Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Right-wing extremism - is American politics full of it?

What is political extremism? Ed Kilgore describes it as including "...the approval of violence as a means to achieve political goals." This definition appears quite accurate to me, and it would apply to left-wing, right-wing or any other "wing" extremists. That includes religious extremists.

Ed goes on to point out that "Underlying all extremist political ideologies is one central idea – the vision of “politics as warfare”." Again, this seems quite accurate to me. But it does not in itself make the individuals using that metaphor into extremists. They may well be demagogues, but they are not necessarily extremist demagogues. He goes on to point out, however, that "...political extremists mean it in an entirely concrete and operational way. It is a view that is codified in the belief that political opponents are literally “enemies” who must be crushed...."

He then goes on to describe the growth of right-wing extremism in American political life. His major political insight, though, is to provide a definition of extremism that focuses on what right-wing extremism really is and what it is not. Rep. Michelle Bachman, Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck should be pinned down regarding their advocacy of violence to achieve their clear demagogic political goals.

After describing the recent history of the political rhetoric espousing violence, Ed includes this very illuminating statement:
What distinguishes “political extremism” from other concepts like “the radical right” or “hard-right conservatism” is the following:
1. The two ideological pillars on which genuine political extremism rests are the notions of “politics as warfare” and of political opponents as “enemies”. Groups which reject these notions are not political extremists,

2. Political extremism becomes dangerous and violent whenever and wherever these two notions are taken literally.

These points make it very clear what the problem in American politics is today. It is the idea that one's political opponents are "enemies", not just respected individuals with whom we disagree, combined with the rhetorical espousal of violence as the "solution" to dealing with those "enemies." There are individuals out there who do not understand rhetoric and metaphors. Instead that take what is being said as instructions regarding how to act. Thus we get individuals like Chattanooga's Jim Adkisson who was encouraged by right-wing extremist rhetoric to solve his own personal problems by killing members of the Chattanooga Unitarian Universalist Church.

One more point - no one significant on the political left is seriously advocating violence as so many right-wing demagogues, some in political or religious leadership positions, currently are. At this time, all the talk of violence is coming from the right wing of American politics, and it is having some unfortunate effects as it encourages the crazies to take action.

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