Saul Alinsky was very specific when dealing with issues of ‘means and ends’ or when dealing with informal education especially concerning process and product. He had a unique character especially towards those people who compromised situations where their principles should be applied. This is evident in his book Rules for radicals when he wrote the chapter ‘Of Means and Ends’. It is further evident when he says, ‘He who sacrifices the mass good for his personal conscience has a peculiar conception of 'personal salvation'; he does not care enough for people to ‘be corrupted' for them.’ (Alinsky, 1949). In his approach, there is a clear indication that the expected results in handling an issue depends on the means applied.
At the beginning of his book, he explains that there is need to weigh the principles of inaction to principles of action rather than judging it of or in itself. His area of big interest is whether the ends of any work can be achieved and if they are worth the incurred cost. He further emphasizes that ‘To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the immaculate conception of ends and principles. (Alinsky, 1949).’
Alinsky developed several rules that regard the ethics of ‘means and ends’. This is seen to be ironic especially when compared to his take on principles application in dealing with situations. In his approach, he had some elements that were considered essential. The first element is the inverse proportionality of a person’s concern on the means and ethics to his personal interest regarding the issue and the distant between him and the place of conflict occurrence. In this case, he was keen on those people who were criticizing the extent of morality on matters they were not subjects. The second element in his approach is that, the resultant way that will be applied in judging ethics is highly dependent on the position of the judges in terms of politics. Thirdly, he gives a case of war where he says that ‘the end justifies almost any means’ he says that, at this point, people are considered as the means and they, therefore, look for any possible way of justifying it(Sanders,1970)..
In his fourth element of his approach, he says ‘The judgment of the ethics of means must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point (Alinsky 1949). This calls for consideration of chances of occurrence of other activities if a specific action is not taken in solving a problem. He also adds on the increasing ethical concerns with increasing number of available means. This entails the existence of alternative means, which may lead to change of means.
Moreover, if the end is less important, there will be more evaluation of the means. There will be more changes on people’s principles depending on how the end affects or helps them. Whether failure or success will be achieved, the determining factor is ethics. In relation to the number of available means, he says that ‘The morality of a means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory (Alinsky 1949). People should be judged depending on the pressing issue before action was taken. In most cases, people will judge their opponent as immoral. The tenth element is that, one does what he can by using any available means and ‘clothe it with moral garment.’ this simply implies that, one can best apply a passive form of resistance to win his opponents (Sanders,1970).
In conclusion, taking into account all these elements of Alinsky’s approach, it is clear that his approach is still used in the current society. It is known and believed up to date that whatever means is applied in solving an issue will give particular results.
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