Extremism

Extremism

Overview
Extremism is any ideology
Ideology
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things , as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies , or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to...

 or political act far outside the perceived political center of a society; or otherwise claimed to violate common moral standards
Morality
Morality is the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good and bad . A moral code is a system of morality and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code...

. In democratic
Representative democracy
Representative democracy is a form of government founded on the principle of elected individuals representing the people, as opposed to autocracy and direct democracy...

 societies, individuals or groups that advocate the replacement of democracy with an authoritarian
Authoritarianism
Authoritarianism is a form of social organization characterized by submission to authority. It is usually opposed to individualism and democracy...

 regime are usually branded extremists, in authoritarian societies the opposite applies.

The term is invariably, or almost invariably, used pejorative
Pejorative
Pejoratives , including name slurs, are words or grammatical forms that connote negativity and express contempt or distaste. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social groups but not in others, e.g., hacker is a term used for computer criminals as well as quick and clever computer experts...

ly. Extremism is usually contrasted with moderation, and extremists with moderates.
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Encyclopedia
Extremism is any ideology
Ideology
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things , as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies , or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to...

 or political act far outside the perceived political center of a society; or otherwise claimed to violate common moral standards
Morality
Morality is the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good and bad . A moral code is a system of morality and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code...

. In democratic
Representative democracy
Representative democracy is a form of government founded on the principle of elected individuals representing the people, as opposed to autocracy and direct democracy...

 societies, individuals or groups that advocate the replacement of democracy with an authoritarian
Authoritarianism
Authoritarianism is a form of social organization characterized by submission to authority. It is usually opposed to individualism and democracy...

 regime are usually branded extremists, in authoritarian societies the opposite applies.

The term is invariably, or almost invariably, used pejorative
Pejorative
Pejoratives , including name slurs, are words or grammatical forms that connote negativity and express contempt or distaste. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social groups but not in others, e.g., hacker is a term used for computer criminals as well as quick and clever computer experts...

ly. Extremism is usually contrasted with moderation, and extremists with moderates. (For example, in contemporary discussions in Western countries of Islam, or of Islamic political movements, it is common for there to be a heavy stress on the distinction between extremist and moderate Muslims. It is also not uncommon to necessarily define distinctions regarding extremist Christians as opposed to moderate Christians, as in countries such as the United States).

Political agendas perceived as extremist often include those from the far left
Far left
Far left, also known as the revolutionary left, radical left and extreme left are terms which refer to the highest degree of leftist positions among left-wing politics...

 or far right
Far right
Far-right, extreme right, hard right, radical right, and ultra-right are terms used to discuss the qualitative or quantitative position a group or person occupies within right-wing politics. Far-right politics may involve anti-immigration and anti-integration stances towards groups that are...

 as well as fundamentalism
Fundamentalism
Fundamentalism is strict adherence to specific theological doctrines usually understood as a reaction against Modernist theology. The term "fundamentalism" was originally coined by its supporters to describe a specific package of theological beliefs that developed into a movement within the...

 or, as a more general term, fanaticism
Fanaticism
Fanaticism is a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal, particularly for an extreme religious or political cause or in some cases sports, or with an obsessive enthusiasm for a pastime or hobby...

.

Problem of definition of extremism


In different countries at different times were many different definitions of "extremism". Dr. Peter T. Dickman and Dr. Andrea Bartoli give short observation of definitions:


Radicalism or extremism?


The terms extremism or extremist are almost always exonymic — i.e. applied by others to a group rather than by a group labeling itself. Rather than labeling themselves extremist, those labeled as such might describe themselves as, for example, political radicals
Political radicalism
The term political radicalism denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways...

. There is no political party that calls itself "right-wing extremist" or "left-wing extremist", and there is no sect of any religion that calls itself "extremist" or which calls its doctrine "extremism".

The term extremist is used to describe groups and individuals who have become radicalized
Radicalization
Radicalization is the process in which an individual changes from passiveness or activism to become more revolutionary, militant or extremist. Radicalization is often associated with youth, adversity, alienation, social exclusion, poverty, or the perception of injustice to self or others.-...

, in some way, even though the term radical originally meant to go to the root of a (social) problem. The term radical is one not normally regarded as pejorative (except perhaps in the United States of America) and, unlike extremist, is sometimes used by groups in their description of themselves.

The term extremist is often used with reference to those who use or advocate violence against the will of society at large, but it is also used by some to describe those who advocate or use violence to enforce the will of the social body, such as a government or majority constituency. Those described as extremist would in general not accept that what they practice or advocate constitutes violence and would instead speak in terms of acts of "resistance"or militant action or the use of force. The word violence cannot be regarded as value-neutral. Ideology and methodology often become inextricably linked under the single term extremism.

The notion that there is a philosophy which can be described as extremism is considered by some to be suspect. Within sociology, several academics who track (and are critical of) extreme right-wing groups have objected to the term extremist, which was popularized by centrist sociologists in the 1960s and 1970s. As Jerome Himmelstein states the case: "At best this characterization tells us nothing substantive about the people it labels; at worst it paints a false picture." (Himmelstein, p. 7). The act of labeling a person, group or action as extremist is sometimes claimed to be a technique to further a political goal — especially by governments seeking to defend the status quo, or political centrists. In any event, the term extremist — like the word violence— cannot be regarded as value-neutral.

Theories of extremism


Laird Wilcox
Laird Wilcox
Laird M. Wilcox is an American researcher specializing in the study of political fringe movements. He is the founder of the "Wilcox Collection on Contemporary Political Movements," said to be one of the largest collections of American political material in the United States. It is housed in the...

 identifies 21 alleged traits of a "political extremist", ranging from behaviour like "a tendency to character assassination
Character assassination
Character assassination is an attempt to tarnish a person's reputation. It may involve exaggeration, misleading half-truths, or manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person...

", over hateful behaviour like "name calling and labelling
Labelling
Labelling or labeling is describing someone or something in a word or short phrase. For example, describing someone who has broken a law as a criminal. Labelling theory is a theory in sociology which ascribes labelling of people to control and identification of deviant behavior.It has been argued...

", to general character traits like "a tendency to view opponents and critics as essentially evil", "a tendency to substitute intimidation
Intimidation
Intimidation is intentional behavior "which would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities" fear of injury or harm. It's not necessary to prove that the behavior was so violent as to cause terror or that the victim was actually frightened.Criminal threatening is the crime of intentionally or...

 for argument" or "groupthink
Groupthink
Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people. It is the mode of thinking that happens when the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without...

".

Eric Hoffer
Eric Hoffer
Eric Hoffer was an American social writer. He was the author of ten books and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February 1983...

 and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr. was an American historian and social critic whose work explored the American liberalism of political leaders including Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Schlesinger served as special assistant and "court historian"...

 were two political writers during the mid-20th century who gave what purported to be accounts of "political extremism". Hoffer wrote books such as The True Believer
The True Believer
The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements is a 1951 social psychology book by Eric Hoffer which discusses the psychological causes of fanaticism.-Thesis and background:...

and The Passionate State of Mind about the psychology and sociology of those who join "fanatical" mass movements. Schlesinger wrote books such as The Vital Center, championing a supposed "center" of politics within which "mainstream" political discourse takes place, and underscoring the alleged need for societies to draw definite lines regarding what falls outside of this acceptability.

In this way, both Communism
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 and Fascism
Fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

 were described by some in the postwar "western democracies" as "extremist" movements, as were (arguably "fascist") groups such as the Ku Klux Klan
Ku Klux Klan
Ku Klux Klan, often abbreviated KKK and informally known as the Klan, is the name of three distinct past and present far-right organizations in the United States, which have advocated extremist reactionary currents such as white supremacy, white nationalism, and anti-immigration, historically...

. The term was also used at times to describe groups which held views outside of the "mainstream" but which did not necessarily advocate the use of physical force to achieve their objectives. Examples of such groups might be the Nation of Islam
Nation of Islam
The Nation of Islam is a mainly African-American new religious movement founded in Detroit, Michigan by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad in July 1930 to improve the spiritual, mental, social, and economic condition of African-Americans in the United States of America. The movement teaches black pride and...

and the movement for nuclear disarmament
Nuclear disarmament
Nuclear disarmament refers to both the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated....

.

Seymour Martin Lipset
Seymour Martin Lipset
Seymour Martin Lipset was an American political sociologist, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and the Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University. His major work was in the fields of political sociology, trade union organization, social stratification, public opinion, and...

 argued that besides the extremism of the left and right there is also an extremism of the center, and that it actually formed the base of fascism
Fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

.

Joining extremist groups has been seen to arise from beliefs about the acceptability of aggression towards the group’s target. For example, in Pakistan, beliefs about the acceptability of aggression against Jews were shown to predict who would join an extremist anti-Semitic group. Cultural differences in acceptability about aggression towards certain groups may explain extremism towards certain targets, and as these beliefs can be easily changed through intervention, this may offer a way in which extremism can be discouraged.

"Extremism" is not a stand-alone characteristic. The attitude or behavior of an "extremist" may be represented as part of a spectrum which ranges from mild interest through "obsession" to "fanaticism" and "extremism". The alleged similarity between the "extreme left" and "extreme right", or perhaps between different religious "zealots", may mean only that all these are "unacceptable" from the standpoint of a supposed mainstream or majority.

Economist Ronald Wintrobe argues that many extremist movements, even though having completely different ideologies share a common set of characteristics. As an example, he lists the following common characteristics between "Jewish fundamentalists" and "the extremists of Hamas":

Psychological


Among the loved explanations for extremism is one that views it as a plague. Arno Gruen
Arno Gruen
Arno Gruen is a Swiss-German psychologist and psychoanalyst.-Biography:Gruen was born in Berlin in 1923 and emigrated to the United States as a child in 1936 when his parents James and Rosa Gruen fled Germany to save their lives...

 said, "The lack of identity associated with extremists is the result of self-destructive self-hatred that leads to feelings of revenge toward life itself, and a compulsion to kill one’s own humanness." Thus extremism is seen as not a tactic, nor an ideology, but as a pathological illness which feeds on the destruction of life.

Another view is that extremism is an emotional outlet for severe feelings stemming from "persistent experiences of oppression,
insecurity, humiliation, resentment, loss, and rage" which are presumed to "lead individuals and groups to adopt conflict
engagement strategies which “fit” or feel consistent with these experiences".

Extremism is however seen by other researchers as a "rational strategy in a game over power". See for instance the works of Eli Berman
Eli Berman
Eli Berman is the Research Director for International Security Studies at the UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and since 2010 a Professor of economics at UC San Diego...

.

Uses of the term in "mainstream" politics


Barry Goldwater
Barry Goldwater
Barry Morris Goldwater was a five-term United States Senator from Arizona and the Republican Party's nominee for President in the 1964 election. An articulate and charismatic figure during the first half of the 1960s, he was known as "Mr...

 said, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" at the 1964 Republican Convention in a sentence attributed to his speechwriter Karl Hess
Karl Hess
Karl Hess was an American national-level speechwriter and author. He was also a political philosopher, editor, welder, motorcycle racer, tax resister, atheist, and libertarian activist...

.

Robert F. Kennedy
Robert F. Kennedy
Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy , also referred to by his initials RFK, was an American politician, a Democratic senator from New York, and a noted civil rights activist. An icon of modern American liberalism and member of the Kennedy family, he was a younger brother of President John F...

 said, "What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents."

Since the 1990s, in United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 politics
Politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

 the term Sister Souljah moment
Sister Souljah moment
In United States politics, a Sister Souljah moment is a politician's public repudiation of an extremist person or group, statement, or position perceived to have some association with the politician or the politician's party...

has been used to describe a politician
Politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

's public repudiation of an allegedly extremist person or group, statement, or position which might otherwise be associated with his own party.

Other terms


The term "subversive" was often used interchangeably, in the United States at least, with "extremist" during the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 period, although the two words are not synonymous.

See also

  • Consequentialism
    Consequentialism
    Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one's conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness of that conduct...

  • Domestic Extremism Lexicon
    Domestic Extremism Lexicon
    The Domestic Extremism Lexicon is a reference aid released by the United States Department of Homeland Security that defines different classifications of extremists. There has been controversy associated with it because it gives very broad definitions....

  • False consensus effect
    False consensus effect
    In psychology, the false consensus effect is a cognitive bias whereby a person tends to overestimate how much other people agree with him or her. There is a tendency for people to assume that their own opinions, beliefs, preferences, values and habits are 'normal' and that others also think the...

  • Terrorism
    Terrorism
    Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...

  • Vigilantism

External links