The Politics of Unreason: Right Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970

By Seymour Martin Lipset; Earl Raab | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
1 Political Extremism

Extremist movements designated "left" and "right" in America have frequently shared the same political technology, such as a working impatience with dissent. They have often moved in the same surface ideological directions, such as isolationism, or opposition to Wall Street banking. If there has been one constant, it has been the perception of extreme rightist movements as those which have risen primarily in reaction against the displacement of power and status accompanying change; while left- wing extremism has been seen as impelling social change, and, in that course, attempting to overthrow old power and status groups.

By that definition, extreme rightist movements have been more indigenous to America and have left more of a mark on its history. America's short life has been packed with a succession of social changes affecting or threatening displacement. There has been the shift of power from farms to cities, from agriculture to industry, from South to North and Midwest to East. There have been massive waves of immigration. There has been large-scale migration within the country. There has been the many-staged shift from slavery. The predominant positions of various regional, religious, economic, ethnic, and racial groups have continually been shaken and diminished.

Extremist politics is the politics of despair. The politics of despair in America has typically been the politics of backlash rather than that of thwarted progress. It is the politics of backlash, defined as right-wing extremism, which is the subject of this inquiry. This does not mean that

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