fear of change is one of humanities deepest fears.
  • To convert people you must polarise your idea. Nobody fights for 10% improvement, people only fight for 100% change.
  • Revolutions give people meaning.
  • The first non-fiction book that i really didn't want to finish. I started reading slower and slower towards the end because I didn't want it to end.
  • A book in the truest sense of the word.
  • Every leader should read this book.


  • "What sense does it make for men to walk on the moon while other men are waiting in welfare lines, or in Vietnam killing and dying for a corrupt dictatorship in the name of freedom? These are the days when man has his hands on the sublime while he is up to his hips in the much of madness."
  • "What the present generation wants is what all generations have always wanted–meaning, sense of what the world and life are–a chance to strive for some sort of order."
  • "You can miss the target by shooting to high as well as too low."
  • "Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people."
  • "Great dangers always accompany great opportunities. The possibility of destruction is always implicit in the act of creation. Thus the greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself."
  • "Dogma is the enemy of human freedom."
  • "The failure to use power for a more equitable distribution of the means of life for all people signals the end of the revolution and the start of the counterrevolution."
  • "In this world irrationality clings to man like his shadow so that the right things are done for the wrong reasons–afterwards, we dredge up the right reasons for justification. It is not world not of angels but of angles."
  • "The prime illusion we must rid ourselves of is the conventional view in which things are seen seperate from their inevitable counterparts. We know intellectually that everything is functionally interrelated, but in our operations we segment and isolate all values and issues. Everything about us must be seen as the indivisible partner of its converse, light and darkness, good and evil, life and death. From the moment we are born we begin to die. Happiness and misery are inseparable. So are peace and war. The threat of destruction from nuclear energy conversely carries the opportunity of peace and plenty, and so with every component of this universe; all is paired in this enormous Noah's Ark of Life"
  • "The history of prevailing status quos shows decay and decadence infecting the opulent materialism of the Haves. The spiritual life of the Haves is a ritualistic justification of their possessions."
  • "Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict."
  • "The pursuit of happiness is never ending; happiness lies in the pursuit."
  • "History is a relay of revolutions; the torch of idealism is carried by the revolutionary group until this group becomes an establishment, and then quietly the torch is put down to wait until a new revolutionary group picks it up for the next leg of the run. Thus the revolutionary cycle goes on."
  • "Life is a corrupting process from the time a child learns to play his mother off against his father in the politics of when to go to bed; he who fears corruption fears life."
  • "In the politics of human life, consistency is not a virtue."
  • "Every organisation known to man, from government down, has had only one reason for being–that is, organisation for power in order to put into practice or promote its common purpose."
  • "To question the force of self-interest that pervades all areas of political life is to refuse to see man as he is, to see him only as we would like him to be."
  • "Most people do not accumulate a body of experience. Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings, which pass through their systems undigested. Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on, related to general patterns , and synthesized."
  • "The organiser should know and accept that the right reason is only introduced as a moral rationalization after the right end has been achieved, although it may have been achieved for the wrong reason–therefore he should search for and use the wrong reasons to achieve the right goals. He should be able, with skill and calculation, to use irrationality in his attempts to progress toward a rational world."
  • "Before men can act an issue must be polarized. Men will act when they are convinced that their cause is 100 per cent on the side of the angels and that the opposition are 100 per cent on the side of the devil."
  • "People can make judgements only on the basis of their own experiences."
  • "It is a sad fact of life that power and fear are the fountainheads of faith."
  • "Change comes from power, and power comes from organization. In order to act, people must get together."
  • "People hunger for drama and adventure, for a breath of life in a dreary, drab existence."
  • "Tactics means doing what you can with what you have. Tactics are those consciously deliberate acts by which human beings live with each other and deal with the world around them. In the world of give and take, tactics is the art of how to take and how to give."
  • "Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have."
  • "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."
  • "We must believe that it is the darkness before the dawn of a beautiful new world; we will see it when we believe it."


  • "A word about my personal philosophy. It is anchored in optimism. It must be, for optimism brings with it hope, a future with a purpose, and therefore, a will to fight for a better world. Without this optimism, there is no reason to carry on. If we think of the struggle as a climb up a mountain, then we must visualize a mountain with no top. We see a top, but when we finally reach it, the overcast rises and we find ourselves merely on a bluff. The mountain continues on up. Now we see the "real" top ahead of us, and strive for it, only to find we've reached another bluff, the top still above us. And so it goes on, interminably. Knowing that the mountain has no top, that it is a perpetual quest from plateau to plateau, the question arises, 'Why the struggle, the conflict , the heartbreak, the danger, the sacrifice. Why the constant climb?' Our answer is the same as that which a real mountain climber gives when he is asked why he does what he does. 'Because it's there.' Because life is there ahead of you and either on tests oneself inits challenges or huddles in the valleys in a dreamless day-to-day existence whose only purpose is the preservation of an illusory security and safety. The latter is what the vast majority of people choose to do, fearing the adventure into the unknown. Paradoxically, they give up in the dream of what may lie ahead on the heights of tomorrow for a perpetual nightmare–an endless succession of days fearing the loss of a tenuous security."
  • "A major revolution to be won in the immediate future is the dissipation of man's illusion that his own welfare can be seperate from that of all others. As long as man is shackled to this myth, so long will the human spirit languish. Concern for our private, material well-being with disregard for the well-being of others is immoral according to the precepts of our Judaeo-Christian civilization, but worse, it is stupidity worthy of the lower animals. It is mans's foot still dragging in the primeval slime of his beginnings, in ignorance and mere animal cunning. But those who know the interdependence of man to be his major strength in the struggle out of the much have not been wise in their exhortations and moral pronouncements that man is his brother's keeper. On that score the record of the past centuries has been a disaster, for it was wrong to assume that man would pursue morality on a level higher than his day-t-day living demanded; it was a disservice to the future to seperate morality from man's daily desires and elevate it to a plane of altruism and self-sacrifice. The fact is that it is not man's 'better nature' but his self-interest that demands that he be his brother's keeper. We now live in a world where no man can have a load of bread while his neighbour has none. If he does not share his bread, he dare not sleep, for his neighbour will kill him. To eat and sleep in safety man must do the right thing, if for seemingly the wrong reasons, and be in practice his brother's keeper."


Sebastian Kade, Founder of Sumry and Author of Living Happiness, is a software designer and full-stack engineer. He writes thought-provoking articles every now and then on


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