Saul Alinsky: I’m Still Irreverent…


From Reveille For Radicals (1969)

Disillusionment’s child is irreverence, and irreverence became one of my major heritages from an angry, irreverent generation. In this way I have not changed. I am still irreverent. I still feel the same contempt for and still reject so-called objective decisions made without passion and anger. Objectivity, like the claim that one is nonpartisan or reasonable, is usually a defensive posture used by those who fear involvement in the passions, partisanships, conflicts, and changes that make up life; they fear life. An “objective” decision is generally lifeless. It is academic and the word “academic” is a synonym for irrelevant. All radicals acting for change must attack the sacred cows of the past and many of the present. These sacred cows are accepted as germinal truths and serve as the supporting rationale for the ways of the past. A scared human being gives birth to a sacred cow. Since the genesis and survival of sacred cows is rooted in fear and reverence, it follows that those who want change must be against sacred cows and not only innately irreverent but outwardly, purposefully irreverent in their actions. They must be iconoclastic bulldozers willing to be regarded as profane spoilers of the sacred myths.

The roots of the radical’s irreverence toward his present society lie in his reverence for the values and promises of the democratic faith, of the free and open society. He is angry with and hates those parts of the body politic that have broken faith with the future, with the dreams and hopes of a free way of life.

His is a quest for a future: where everyone would have a job, a real job—more than just a paycheck—a job that would be meaningful to society as well as to the worker; a future where everyone would have full opportunities to achieve his potentiality; where education, good housing, health, and full equality for all would be universal; a promised land of peace and plenty; a world where all the revolutionary slogans of the past would come to life: “Love your neighbor as you would love yourself”; “You are your brother’s keeper”; “All men are created equal”; “Peace and bread”; “For the general welfare”; a world where the Judeo-Christian values and the promise of the American Constitution would be made real.

Each victory will bring a new vision of human happiness, for man’s highest end is to create—total fulfillment, total security, would dull the creative drive. Ours is really the quest for uncertainty, for that continuing change which is life. The pursuit is never ending—the happiness lies in the pursuit.

One Comment

Hey, don’t argue with passion! I mean, don’t argue with a passionate person – but some of us are “adrenalin” oriented, others “heart” oriented. Alinsky’s clarion call probably fits both types, and he makes (made) great points regarding the neutered, dispassionate, pseudo-objective stuff of complacency. The times are ripening (side-stepped putting it as “the times they are a’ripening”)