What Is a Radical?

Excerpt from Saul Alinsky’s Reveille for Radicals.

The people of America live everywhere from Back Bay Boston to the Bottoms of Kansas City. From swank Highland Park, Illinois, to slum Harlem, New York. From the gentlemen farmers of Connecticut to the share-croppers of Arkansas. From the marble swimming pools of magnificent Bel-Air, California, to the muck of the Flats of Cleveland. From sooty Harlan County, Kentucky, to impeccable Bar Harbor, Maine.

The people of America are Red, White, Black, Yellow, and all the shades in between. Their eyes are blue, black, and brown, and all the shades in between. Their hair is straight, curly, kinky, and most of it in between. They are tall and short, slim and fat, athletic and anaemic, and most of them in between.

They are the different peoples of the world becoming more and more the “in between.” They are a people creating a new bridge of mankind in between the past of narrow nationalistic chauvinism and the horizon of a new mankind — a people of the world.

Their face is the face of the future.

The people of America include followers of all the major religions on the face of the earth. They are Christians, regardless of which one of the two hundred or more different major varieties or sects that compose Christianity. They are Baptists, both Northern and Southern, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Catholics, Mennonthe-cob and Wienerschnitzel. They drink Coca-Cola and Pilsu beer.

They have fried chicken and hot biscuits at their church socials and chicken a la Stork Club at sophisticated night spots. They eat baked beans at the Automat and venison in the Wedgwood Room of the Waldorf. They are vegetarians, food faddists, and vitamin takers. They eat what their forefathers ate and their forefathers came from everywhere. The diet of America is the diet of the world.

The American people were, in the beginning, Revolutionaries and Tories. The American people ever since have been Revolutionaries and Tories regardless of the labels of the passed and present. Regardless of whether they were Federalists, Democrat-Republicans, Whigs, Know-Nothings, Free Soilers, Unionists or Confederates, Populists, Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Communists, or Progressives. They have been and are profiteers and patriots. They have been and are conservatives, liberals, and radicals.

The clash of radicals, conservatives, and liberals which makes up America’s political history opens the door to the most fundamental question of what is America? How do the people of America feel? It is in the feeling that the real story of America is written. There were and are a number of Americans — few, to be sure — filled with deep feeling for people. They know that people are the stuff that makes up the dream of democracy. These few were and are the American radicals and the only way that we can understand the American radicals is to understand what we mean by this feeling for and with people. Psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, and other learned students call this feeling “identification” and have elaborate and complicated explanations about what it means. For our purposes it boils down to the simple question: How do you feel about people?

Do you like people? Most people claim that they like people with, of course, a “few exceptions.” When the exceptions are added together it becomes clear that they include a vast majority of the people. It becomes equally clear that most people like just a few people, there kind of people, and either do not actively care for or actively dislike most of the “other” people.

You are white, native-born, and Protestant. Do you like people? You like your family, your friends, some of your business associates (not too many of them), and some of your neighbors. Do you like Catholics, Irish, Italians, Jews, Poles, Mexicans, Negroes, Puerto Ricans, and Chinese? Do you regard them with the warm feeling of fellow human beings or with a cold contempt symbolized in Papists, Micks, Wops, Kikes, Hunkies, Greasers, Niggers, Spics, and Chinks? If you are one of those people who think of people in these derogatory terms, then you don’t like people.

You may object to this and say that you do not fall into this classification. You don’t call people by such names. You are broad-minded and respect other peoples if they know their place — and that place is not close to your own affections. You feel that you are really very tolerant. The chances are that you are an excellent representative of the great American class of Mr. But. Haven’t you met Mr. But? Sure you have. You have met him downtown at civic lunches. You have met him at Community Fund meetings, at housing conferences, at political rallies, and most likely he has greeted you every morning from the mirror in your bathroom. Mr. But is the man who is broad-minded, sensible practical, and proud of his Christianity. You have heard him talk many times, just as you have heard yourself talk many times. What does he say? Listen to the great American, Mr. But:

  • “Now nobody can say that I’m not a friend of the Mexicans or that I am prejudiced, BUT —”
  • “Nobody can say that I’m anti-Semitic. Why, some of my best friends are Jews, BUT —”
  • “Surely nobody can think of me as a reactionary, BUT —”
  • “I don’t think anyone in this room feels more sympathetic toward the Negroes than I do. I’ve always had a number of them working for me, BUT —”
  • “It’s perfectly all right for these people to have equal opportunities for work, and after all we are all Americans aren’t we? BUT —”
  • “Anybody knows that I would be the first to fight against this injustice, BUT —”
  • “Labor Unions are all right, BUT —”
  • “Sure, I say that all Americans should have the right to live any place they want to regardless of race, color, or creed, BUT —”

You are very probably a typical Mr. But. You make “tolerant” jokes behind the backs of your fellow Americans, about their clothes, complexions, speech, manners, and names. You regard yourself as tolerant, and in that one adjective you most fittingly describe yourself. You really don’t like people, you tolerate them. You are very tolerant, Mr. But. You leave a luncheon meeting at which you sat next to a Negro and talked with him (and you tell your friends about it for months to come). You are so flushed and filled with your own goodness that if the thought could father the deed you would take flight on your new angelic wings.

Thomas Jefferson saw this very clearly in his letter to Henry Lee on August 10, 1824:

Men by their constitution are naturally divided into two parties:

1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.

2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests.

In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves. Call them, therefore, Liberals and Serviles, Jacobins and Ultras, Whigs and Tories, Republicans and Federalists, Aristocrats and Democrats, or by whatever name you please, they are the same parties still and pursue the same object. The last appellution of Aristocrats and Democrats is the true one expressing the essence of all.

During Jefferson’s lifetime the words Democrat and Radical were synonymous. Just as people then were divided between those who feared and disliked people and those who liked them, so is Jefferson’s observation as true today as it was in 1824 and as true as it always has been since the beginning of mankind.

There were those few, and there will be more, who really liked people, loved people — all people. They were the human torches setting aflame the hearts of men so that they passionately fought for the rights of there fellow men, all men. They were hated, feared, and branded as radicals. They wore the epithet of radical as a badge of honor. They fought for the right of men to govern themselves, for the right of men to walk erect as free men and not grovel before kings, for the Bill of Rights, for the abolition of slavery, for public education. And for everything decent and worthwhile. They loved men and fought for them. Their neighbors misery is their misery. They acted as they believed.

So you are an Irish Catholic? The one who suffers from the white, native-born Protestant, Mr, But. You are the one who accuses him of prejudice! Let’s take a good look at you. Do you like people? Of course you do. But what about Protestants? What about Jews? What about Negroes and Chinese? What about your fellow Catholics — Italians, Poles, Lithuanians, Slovaks, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and others? What about your fellow Irish? How many of you look down on them as inferior to yourselves? Don’t you call your own illiterate and poor “Shanty Irish”? How many of your own frustrations how you rationalized by blaming it on “Catholic” prejudice? Is the Catholic Church so very important in your life because it represents a spiritual sanctuary or because it’s a political power for jobs and material success. There are a few of you that have gone out to battle against narrow nationalism, anti-Semitism, Jim Crow, and for the bettering of the economic conditions of all mankind. Those few did this because the were devoted to the welfare of all of their fellow man. To them Catholisicm was a living everyday faith and way of life. They were real Catholics in spite of the disapproval of parts of the formal church. There were your radicals. They are your proud heritage.

So you are a Jew. Maybe you’re one of the few living on Park Avenue, or in the upper 60s. You bitterly resent anti-Semitism and regard prejudiced people as uncivilized, irrelligious, and definitely un-American. Let’s take a look at you. How do you feel about the frock-coated Jews in Williamsburg section of Brooklyn? You don’t like them. You think of them as loud, uncouth, and dirty. You don’t like the way they smile or the way they talk. You say it is bad for the Jews. Maybe you are a Spanish Jew and you look down on the German Jew, or you are a German Jew and you look down with utter contempt upon the Russian and Polish Jew. Maybe you’re so intent on social prestige, becoming accepted in the best clubs, living in the more exclusive residential sections, fraternising with so-called best people, that you reject all Jews. On the other hand, many of you may be fighting valiantly the prejudice in parts of the American system that is centred against you and your fellow Jews. While you are fighting are you thinking of the same un-American hatred that is aimed at Negroes, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and all other minorities? If you think only of yourself, then in the last analysis you too are a Mr. and Mrs. But. There are very few of you, just as there are very few of the protestants and Catholics, who really like people — the few who fought on the picket line, through the printed page, before the crumbling walls of Madrid, and in the South against the lynch mobs and for the sharecroppers. They fight for all. They, as radicals, resent injustice to any man. Many Jews have pointed out that the radicals from their group are few and far between. That is true. It’s as true as it is for any other group. For after all, the people who really like there fellow men are few and far between.

So you’re a Negro. You’re a Negro and you deeply resent the hypocrisy and the bigotry of the whites. You hate Jim Crow with all your heart. You live in a prison of prejudice. Your home is in the worst section of the city. You don’t have an equal chance for a job. You go to college and when you graduate you’re given a job as a doorman. You’re barred from the best jobs and the house next door, and you live in just plain unadulterated hell. Your life is still what one little Negro schoolgirl wrote when asked by the teacher to write an essay on punishment for Hitler: “Dress him up in a black skin and make him live in the United States.” You have white friends who pride themselves on not being prejudiced. They meet with you at various civic affairs, pat you on the back, and underneath it all still hold you off at arm’s length and regard you as a Negro. They talk in terms of patience and say that there will come a time in the mystical future when we will all sit together and eat pie in the sky. It’s the difference between Northern Jim Crow and his Southern brother. One may be more subtle but every bit as cruel. They’re both part of the same iniquitous family. You resent all that, but how do you reconcile fighting against prejudice and being prejudiced? You are predominantly protestants. How do you feel about Jews? How do you feel about Catholics? How do you feel about your own people? You have a gradation of color wear light-skinned people feel superior to dark-skinned. You refer to one another in anger with the same hateful adjectives you resent when the are used by whites. Many of your so-called leaders are servile to white interests. When some of your own have fought for decency, dignity, equality, and every principle embodied in the revolutionary rites of America, some of you have stamped him a radical. Because that fighter incurs the displeasure of the ruling whites, some of you have become apprehensive of white retribution and so you have turned on him with terrible bitterness and refused to follow. You don’t like people any more than do those who don’t like you. You too have your share of Mr. But’s.

So you’re a Pole. You hate being called a Hunkie. You resent being assigned menial jobs — common labour. You resent being looked down upon as slow-witted — good only for manual work and living across the tracks. You denounce these prejudices as un-American and undemocratic. How do you feel about people in your Catholicism to the extent that you want your own special churches. You resent the Irish domination in churches and politics and hate the Irish for it. How do you feel about Jews? Many of you hate them with an unparalleled bitterness. That hatred is illustrated in many little sayings. You have a proverb that “when a Pole has no money he comes to church and when he does he goes to the Jews”. You say it with the same feeling that you say he goes to the devil. Many of you hate Negroes too, just as deeply. You too how had your great radicals, those few who really liked all people. Those who fought the battles of others — only they never thought in terms of “others”; they couldn’t because they were real radicals.

So you’re a Mexican. You are segregated and subjected to many of the indignities of the Negro. You are set apart and looked down upon. You resent this. But how do you feel about people? Many of your Mexican leaders in Southern California resisted the efforts of the Negroes to unite in a common bond against segregation. They said that the Negroes were trying to pull them down to their level. They take pleasure in referring to themselves as Spanish-Americans, and bitterly resent the feeling on the part of North Americans that Mexicans are not “white.” From one corner of their mouths they protest segregation and discrimination and argue forthrightly for justice and equality, and from the other corner they condemn the Negro as an inferior race. Those Mexicans who tried to organize against the destructive American forces that are responsible for inequality of opportunity, economic insecurity, and lack of educational opportunities have been hated as radicals and many of the respectable Mexican leaders, including the religious leaders, have denounced them as radicals. These radicals have fought for union with all other minority groups; as a matter of fact, with all peoples. They have fort because they like people, all people.

Where are America’s Radicals? They were with Patrick Henry in the Virginia Hall of Burgesses; they were with Sam Adams in Boston; they were with that peer of all American Radicals, Tom Paine, from the distribution of Common Sense through those dark days of the American Revolution — “the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” They were again with Tom Paine when he fought to abolish slavery in the Declaration of Independence; they were high on the list of public enemies of the American Tories who fumed at the three Toms, “Tom Jefferson, Tom Paine, and Tom Devil.”

The American Radicals were in the colonies grimly forcing the addition of the Bill of Rights to our Constitution. They stood at the side of Tom Jefferson in the first big battle between the Tories of Hamilton and the American people. They founded and fought in the Loco-Focos. They were in the first union strike in America and they fought for the distribution of the western lands to the masses of people instead of the few. They were everywhere fighting and dying to free their fellow Americans regardless of their race or creed. They were in the shadows of the Underground Railroad, and they openly rode in the bright sunlight with John Brown to Harpers Ferry. They were in the halls of Congress with Thaddeus Stevens, bitterly and uncompromisingly fighting for the complete economic and political freedom of their Negro fellow Americans. They were with Horace Mann fighting for the extension of educational opportunities. They carried the torch for the first public schools. They were in the vanguard of the Populist Party leading the western rebellion against eastern conservatism. They built the American Labor movement from the Knights of Labor through the American Federation of Labor, the I.W.W., and finally spearheaded the fateful drive that culminated in the Congress of Industrial Organizations. They were with Wendell Phillips fighting for labor’s right of equality of opportunity. They were with Peter Cooper fighting the ruthlessness of industrial barons. They hovered around Walt Whitman, who, seeing American democracy being betrayed, wrote Democratic Vistas. They were with Henry George attacking monopoly in Progress and Poverty. They were with Edward Bellamy, who saw an America where the common good was being subordinated to private selfishness and wrote Looking Backward. They were with John P. Altgeld, the great governor of Illinois who refused to use state power against labor unions, who defied public opinion and pardoned the anarchists unjustly convicted of the Haymarket bombing. They were with those great muckrakers Henry D. Lloyd, Lincoln Steffens, and Upton Sinclair in their brutal exposures of oppressions, injustice, and corruption.

Many of their deeds are not and never will be recorded in America’s history. They were among the grimy men in the Dust Bowl, they sweated with the share-croppers, they were at the side of the Okies facing the California vigilantes, they stood and stand before the fury of lynching mobs, they were and are on the picket lines gazing unflinchingly at the threatening, flushed, angry faces of the police. They were with Chicago’s Catholic Bishop Sheil when, ignoring threats from the highest vested authorities, he took his place at the side of thousands of packinghouse workers who had squared off against the hitherto invulnerable meat trust.

America’s radicals are to be found wherever and whenever America moves close to the fulfillment of its democratic dream. Whenever America’s hearts are breaking, there American radicals were and are. America was begun by its radicals. America was built by its radicals. The hope and future of America lies with its radicals.

debs parks douglass zinn2

Eugene Debs, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, and Howard Zinn.

What is the American radical? The radical is that unique person to whom the common good is the greatest personal value. He is that person who genuinely and completely believes in mankind. The radical is so completely identified with mankind that he personally shares the pain, the injustices, and the sufferings of all his fellow men. He completely understands and accepts to the last letter those immortal words of John Donne:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

The Radical is not fooled by shibboleths and facades. He faces issues squarely and does not hide his cowardice behind the convenient cloak of rationalization. The Radical refuses to be diverted by superficial problems. He is completely concerned with fundamental causes rather than current manifestations. He concentrates his attack on the heart of the issue.

What does the Radical want? He wants a world in which the worth of the individual is recognized. He wants the creation of a kind of society where all of man’s potentialities could be realized; a world where man could live in dignity, security, happiness and peace—a world based on a morality of mankind.

To these ends Radicals struggle to eradicate all those evils which anchor mankind in the mire of war, fears, misery, and demoralization. The Radical is concerned not only with the economic welfare of the bodies of mankind but also the freedom of the minds man. It is for this that he attacks all those parts of any system that tends to make man a mechanical robot. It is for this that he opposes all circumstances which destroy the souls of man and make them fearful, petty, worried, dull sheep in men’s clothing. The Radical is dedicated to the destruction of the roots of all fears, frustrations, and insecurity of man whether they be material or spiritual. The Radical wants to see man truly free. Not just free economically and politically but also free socially. When the Radical says complete freedom he means just that.

The Radical believes that all peoples should have a high standard of food, housing, and health. The Radical is impatient with talk of the “closing of frontiers” or the “end of the frontiers.”

He thinks only in terms of human frontiers which are as limitless as the horizons. The Radical believes intensely in the possibilities of man and hopes fervently for the future.

The Radical places human rights far above property rights. He is for universal, free public education and recognizes this as fundamental to the democratic way of life. He will condemn local abuse of public education whether it be discrimination or corruption, and will insist if necessary upon its correction by national government authority—but at the same time he will bitterly oppose complete Federal control of education. He will fight for individual rights and against centralized power. He will usually be found battling in defense of local rights against Federal usurpations of power, but I he knows that ever since the Tories attacked the Continental Congress as an invasion of local rights, “local rights” have been the star-spangled Trojan horse of Troy reaction. It is for this reason that the American Radical frequently shifts his position on this issuer.

The Radical is deeply interested in social planning but just as deeply suspicious of and antagonistic to any idea of plans which work from the top down. Democracy to him is working from the bottom up.

The Radical is a staunch defender of minority rights but will combat any minority which tries to use the club of minority rights to bludgeon into unconsciousness the will of the majority.

In short, the American Radical, by his individual actions, may appear to be the epitome of inconsistency, but when judged on the basis of his ideals, philosophy, and objectives, he is a living definition of consistency.

The Radical believes completely in real equality of opportunity for all peoples regardless of race, color, or creed. He insists on full employment for economic security but is just as insistent that man’s work should not only provide economic security but also be such as to satisfy the creative desires within all men. The Radical feels that the importance of a job is not only in its individual economic return but also in its general social significance.

The Radical knows that man is not just an economic man. The complete man is one who is making a definite contribution to the general social welfare and who is a vital part of that community of interests, values, and purposes that makes life and people meaningful. The complete man needs a complete job — a job for the heart as well as the hand — a job where he can say to himself, “What I do is important and has its place.”

The American Radical will fight privilege and power whether it be inherited or acquired by any small group, whether it be political or financial or organized creed. He curses a caste system which he recognizes despite all patriotic denials. He will fight conservatives whether they are business or labor leaders. He will fight any concentration of power hostile to a broad, popular democracy, whether he finds it in financial circles or in politics.

The Radical recognizes that constant dissension and conflict is and has been the fire under the boiler of democracy. He firmly believes in that brave saying of a brave people, Better to die on your feet than to live on~your knees. The Radical may resort to the sword but when he does he is not filled with hatred against those individuals whom he attacks. He hates these individuals not as persons but as symbols representing ideas or interests which he believes to be inimical to the welfare of the people. That is the reason why Radicals, although frequently embarking upon revolutions, have rarely resorted to personal terrorism.

To the general public Radicals may appear to be persons of violence. But if Radicals are stormy and fighting on the outside, inside they possess a rare inner peace. It is that tranquility that can come only from consistency of conscience and conduct.

The first part of the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi expresses to a large extent the Radical’s hopes, aspirations, dreams, and philosophy:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is
hatred, let me sow love; where there is doubt, faith; where there
is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there
is sadness, joy.

But let no man or combination of men who ruthlessly exploit their fellow men assume because of the nobility and spiritual quality of the Radical’s hopes that he will not stand up for the fulfillment of this prayer, for next to this prayer he carries within him the words of Jehovah:

When I whet my glittering sword, and my hand taketh hold on Judgment: I will render vengeance unto my enemies, and those that hate me will I requite. I will make my arrows drunken with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; from the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the crushed head of the enemy.

There are many Liberals who claim the same objectives in life which characterize the philosophy of the Radical, but there are many clear lines of distinction between Radicals and Liberals.

Time need not be wasted on Conservatives, since time itself will take care of them. There is a tremendous significance to that common saying that a man is a Radical at 21, a Liberal at 31, and a Conservative at 40. The young man of 21 still has certain burning ideals. He still has faith in life and hope in progress. He is still naive enough to take what he says literally. He is still young enough not to have acquired a vested material interest and the attendant suspicions of any social change which might jeopardize it. He still has not “matured” to the point of being practical and compromising. He still hasn’t reached the point of believing that “all men are created equal” is nice in theory but taboo in practice. He has not become civilized to the point of assimilating all the prejudices and hate which permeate so large a portion of our lives. He still has some of the simplicity and decency of the child. He still likes and actually expect to be liked in return. He still is not filled with the virus of driving personal ambition, with sophistication and its accompanying constellation of rationalizations, and with a cynicism which is a cover-up for the deep fear of the future. He is a brave young man whose life is not cluttered up with prejudices and fears. He is a Radical.

Radicals always remain young in spite of the passage of years. That is one of the differences between the Radical and the Liberal. There are others.

Liberals like people with their head. Radicals like people with both their head and their heart. Liberals talk passionately of the rights of minority groups; protest against the poll tax, against lynchings, against segregation, against anti-Semitism, and against all other inhuman practices of humanity. However, when these same Liberals emerge from their meetings, rallies, and passage of resolutions and find themselves seated next to a Negro in a public conveyance they instinctively shrink back slightly. They belong to professional organizations and social clubs whose membership is exclusive — exclusive of Jews, Negroes, and many other minorities. They tell you that they disapprove of the practice, but nevertheless continue to belong. Intellectually they subscribe to all of
the principles of the American Revolution and the Constitution of the United States, but in their hearts they do not. They are a strange breed of hybrids who have radical minds and conservative hearts. They really like people only with their head. The Radical genuinely likes people and feels the same warmth and friendship in his actual relationships with all people that he expresses with his tongue.

Liberals regard themselves as well informed and well balanced. They refer to Radicals as “cranks.” They forget, however, that the definition of a crank is an object which makes revolutions.

Liberals in common with many Conservatives lay claim to the precious quality of impartiality, of cold objectivity, and to a sense of mystical impartial justice which enables them to view both sides of an issue. Since there are always at least two sides to every question and all justice on one side involves a certain degree of injustice to the other side, Liberals are hesitant to act. Their opinions are studded with “but on the other hand.” Caught on the horns of this dilemma they are paralyzed into immobility. They become utterly incapable of action. They discuss and discuss and end in disgust.

Liberals charge Radicals with passionate partisanship. To this accusation the Radical’s jaw tightens as he snaps, “Guilty! We are partisan for the people. Furthermore, we know that all people are partisan. The only non-partisan people are those who are dead. You too are partisan—if not for the people, then for whom?”

Liberals in their meetings utter bold words; they strut, grimace belligerently, and then issue a weasel-worded statement “which has tremendous implications, if read between the lines.” They endlessly pass resolutions and endlessly do nothing. They sit calmly, dispassionately, studying the issue; judging both sides; they sit and still sit. The Radical does not sit frozen by cold objectivity. He sees injustice and strikes at it with hot passion.

He is a man of decision and action. There is a saying that the difference between a Liberal and a Radical is that the Liberal is one who walks out of the room when the argument turns into a fight.

Liberals have distorted egotistical concepts of their self-importance in the general social scheme. They deliberate as ponderously and as timelessly as though their decisions would cause the world to shake and tremble. Theirs is truly a perfect case of the mountain laboring and bringing forth a mouse — a small, white, pinkeyed mouse. The fact is that outside of their own intimate associates few know of or give a hang what these Liberal groups decide. They truly fit the old description that “A Liberal is one who puts his foot down firmly on thin air.”

The support given by Liberals to some Radical measures is to be understood in the explanation a wealthy French farmer gave when he voted for Socialism. “I vote for Socialism always and steadily,” he said, “because there isn’t going to be any Socialism.”

A complacent society tolerantly views the turbulent atmospheric noise of Liberal minds with the old childhood slogan of “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Let the Liberal turn to the course of action, the course of all Radicals, and the amused look vanishes from the face of society as it snarls, “That’s radical!”

Society has good reason to fear the Radical. Every shaking advance of mankind toward equality and justice has come from the Radical. He hits, he hurts, he is dangerous. Conservative interests know that while Liberals are most adept at breaking their own necks with their tongues, Radicals are most adept at breaking the necks of Conservatives.

A fundamental difference between Liberals and Radicals is to be found in the issue of power, liberals fear power or its application. They labor in confusion over the significance of power and fail to recognize that only through the achievement and constructive use of power can people better themselves. They talk glibly of a people lifting themselves by their own bootstraps but fail to realize that nothing can be lifted or moved except through power. This fear of popular use of power is reflected in what has become the motto of Liberals, “We agree with your objectives but not with your tactics.” This has been the case throughout the history of America. Through every great crisis including the American Revolution there were thousands of well-meaning Liberals who always cried out, “We agree with you that America should be free, but we disagree that it is necessary to have a bloody revolution.” “We agree that slavery should be eliminated but we disagree with the turmoil of civil war.” Every issue involving power and its use has always carried in its wake the Liberal backwash of agreeing with the objective but disagreeing with the tactics.

Radicals precipitate the social crisis by action — by using power. Liberals may then timidly follow along or else, as in most cases, be swept forward along the course set by Radicals, but all because of forces unloosed by Radical action. They are forced to positive action only in spite of their desires.

There are other differences between Liberals and Radicals.

Liberals protest; Radicals rebel. Liberals become indignant; Radicals become fighting mad and go into action. Liberals do not modify their personal life and what they give to a cause is a small part of their life; Radicals give themselves to the cause. Liberals give and take oral arguments; the Radicals give and take the hard, dirty, bitter way of life. Liberals frequently achieve high places of respectability ranging from the Supreme Court to Congress; the names of Radicals are rarely inscribed in marble but burn eternally in the hearts of man. Liberals have tender beliefs and are filled with repugnance at the grime, the sordidness, the pain, the persecution, and the heartbreak of battle; Radicals have tough convictions which are calloused by the rough road of direct action. Liberals play the game of life with white and occasionally red chips; with the Radical it’s only blue chips, and all the chips are always down. Liberals dream dreams; Radicals build the world of men’s dreams.

These are the marks and ideals of the perfect Radical. Perfection is scarcely realized in mankind, but it is a guidepost to the ultimate. We should never forget that just as it would be almost impossible to find any man a full and perfect Christian or Jew, so it is impossible to find that Radical whose life and character fully measure up to these characteristics. People are not all good or all bad, neither angels nor devils. Life and people do not present a clear-cut picture of contrasting immaculate whites and diabolical blacks, but rather a spectrum of varying shades of gray with an infinitesimal band of true black or true white at each extreme. In the actual history of mankind we find that those few whose thoughts and actions place them even to a microscopic degree beyond the midpoint of the gray spectrum, so that they even touch the lighter shades, those few will be found to have helped and definitely contributed to the forward march of man. There are those who have lived nearly all of their mortal lives in the deeper shades, but for a fleeting moment, for a month or for some years, have seen the blinding vision at the other end and risked all in an action or a deed that was unmistakably radical. These men and women are for our purposes Radicals.

Only a perfectionist would define a Radical as one who has been consistently radical throughout his lifetime. To look for the Radical who is radical on all issues is also to search for consummate purity. The criterion as to what is a Radical can be used only in a relative sense; not only to see if a significant part of a person’s life was given to a human service, not only to evaluate the importance of the contribution to mankind, but to evaluate the Radical’s importance to the making of that contribution.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s