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Extremism is "the quality or state of being extreme" or "the advocacy of extreme measures or views". The term is primarily used in a
political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, making decisions in Social group, groups, or other forms of Power (social and political), power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of res ...

political
or
religious Religion is a social Social organisms, including humans, live collectively in interacting populations. This interaction is considered social whether they are aware of it or not, and whether the exchange is voluntary/involuntary. Etymology ...

religious
sense, to refer to an
ideology An ideology () is a set of belief A belief is an attitude Attitude may refer to: Philosophy and psychology * Attitude (psychology) In psychology Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of ...
that is considered (by the speaker or by some implied shared social consensus) to be far outside the
mainstream The mainstream is the prevalent current thought In their most common sense, the terms thought and thinking refer to conscious cognitive processes that can happen independently of sensory stimulation. Their most paradigmatic forms are judging, r ...
attitudes of society. It can also be used in an economic context. The term may be used
pejorative A pejorative or slur is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meaning ...
ly by opposing groups, but is also used in academic and journalistic circles, in a purely descriptive and non-condemning sense. Extremists views are typically contrasted with those of
moderate Moderate is an ideological category which designates a rejection of radical politics, radical or extremism, extreme views, especially in regard to politics and religion. A moderate is considered someone occupying any mainstream position avoiding ext ...

moderate
s. In
Western countries The Western world, also known as the West, refers to various region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabi ...
for example, in contemporary discourse on
Islam Islam (; ar, اَلْإِسْلَامُ, al-’Islām, "submission o God Oh God may refer to: * An exclamation; similar to "oh no", "oh yes", "oh my", "aw goodness", "ah gosh", "ah gawd"; see interjection An interjection is a word or ex ...
or on Islamic political movements, the distinction between
extremist Extremism is "the quality or state of being extreme" or "the advocacy of extreme measures or views". The term is primarily used in a political or religious Religion is a social system, social-cultural system of designated religious beha ...
and
moderate Muslim Moderate Islam, moderation in Islam and ''moderate muslim'' is a label used within counterterrorism discourse as the complement of "Islamic extremism", implying that the support of Islamic terrorism is the characteristic of a "radical" faction withi ...
s is commonly stressed. Political agendas perceived as extremist often include those from the
far-left politics Far-left politics are politics further to the left on the left–right political spectrum than the standard political left. There are different definitions of the far-left. Some scholars define it as representing the left of social democracy, whi ...
or
far-right politics Far-right politics, also referred to as the extreme right or right-wing extremism, are politics further on the right of the left–right political spectrum The left–right political spectrum is a system of classifying political positions c ...
as well as radicalism,
reactionism In political science, a reactionary or reactionist is a person or entity holding political views that favour a return to a wikt:status quo ante, previous political state of society that they believe possessed positive characteristics that are absent ...
,
fundamentalism Fundamentalism usually has a religious Religion is a social Social organisms, including humans, live collectively in interacting populations. This interaction is considered social whether they are aware of it or not, and whether the exc ...
and
fanaticism Fanaticism (from the Latin adverb ''fānāticē'' ren-''fānāticus''; enthusiastic, ecstatic; raging, fanatical, furious is a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal (disambiguation), zeal or an obsessive enthusiasm. Philosopher George ...
. Political extremism can be defined as those policies that violate or erode international human rights norms as found in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is an international document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA or GA; french: link=no, Assemblée générale, AG) is one of the six p ...
.


Definitions

There have been many different definitions of extremism. Peter T. Coleman and Andrea Bartoli give observation of definitions: Extremism is a complex phenomenon, although its complexity is often hard to see. Most simply, it can be defined as activities (beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions, strategies) of a character far removed from the ordinary. In conflict settings it manifests as a severe form of conflict engagement. However, the labeling of activities, people, and groups as "extremist", and the defining of what is "ordinary" in any setting is always a subjective and political matter. Thus, we suggest that any discussion of extremism be mindful of the following: Typically, the same extremist act will be viewed by some as just and moral (such as pro-social "freedom fighting"), and by others as unjust and immoral (antisocial "terrorism") depending on the observer's values, politics, moral scope, and the nature of their relationship with the actor. In addition, one's sense of the moral or immoral nature of a given act of extremism (such as Nelson Mandela's use of guerilla war tactics against the South African Government) may change as conditions (leadership, world opinion, crises, historical accounts, etc.) change. Thus, the current and historical context of extremist acts shapes our view of them. Power differences also matter when defining extremism. When in conflict, the activities of members of low power groups tend to be viewed as more extreme than similar activities committed by members of groups advocating the status quo. In addition, extreme acts are more likely to be employed by marginalized people and groups who view more normative forms of conflict engagement as blocked for them or biased. However, dominant groups also commonly employ extreme activities (such as governmental sanctioning of violent paramilitary groups or the attack in Waco by the FBI in the U.S.). Extremist acts often employ violent means, although extremist groups will differ in their preference for violent vs. non-violent tactics, in the level of violence they employ, and in the preferred targets of their violence (from infrastructure to military personnel to civilians to children). Again, low power groups are more likely to employ direct, episodic forms of violence (such as suicide bombings), whereas dominant groups tend to be associated with more structural or institutionalized forms (like the covert use of torture or the informal sanctioning of police brutality). Although extremist individuals and groups are often viewed as cohesive and consistently evil, it is important to recognize that they may be conflicted or ambivalent psychologically as individuals, or contain difference and conflict within their groups. For instance, individual members of Hamas may differ considerably in their willingness to negotiate their differences with the Palestinian Authority and, ultimately, with certain factions in Israel. Ultimately, the core problem that extremism presents in situations of protracted conflict is less the severity of the activities (although violence, trauma, and escalation are obvious concerns) but more so the closed, fixed, and intolerant nature of extremist attitudes, and their subsequent imperviousness to change.


Theories of extremism

Eric Hoffer Eric Hoffer (July 15, 1902 – May 21, 1983) was an American moral and social philosopher. He was the author of ten books and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the to rec ...
and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. were two political writers during the mid-20th century who gave what purported to be accounts of "political extremism". Hoffer wrote ''
The True Believer ''The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements'' is a non-fiction book authored by American philosopher Eric Hoffer. Published in 1951, it depicts a variety of arguments in terms of applied world history and social psychology ...
'' and ''The Passionate State of Mind'' about the psychology and sociology of those who join "fanatical" mass movements. Schlesinger wrote ''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.
Seymour Martin Lipset Seymour Martin Lipset (March 18, 1922 – December 31, 2006) was an American sociologist. His major work was in the fields of political sociology, trade union organization, social stratification, public opinion, and the sociology of intellectua ...
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 () is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and the economy that rose to prominence in early 20th-century Europ ...

fascism
.
Laird Wilcox Laird Maurice Wilcox is an American researcher specializing in the study of political fringe movements. He is the founder of the "Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements," said to be one of the largest collections of American politica ...
identifies 21 alleged traits of a "political extremist", ranging from "a tendency to
character assassination Character assassination (CA) is a deliberate and sustained effort to damage the reputation or credibility of an individual. The term could also be selectively applied to social groups and institutions. Agents of character assassinations employ a mix ...
" and
hate Hatred is a very angry emotional response to certain people or idea In common usage and in philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epist ...

hate
ful behaviour like "name calling and
labelling Labelling or using a label 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 Sociology is a social science Soc ...

labelling
", to general character traits like "a tendency to view opponents and critics as essentially evil", "a tendency to substitute
intimidationIntimidation (also called cowing) is intentional behavior that "would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities" to fear injury Injury, also known as physical trauma, is damage Damage is any change in a thing, often a physical object, that degr ...

intimidation
for argument" or "
groupthink Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon A phenomenon (; plural phenomena) is an observable In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), ...

groupthink
". "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 opposing 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 explanations for extremism is one that views it as a plague. Arno Gruen 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." Extremism is seen as not a tactic, nor an ideology, but as a pathological illness which feeds on the destruction of life.Dr. Peter T. Coleman and Dr. Andrea Bartoli
Addressing Extremism
pp. 3–4
Dr. Kathleen Taylor believes
religious fundamentalism Fundamentalism usually has a religious Religion is a social system, social-cultural system of designated religious behaviour, behaviors and practices, morality, morals, beliefs, worldviews, religious text, texts, shrine, sanctified places ...
is a mental illness and that is "curable." There are distinct psychological features of extremists that contribute to conflict among societal groups
Jan-Willem van Prooijen
identified them as psychological distress, cognitive simplicity, overconfidence and intolerance. 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 seen by other researchers as a "rational strategy in a game over power", as described in the works of
Eli Berman Eli Berman (born 1960) is the Research Director for International Security Studies at the UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and since 2010 a Professors in the United States#.28Full.29 professor, Professor of economics at the Univer ...
. In a 2018 study at
University College London University College London, which Trade name, operates as UCL, is a major public university , public research university located in London, United Kingdom. UCL is a Member institutions of the University of London, member institution of the Federa ...
, scientists have demonstrated that people with extreme political views (both extreme right and extreme left) had significantly worse metacognition, or the ability of a person to recognize they are wrong and modify their views when presented with contrary evidence, thus creating an opinion that supports only their idea of wrong and right. People found on either of the political extremes were shown to have much greater (but misplaced) confidence in their beliefs, and resisted change. A 2019 study found that political extremism on both the left and right tended to have four common psychological features: psychological distress stimulates the adoption of an extreme ideological outlook, extreme ideologies tend to have relatively simplistic black-white perceptions of the social world, said mental simplicity causes overconfidence in judgements and political extremists are less tolerant of different groups and opinions than moderates.


Criticism

After being accused of extremism,
Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr.; January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an African American African Americans (also referred to as Black Americans or Afro-Americans) are an ethnic group of Americans with total or part ...
criticized the mainstream usage of the term in his
Letter from Birmingham Jail The "Letter from Birmingham Jail", also known as the "Letter from Birmingham City Jail" and "The Negro Is Your Brother", is an open letter An open letter is a Letter (message), letter that is intended to be read by a wide audience, or a let ...
, "But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love…Was not Amos an extremist for justice…Was not Martin Luther an extremist…So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?" In his 1964 acceptance speech at the
1964 Republican National Convention The 1964 National Convention of the Republican Party (United States), Republican Party of the United States took place in the Cow Palace, Daly City, California, from July 13 to July 16, 1964. Before 1964, there had been only one national Republica ...

1964 Republican National Convention
,
Barry Goldwater Barry Morris Goldwater (January 2, 1909 – May 29, 1998) was an American politician, statesman, businessman, United States Air Force officer, and author who was a five-term United States Senate, Senator from Arizona (1953–1965, 1969–19 ...

Barry Goldwater
said, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." Robert F. Kennedy 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." In
Russia Russia ( rus, link=no, Россия, Rossiya, ), or the Russian Federation, is a country spanning Eastern Europe Eastern Europe is the eastern region of . There is no consistent definition of the precise area it covers, partly because th ...

Russia
, the
laws Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its bounda ...
prohibiting extremist content are used (both by poorly trained officials and as part of an intentional politics to suppress opposition) to suppress the
freedom of speech Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom Freedom, generally, is having the ability to act or change without constraint. Something is "free" if it can change easily and is not constrained in its present state. In philoso ...

freedom of speech
through very broad and flexible interpretation. Published material classified as "extremist", and thus prosecuted, included protests against the court rulings in the Bolotnaya Square case ("calling for illegal action"), criticism of overspending by a local governor ("insult of the authorities"), publishing a poem in support of
Ukraine Ukraine ( uk, Україна, Ukraïna, ) is a country in . It is the in Europe after , which it borders to the east and north-east. Ukraine also shares borders with to the north; , , and to the west; and to the south; and has a coastli ...

Ukraine
("inciting hatred"), an open letter against a war in Chechnya by the writer Polina Zherebcova, the
Jehovah's Witnesses Jehovah's Witnesses is a millenarian Millenarianism (also millenarism), from Latin ''mīllēnārius'' "containing a thousand", is the belief by a religious Religion is a social system, social-cultural system of designated religious ...
movement in Russia,
Raphael Lemkin Raphael Lemkin ( pl, Rafał Lemkin; 24 June 1900 – 28 August 1959) was a Polish lawyer of Jewish Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israeli pronunciation ) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation originating f ...
, and articles by the initiator of the
Genocide Convention The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), or Genocide Convention, is an international treaty A treaty is a formal, legally binding written agreement between actors in international law Internati ...
of 1948.


Other terms

Since the 1990s, in
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...

United States
politics Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, making decisions in Social group, groups, or other forms of Power (social and political), power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of res ...

politics
the term '' Sister Souljah moment'' has been used to describe a
politician A politician is a person active in party politics A political party is an organization that coordinates candidate A candidate, or nominee, is the prospective recipient of an award or honor, or a person seeking or being considered for some ...

politician
's public repudiation of an allegedly extremist person or group, statement, or position which might otherwise be associated with his own party. The term "
subversive Subversion (from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of t ...
" was often used interchangeably, in the United States at least, with "extremist" during the
Cold War The Cold War was a period of geopolitical Geopolitics (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country loc ...
period, although the two words are not synonymous.


See also

*
Christian terrorism Christian terrorism comprises terrorist Terrorism, in its broadest sense, is the use of intentional violence to achieve political aims. The term is used in this regard primarily to refer to violence during peacetime Peace is a conc ...
* Cumulative extremism * Domestic Extremism Lexicon *
False consensus effect In psychology Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of consciousness, conscious and Unconscious mind, unconscious phenomena, as well as feeling and thought. It is an academic discipline of immense sco ...
*
Fundamentalism Fundamentalism usually has a religious Religion is a social Social organisms, including humans, live collectively in interacting populations. This interaction is considered social whether they are aware of it or not, and whether the exc ...
*
Hate group A hate group is a social group that advocates and practices hatred, hostility, or violence towards members of a race (human classification), race, Ethnic group, ethnicity, nation, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or any oth ...
*
Hindutva Hindutva () is the predominant form of Hindu nationalism, Hindu Nationalism in India. As a political ideology, Hindutva was articulated by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923. It is championed by the Hindu Nationalist volunteer organisation Rashtri ...
* Horseshoe theory *
Islamic extremism Islamic extremism, Islamist extremism, or radical Islam refer to extremist Extremism is "the quality or state of being extreme" or "the advocacy of extreme measures or views". The term is primarily used in a political or religious ...
*
Kahanism Kahanism () is an extremist Extremism is "the quality or state of being extreme" or "the advocacy of extreme measures or views". The term is primarily used in a political or religious Religion is a social system, social-cultural syste ...
* Political extremism in Japan *
Religious persecution Religious persecution is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or a group of individuals as a response to their religious beliefs or affiliations or their lack thereof. The tendency of societies or groups within societies to alienate or r ...
* Sikh extremism *
Terrorism Terrorism, in its broadest sense, is the use of intentional violence to achieve political aims. The term is used in this regard primarily to refer to violence during peacetime Peace is a concept of societal friendship and harmony in the ...
*
Vigilantism Vigilantism is the act of enforcement, investigation or punishment of perceived offenses without legal authority. A vigilante (from Spanish and Italian ''vigilante'') is practitioner of vigilantism. History Vigilantism and the vigilante ethos ...
*
Violent extremism Violent extremism is a form of extremism that condones and enacts violence with ideological or deliberate intent, such as religious or political violence. Violent extremist views can manifest in connection with a range of issues, including politics ...


References


Cited publications

* George, John and Laird Wilcox. '' Nazis, Communists, Klansmen, and Others on the Fringe: Political Extremism in America''  
Prometheus Books Prometheus Books is a publishing company founded in August 1969 by the philosopher Paul Kurtz (who was also the founder of the Council for Secular Humanism, Center for Inquiry, and co-founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry). The publisher ...
, 1992. () * Himmelstein, Jerome L. ''All But Sleeping with the Enemy: Studying the Radical Right Up Close''   ASA,
San Francisco San Francisco (; Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards, a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Canada * Spanish River (dis ...

San Francisco
: 1988 * Hoffer, Eric. ''
The True Believer ''The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements'' is a non-fiction book authored by American philosopher Eric Hoffer. Published in 1951, it depicts a variety of arguments in terms of applied world history and social psychology ...
: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements''. Various editions, first published 1951. * Schlesinger, Arthur. ''The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom''. Various editions, first published 1949. * Wilcox, Laird. "What Is Political Extremism", retrieved fro
''The Voluntaryist'' newsletter #27, 1987
*


Further reading

* Nawaz, Maajid
''Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism'' (Lyons Press, 2013)
* Bibi van Ginkel
''Engaging Civil Society in Countering Violent Extremism'' (ICCT – The Hague, 2012)
*


External links



at the
Library of Congress The Library of Congress (LC) is the research library A library is a collection of materials, books or media that are easily accessible for use and not just for display purposes. It is responsible for housing updated information in order ...

Library of Congress
contains materials on Extremist Movements. {{Authority control Anti-intellectualism Barriers to critical thinking Political ideologies Political spectrum Political theories