That "no" is for you David Brooks. The sometimes lucid New York Times columnist must have hidden acrobatic skills. Otherwise, he will have a hard time extracting his foot from his mouth. He has devoted an entire column to Radicalism without understanding the term. He is not alone but he should know better. Radicalism comes from the Latin word for root. It has to do with the basics, the underlying, the foundation. That's been lost.

Radical has become an all-purpose pejorative term to describe thinking that is all over the map. We do not live in a time of cogent and radical analysis.

We live in a time of binary, knee-jerk reactions. Only those who think outside the box and base conclusions on ethics and aesthetics have a hope of earning the honorific designation of being radical.


Brooks predictably introduces Saul Alinsky into his broadside misunderstanding of radicalism. Saul was a near friend of mine. I say near because our contacts were few. Our relationship began when I was asked to write a careful analysis of Alinsky's relationship to the religious community. I did that job and it was published in "Christianity and Crisis," a defunct magazine founded by Reinhold Niebuhr and John Bennett. It was widely reprinted.

Brooks casts Alinsky as the author of today's fierce binary wars.

He confuses radicalism with resentment and superficiality. This is a poor reading of the dean of American community organizers. Alinsky was a man of fierce universal values -- tolerance, helpfulness, and democracy among them. The strategies he advocated were for persons who were left behind and who needed to be provocative even to be heard.

If the Tea Party ever appreciated Alinsky, it is hard to detect now, when his name is used by wingnut Republicans as a stand-in for what Communism was in the mindless early days of the Cold War.


Brooks says his misnamed radicals are destroying our politics. This is not the case. Politics is not being destroyed. It is on the sidelines waiting to be used.

It is synonymous with the art of what is possible. So too are genuine radicals. Saul knew that the pickings for communities even in his time were slim. He did what he could to help. But possibility is subservient to power. And power is corrupt.

None of this is that difficult. But it becomes more arduous when people like Brooks and Rachel Maddow and others casually employ the term radical to describe reactions that are absurd regardless of where they are coming from. This is symptomatic of a world enslaved by binary thinking. Correcting that is the work of this century.