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

By Seymour Martin Lipset; Earl Raab | Go to book overview
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Chapter
11 Extremists and Extremism

The history of political extremism in America has consisted of three different kinds of meshed conditions: conditions of ideology, conditions of history, and conditions of popular attitude.

The basic ideology of extremism is contained in the model of monism. Extremism describes the violation, through action or advocacy, of the democratic political process. The democratic political process refers fundamentally to democratic political pluralism: an "open democratic market place" for ideas, speech, and consonant political action. Monism amounts to the closing down of the democratic market place, whether by a massive majority or by a preemptive minority. The monistic impulse, however, in the context of the American political metaphor, must be legitimated by rendering illegitimate those who are to be ruled out of the market place. Enter the imputation of deliberate evil, rather than lack of wisdom; enter the elements of absolutism, moralism, and conspiracy; and enter, of course, the conspiracy target.

Historically, extremist movements are movements of disaffection. Occurring in periods of incipient change, they are addressed to groups who feel that they have just been, or are about to be, deprived of something important, or to groups whose rising aspirations lead them to feel that they have always been deprived of something important they now want. Such deprivation is accompanied by political dislocation. The traditional political party structure with which these groups have been associated no longer seems to be serving their needs. They are politically volatile seg

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