The Pathos of Politics (76-1) Radicalism


The philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it. ~ Karl Marx

Radicals are exceedingly disenchanted and want revolutionary change in the existing order.

Though not all radicals are violent, and not all revolutions provoke conflict, those with vested interests in the status quo react severely. In rejecting the fundamental values of an extant polity, radicals put others on the defensive.

Accordingly, even though their numbers and influence may be miniscule, the authorities tend to crush nascent movements viewed as radical. In the US, civil rights leaders in the 1950s and 1960s were harassed and killed, as were Vietnam anti-war protesters. Left-wing demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago were brutalized by the police. American federal government officials have repeatedly slaughtered religious cult members, as have Chinese authorities.

At polar extremes, left-wing radicals and right-wing reactionaries are both revolutionaries in their disgust with the status quo. Whereas radicals would vault into an envisioned future, reactionaries want to immigrate to an imagined past.

Besides spurning the notion of social progress, reactionaries reject claims of human equality. They favor distributing power and wealth unequally on some basis, whether race, social class, religion, or other criteria. Reactionaries almost always approve of subjugating women.

Ideologically, Mussolini’s fascism lay at the extreme right: a deeply historical reactionism. Fascism begins with historical fact: society is a social pyramid: at the base are the masses, ruled over by an elite. Fascists simply want to codify that societal order, with themselves at the political apex – the very definition of kleptocracy. At industrial-strength, fascism favors state control of a capitalist economy aimed to achieve autarky (self-sufficiency). Mussolini’s philosophy would have fit tidily in the tradition of the imperial Roman Empire.

Radicalism is not always suppressed. Sometimes it becomes mainstream, forming a new norm.

The 21st century has seen the rise of radical reactionary impulses in a sizable slice of the populace which is disgusted with the status quo via perceived loss of status. Discontent has driven a destructive impulse which insensible but crafty politicians have sung as a siren song. In wreaking a wrecking ball upon the American political landscape, Donald Trump has been a coloratura virtuoso.

One way to understand the rise of reactionary populism today is as the revenge of sovereignty on government. This is not simply a backlash after decades of globalization, but against the form of political power that facilitated it, which is technocratic, multilateral and increasingly divorced from local identities. ~ English political economist William Davies