Nazis, Communists, Klansmen, and Others on the Fringe: Political Extremism in America

By John George; Laird Wilcox | Go to book overview

4 Motivations: Why They Join, Stay, Leave

The purpose of this chapter is to discuss some of the sociopsychological theories of extremist behavior and to consider the weaknesses and pitfalls of this approach. We begin with a skeptic's view of the field in order to encourage free thinking and debate, and then move on to current beliefs about extremist behavior, i.e., the views that are quoted over and over again in scholarly books and journals.

We have provided a definition of political extremism and the characteristics of political extremists in another chapter. When we speak of political extremists, of course, we are almost always speaking of people who adopt particular political ideologies of the far right or left. Here, we will offer several definitions of "ideology."

[Political ideology] is a more or less integrated system of values and norms, rooted in society, which individuals and groups project on the political plane in order to promote the aspirations and ideals they have come to value in social life. 1

Political ideology is a form of thought that presents a pattern of complex political ideas simply and in a manner that inspires action to achieve certain goals. 2

An ideology is an integrated set of beliefs about the social and political environment. . . . An ideology assimilates information in ways that preserve its basic integrity; it consists of a system of mutually reinforcing beliefs which appear plausible when viewed from within. 3

Ideology is the conversion of ideas into social levers. . . . It is the commitment to the consequence of ideas. . . . What gives ideology its force is its passion. . . . For the ideologue, truth arises in action, and meaning is given to experience by the "transforming moment." 4

An ideology . . . is a system of beliefs, held in common by the members of a collectivity, i.e., a society or a subcollectivity of one--including a movement deviant from the main culture of the society. . . . 5

Ideologies are characterized by a high degree of explicitness of formulation over a very wide range of objects with which they deal. . . . All adherents to the ideology are urgently expected to be in complete agreement with each other. . . . 6

As propositions [ideologies] become epigrams and slogans to mobilize and confuse groups or individuals. They polarize hostility, justify social oppression and persecution, rationalize yet another national or international crisis and confrontation, or generate loyalty and cohesion. 7

A political ideology is a belief system that explains and justifies a preferred political order for society, either existing or proposed, and offers a strategy (processes, institutions, programs) for its attainment. 8

An ideology is a way of twisting facts and theories into neat little packages for the comfort of the believer. An ideology is essentially what the believer wishes were

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