Radicalization and Political Radicalism

On Political Psychology

Essay, 2018

13 Pages, Grade: MA



In modern conditions, political radicalism is an integral component of the political life of many countries, manifested in the activities, value orientations of the ruling and opposition elites, as well as ordinary citizens. Being a multifaceted phenomenon, in the era of globalization, it is transformed and modified, assumes various types and forms adequate to new civilizational challenges and risks. Historical and modern events eloquently testify that radical methods of solving socio-political problems, especially those that are actualizing in the conditions of crises, are often used by the authorities even during periods of stable development. In the situation of the current economic crisis, which became structural and went beyond the economic sphere, the radial moods of the actors in the political process, as well as the activities of various radical and extremist organizations, became much more active. Political extremism and radicalism (as its variety) are among the most ambiguous and multifaceted problems of modern political science. In recent years, researchers have been actively investigating the causes, essence, and content of this phenomenon.

There is one more important aspect that actualizes the development of this problem. In modern conditions, the study of such concepts as “radicalism,” “extremism,” “terrorism,” “cyberterrorism,” “revolutionism” acquire special significance. Meanwhile, these and other concepts that characterize negative, destructive processes and phenomena, are insufficiently studied in political science; at any case, the scale of such studies is inadequate to the severity of the problems reflected by these concepts.

In the general understanding, radicalism is the strengthening of an extreme commitment to any views. Recently, the words “radicalism” and “extremism” are often synonymous, and this is not accidental. Extremism, as well as its extreme manifestation – terrorism - originate, first of all, where intolerance and fanaticism arise. Lack of tolerance leads to the fact that a person does not accept other views, which sooner or later can lead to his participation in conflicts (Bartlett & Miller, 2012).

The psychology of extremism in itself is an interesting topic of research. At the core of the personality of the extremist the so-called “heroism of egotheism” lies. The extremist perceives himself as the Messiah. For an extremist, this is, certainly, significant and enjoyable, because he feels himself both a prophet and a hero - the bearer of the highest truth and the savior of mankind from all ills. This sensation is similar to the Nietzschean idea of the “superman,” who is allowed what is not allowed to an ordinary person. The extremist, thereby, justifies the use of the most stringent, violent means of achieving political goals. The extremist in his actions differs from the usual criminal offender (criminal) with his criminal rampaging, a false excuse for the violence being committed. The most likely way of developing extremism is terrorism (Kruglanski et al., 2014).

Some preconditions can be singled out: the ideology and practice of extremism and terrorism are in the political sphere. Extremist and terrorist manifestations are associated with the impact on decision-making by the authorities. Political extremism or adherence to extreme views and measures in politics is a broader concept than political terrorism. Terrorism acts under certain conditions as one of the socially dangerous forms of extremism (Borum, 2011). Political extremism and political terrorism are a means to achieve with violence the goals of radical groups seeking to influence decisions taken by the authorities.

In political psychology, extremism is seen as a commitment in ideas and politics to extreme views and actions (Koomen, 2015). In the opinion of researchers, extremism is engendered by socio-economic crises, the deformation of political institutions, the sharp drop in the standard of living, the deterioration of the social prospects of a large part of the population, the domination of feelings, moods of the spleen, passivity, social and personal unrealizedness, incompleteness of being, fear of the future, suppress by the authorities of opposition, ideological dissension, national oppression, the ambitions of the leaders of political parties and their orientation to extreme political means (Webber & Kruglanski, 2017).

In modern political psychology, the term “radicalism” has the following meanings: 1) as a psychological mechanism for the qualitative transformation of political processes, presupposing decisive and uncompromising actions to achieve the goal; 2) as a mode of activity, gravitating towards extremes (Horgan, 2014). Webber & Kruglanski note that in the basis of radicalism, there is the negative attitude towards the established political phenomenon, the recognition of one of the possible ways of getting out of the real situation as the only possible one. Radicalism can manifest itself in various forms: nihilism, extremism, terrorism, revolutionism (Webber & Kruglanski, 2017). Political literature usually refers to the so-called “radical center,” that is, a political position that radically rejects extremes and demands a resolutely balanced policy. Although, sometimes, under certain socio-political conditions, radicalism can contribute to a critical review by the government of its political course (Lucini, 2017).

Another definition of radicalism defines it as a political activity. “Radicalism is a political movement that adheres to extreme means of achieving the goal. It can manifest itself in various forms of extremism, terrorism, revolutions” (Maskaliūnaitė, 2015, p. 12).

Depending on the nature of social changes, radicalism can be constructive and destructive. Constructive one is understood as revolutionary radicalism, aimed at a qualitative, progressive transformation of the existing social system. The highest manifestation of this kind of radicalism is the social revolution, the construction of a new, more perfect society. As for destructive radicalism, it is aimed at preserving outdated social relations through aggressive actions against those forces that contain a truly revolutionary, transformative principle or against the existing social system or the social situation as a whole. This is the social aggression of those social groups and forces that face the problem of self-preservation or the threat of loss of social or cultural identity in the critical situation for them (Bartlett & Miller, 2012).

The political processes taking place in the world show that political radicalism is their integral component, which directly affects the dynamics of the development of society. Since radicalism is caused by geographical, political, social, psychological features of the country's development, it affects the character of functioning of all spheres of society, mentality, moods, habits of individuals and society, as well as behavior patterns. Therefore, at critical historical periods, when ideals and values of society are being transformed, a very balanced attitude to such a political, sociocultural phenomenon as “radicalism” is necessary. This phenomenon is due to the peculiarities of the historical, religious development of the country and is manifested in value orientations, stable forms of political behavior of the subjects aimed at oppositional, change, primacy of force methods in the realization of a political goal (Monaghan et al., 2013).

From the above, it should be concluded that extremism should be seen as destructive radicalism. One of the varieties of destructive radicalism is based on fanatical ideology of transformation. Another kind is based on the ideology of fundamentalism; the essence of it is to return to the old social order, slowing down, freezing the process of all kinds of changes.

The term “radicalism” comes from the Latin word “radix” - the root. The original meaning of this term gives grounds to supporters of various radical doctrines to assert that their way of thinking does not contain anything dangerous, but is aimed at revealing the essence of objects and social phenomena; however, at the present time, the word “radicalism” means a way of thinking and the associated behavior model, characterized by the following (Neumann, 2013):

1. Fundamentalism - strict adherence to the requirements of any doctrine (religious, political, philosophical, etc.).
2. Utopianism - the idea of the possibility of building a society in which the main types of social evil will be eradicated.
3. Revolutionism - the recognition of the inevitable cardinal and violent change of existing social relations, law and order reinforcing them.

The first element of radicalism establishes the essence of the world and the reason for the disparity of existing social relations. The second element indicates the social ideal to which society should strive. The third element reveals the method of achieving the ideal. In other words, the three basic elements of radicalism answer the questions “what,” “why,” and “how” to change in social life (Neumann, 2013).

As an example of the interaction of the main semantic moments of the concept of “radicalism,” one can consider the connection of the most important provisions of racist ideology. According to racism, human is a higher animal, the main thing for which is the preservation of the purity of his breed. The mixing of different races leads to the degeneration of a strong human type, which, in turn, causes social problems to arise. This provision is the foundation of racism for all its adherents, as self-evident as the existence of God for believers. The social ideal of this ideology is the creation of a racially homogeneous society (Della Porta, 1992). Finally, the main method of realizing this ideal is striving for the separate existence of representatives of different races. From the position of modern researchers, radical attitudes, as well as general tendencies of social destructiveness, are one of the consequences of globalization processes leading to a break in the links between power, ideology, and the forms of uniting social consciousness (Von Behr et al., 2013).

Radicalism as a rigid adherence to some simple principle, involving the cutting off of everything alien, can manifest itself in various areas of spiritual and social life, and, in some cases, may be justified, for example, when it comes to a radical solution of a particular theoretical or practical problem. However, radicalism in social relations as a system of attitudes and actions, which comes into sharp contradiction with morality and social practice, is inadmissible.

Two main types of radicalism that law enforcement bodies have to deal with are social and political radicalism (Bergesen & Yi, 2005).

Social radicalism presupposes the recognition of the priority of the interests of a social group over the interests of society as a whole. In this case, this group can be formed for various reasons. For example, feminism is a kind of social radicalism, formed on the basis of the absolutization of gender. In turn, religious or ecological radicalism recognizes religion and ecology as the main elements of human life, and the interests of the relevant social groups as the interests of society as a whole. The main types of social radicalism should be recognized racism, ethnocentrism, some youth and fan subcultures, etc. (McCauley & Moskalenko, 2011).

In the structure of social radicalism, one can distinguish ideological and practical levels. The ideological level of social radicalism is characterized by the following (Neumann, 2013):

- The simplicity of the fundamental attitude that reduces a person to any one social role or status (for example, the main thing in an individual, depending on the nature of ideology, is his sex, race, religion, etc.);
- The idea of the objective nature of the problems with which the individual has to face, the removal of his responsibility, and the transfer of guilt to external circumstances;
- The presence of the enemy, which is the main culprit of social problems (as such may be emigrants, capitalists, people of other faiths, corrupt officials, etc.).

More often than not, the ideology of social extremism evolves over time into a developed political ideology. Demonstrating the possibility of the flow of social radicalism into political radicalism and further into extremism, C.J. Beck stresses that radical activity can manifest itself in two forms: first, as an activity not related to the use of political violence (for example, protests, unauthorized pickets, road blockages, etc.); secondly, as an activity, which is based on the use of violence in various forms (terrorism, genocide, mass repression, etc.). Namely radical activity based on the use of political violence can be characterized as political extremism, i.e., adherence to extreme forms of activity in politics. Thus, political extremism is a kind of radical activity based on the use of violence to achieve political goals (Beck, 2008).

In studies aimed at elucidating the causes of the emergence of extremism and radicalism, we can identify several major areas.

First, these are works that focus on individual psychological factors of resorting to extremism and radicalism. A number of professional psychologists and psychiatrists tend to regard extremists, radicals, and terrorists as persons suffering from psychiatric disorders (psychopaths or sociopaths) (Horgan, 2014). However, from the point of view of logic, people with personal pathologies cannot get accustomed to the organization; they cannot coordinate activities with other same people and observe discipline. Neo-Freudians, supporters of the concepts of M. Klein and E. Fromm developed more complex versions of this approach. Recognizing the absence of serious psychopathology among radicals and extremists and, in effect, recognizing their normality, neo-Freudians claim that radicals and extremists suffer from traumatic injuries that result in pathological narcissism, paranoia, etc. These theories develop, in particular, by J. Post and his followers (Galam & Javarone, 2016). Attempts have also been made to combine neo-Freudianism with the concept of an “authoritarian personality” developed by researchers at the Frankfurt School in the 1950s (Koomen, 2015). However, research projects that investigated as objects arrested German and Italian terrorists of the 1970s from Red Army Faction and Red Brigades, refuted the hypothesis of the existence of a psychopathological predisposition to extremism and terrorism (Della Porta, 1992).


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Radicalization and Political Radicalism
On Political Psychology
University of Oregon
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
radicalization, political, radicalism, psychology
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Nadiia Kudriashova (Author), 2018, Radicalization and Political Radicalism, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/457908


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