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A House Built on Sand, the Alinsky Ideology, and Catholics: Beyond the Means-Ends Debate

A House Built on Sand, the Alinsky Ideology, and Catholics: Beyond the Means-Ends Debate

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01/16/2013

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A House Built on Sand, the Alinsky Ideology, and Catholics:Beyond the Means-Ends DebateBrian Douglass
1
 With the announcement of yet another sting operation against Planned Parenthood byanti-abortion activists Live Action earlier this year, the debate about Saul Alinsky and hismethods has risen, once again, as a topic of discussion in Catholic circles. Live Action, as was
the case with James O'Keefe‘s exposé of ACORN
staff for violating federal laws in 2009, raisesquestions about using tactics inspire
d by Alinsky‘s activist methods.
2
The present debate hascentered on the morality of 
Live Action‘s
most recent undercover videos, which show twopeople who falsely claim to be involved in sex trafficking in order to try and catch employees of Planned Parenthood engaged in illegal behavior.
3
The undercover videos do show employeesproviding information on how to conceal such crimes as international sex trafficking andemploying underage sex workers as well as advice on what work a woman could engage in whilerecovering from abortions. It should come as no surprise that Planned Parenthood became upsetand tried to get the Federal Government to investigate Live Action.
4
Proving that two can playthe undercover game when it benefits them, Planned Parenthood and their allies had been
 performing similar ―investigations‖ of pro
-life pregnancy centers in New York City with muchless success in obtaining shocking details for several months.
5
 Does lying about being engaged in illegal activities to Planned Parenthood workersconstitute ethical behavior? Where is the line between mental reservation and sin? These are thequestions raised by the tactics used to expose Planned Parenthood. Concerns over the ethics of the tactics embraced by activist groups are nothing new when it comes to Alinsky-inspired
 
movements. In a letter containing an overall positive reaction to Alinsky‘s
 Rules for Radicals
,
Jacques Maritain, a close friend of Alinsky, expressed concern about the book‘s discussion of 
means and ends.
6
As very competent minds have addressed the morality of means used by LiveAction elsewhere, I do not seek to repeat their arguments here.
7
 Live Action describes itself on its website as a
―youth led movement dedicated to
building a culture of life and ending
abortion‖
by
the use of new media and ―investigative
 journalism to expose threats against the vulnerable and defenseless.
8
Any public presentationmade by the group confirms that it is indeed young, vibrant, and dedicated. The undercover stingoperation at Planned Parenthood in February of this year is just one example of theirinvestigative journalism successes. Live Action has filmed several other undercover videos aswell as phone calls recorded that exposed Planned Parenthood to serious legal and ethicalquestions. As a Catholic who has worked to save babies outside of Abortion Mills and who hasseen what abortion can do to mothers, not just children, the idea of a world without PlannedParenthood is wonderful. As such, Live Action
‘s goal
is indeed a noble mission. However, thereis a tendency to view actions exclusively on their results that seems to have led to far too littlecritical examination of the methods used by various pro-life groups, including Live Action. Thispragmatic view of tactics seems also to provide an explanation as to why a growing number of activist groups from all over the political spectrum, dedicated to a wide array of causes, adoptAlinsky as a role model. His methods work.In her quest to expose the abortion industry and to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets,t
he group‘s president, Lila Rose
views
Alinsky‘s book,
 Rules for Radicals
and his ideology as akey influence on her work.
9
 
Both Lila Rose and James O‘Keefe attended training conducted by
the Leadership Institute, which also holds Alinsky in high regard as an activist and model for
 
leadership.
10
With personal histories, public statements, and the use of tactics, which have raisedmoral questions even with their great success, it seems fair to conclude Alinsky and his ideologyhas been a key influence on Live Action and their choice of tactics.Saul Alinsky,
well known ―community organizer‖ and social activist of the twentieth
century, developed a model of 
, ―community
organizing
,‖
 
or the ―Alinsky ideology.‖ In its most
basic form, as outlined in
 Rules for Radicals
, Alinsky‘s system consists of 
community organizerswho go into impoverished neighborhoods where they live and bond with residents. Once they areaccepted, organizers use techniques and strategies, which in keeping with Alinsky
‘s philosophy
,could take on just about any form as long as it solved community problems. The goal of Alinskywas not to come in as a leader and work from above, but rather to empower the poor andmarginalized and thus to allow them to become engaged in the political process and to take
 power from the ―haves‖ and give it to themselves
. For Alinsky, the goal is power to the people atany cost.
Outside of this basic model, Alinsky‘s no
-holds-barred approach to activism and his rules
of ―power tactics‖
provide insight in the extent that Alinsky was willing to go to achieve hisgoals.
11
These rules include such aphorisms as
P
ower is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have‖
Make the enemy live up to its own
 book of rules‖
 
―Ridicule
is man's most potent weapon.
 
Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.
12
 

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