"Alinsky, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!"
That's the reverence many modern conservatives hold toward the late liberal organizer Saul Alinsky, whose book Rules for Radicals — which was dedicated to Lucifer (or, at least, offered a tribute to him) — has become an esteemed political bible for conservatives hoping to learn from the left.
One example comes to us from John Hawkins, a conservative columnist and blogger who wrote an article for Townhall last year headlined "12 Ways To Use Saul Alinsky's Rules For Radicals Against Liberals." A tit-for-tat sample:
Libs throw a pie at a conservative author on campus; then we promise to shower every liberal speaker on the same campus with garbage. They post a conservative address online; we post two liberal addresses online. They hold a protest at someone's house; then we hold a protest at someone's house. They hit one of our politicians with glitter; we hit one of their politicians with coal dust. [Townhall]
In fairness to Hawkins (whom I consider a friend), he goes on to note that this is a short-term project. "Mimic those tactics once or twice," he writes, "and the Libs will freak out so hard that they'll start declaring it to be off limits for everyone, including their own activists."
But this seems unlikely. My guess is that things would just escalate even more.
In any event, this sort of "eye for an eye" theory is a far cry from "do unto others" or "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." And that's why it's harder and harder to be a devout Christian involved in politics these days — even conservative politics.
It wasn't always this way. A couple decades ago, the Christian Coalition provided ground troops for the conservative movement. But today, perhaps having seen what happened to their parents' generation, many young Christians are choosing to be conscientious objectors in the culture wars. Some of this may be due to changing attitudes concerning some hot-button social issues. But there's also a growing sense among young Christians that political involvement, no matter how pure the original motives, is a corrupting force. Christians who attempt to be in this political world, but not of this political world, are constantly faced with ethical conundrums.
This is not a new dilemma. After experiencing a religious conversion, William Wilberforce nearly left the dirty business of politics, but was convinced to use his position in Parliament for good. And indeed, he lived to achieve his life's work of ending the British slave trade. To pull this off, Wilberforce relied on some hardball political tactics. But one could argue that his end justified any parliamentary trickery and cajoling required.
If you've seen the film Lincoln, you're familiar with the kind of horse-trading this required. Wilberforce is proof that spirituality and political involvement are not mutually exclusive. But for every Wilberforce, there are countless other men and women who have been dragged down by political involvement.
Plus, things have changed. People have always made exceptions to their moral code in times of war, and what is politics but a bloodless #war. But today, the warfare is asymmetrical. It's done on Twitter and at political rallies. The line of demarcation between "civilians" and political operatives has vanished. And the fighting never stops.
It's only natural that, once in the fight, conservatives would want to fight fire with fire. Once the other side ups the ante, to engage in unilateral disarmament is to surrender. We see this playing out right now during the government shutdown, where, in an effort to make sure the public feels as much pain as possible, the Obama administration is erecting "barry-cades" to keep people out of open-air memorials to World War I and World War II veterans. Conservatives responded by taking a page from Alinsky, who said, "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon," and mocking them mercilessly. This is effective, but once your game is mockery, it's hard to avoid descending into bitterness.
For Christians, political involvement has a way of breaking bad. The real danger is that over time, it has a coarsening effect, and that our political ranks and church pews alike will be filled full of Walter Whites who will do anything to achieve their goals. They are wise as serpents, but no longer innocent as doves. For what shall it profit a man if he should win the election, but lose his soul?
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- How Wall Street is chipping away at reform
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 10 things you need to know today: December 21, 2014
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Are there dogs in heaven? Let's hope not.
- How I lost all my money
- You should be furious about Hollywood's gutless retreat on The Interview
Subscribe to the Week