1. Impunity. Extremism flourishes wherever illegal words and actions are not penalised and censored. Extremism grows incrementally through gradual radicalisation, as major infractions follow minor ones that remain unpunished. Extremism is also viral, spreading rapidly and catching on, while news about impunity spreads the most quickly.
2. Civic Fatigue. Extremism never takes flight without sparking protests. But protest is only virgorous in some places. In those places it responds proportionally to the situation, becoming increasingly powerful when necessary. In other places people tire quickly because civic resources are limited. Civic protest can temporarily create the illusion that society is capable of responding and resisting, while a long-term evaluation shows that things are actually quite different.
3. Institutional Complicity. If extremists attract supporters over a certain threshold within the ranks of those institutions established to enforce the law or educate the public – the police, the judiciary, the army, schools, churches – then we find ourselves in a situation in which part of the system is undermining itself. Some theories of pedagogy imagine that a public waiting to be educated exists beyond state institutions, but in many cases those institutions are precisely where the problem is to be found.
4. Fake News. Extremism is capable of offering alternative forms of knowledge and communication – simple, efficient, spectacular, profitable, and able to mobilise people. It thrives on seductive complexities. Extremist knowledge promises to reveal things that are hidden and which have the power to save. It is counter-cultural, innovative, heroic, and redemptive. Large numbers of people are capable of believing absurd things so long as the state and society do not produce rational, credible journalists who are able to differentiate between true and fake news.
5. Abuse of the State. If the state indulges in authoritarian and abusive practices, radicals will promise freedom and justice. If state projects do not integrate the population, extremism will promise to do so in their place, mobilising people within its fictional collective slipstream. If the state abuses its power in the name of good causes, extremists will present themselves as victims and martyrs. The abusive state helps extremism to leech onto good causes and to destroy them from within. Radicals simulate discourses of justice, democratic practices and anti-dictatorial revolts in order to ultimately produce a different form of oppression.
6. Ignoring the Codes. Extremism does not appear from nowhere. It makes historical claims, learning from one or more traditions. Communicators and their publics share a certain cultural intimacy with identifiable traditions and extremist tendencies are able to develop codes of communication that are difficult for outsiders to understand, especially those who wish to interpret them without taking the time to educate themselves. Taking what extremists say literally is to fall for their bluff. Extremism kills in the way of the chameleon.
7. The Rationalisation of Violence. Extremism is an ideological pathology, but this does not mean that its followers are necessarily certifiable. Extremists appear rational and efficient by usurping the legitimate violence of the state. They act as vigilantes to correct a situation which they and others consider scandalous, making use of violence under conditions where – they say – the state cannot or will not do what is necessary. Violence is presented as the final and only solution after intermediary solutions such as accusations and threats have not worked.
8. Minimalisation. Moderation has its own pitfalls. When confronted with extremism, it seems reasonable not to panic and to react with restraint so as not to enter into the spiral of radicalism. Minimalisation is a trap of moderation, its corrupted side. There is a long tradition of minimalising extremism. Radicals profit from the terrorist nature of their power: they are few in number, do not attract attention, but are able to have a devastating impact.
9. Lack of Education. A systematic ignorance of education and research has brought us to where we are today. To a society that is inept, arrogant, and gullible. To say this is not to speak of the masses in the first instance, but of those “elites” who believe they can civilise, save, and manage us.
10. Antimodern Modernity. The specialist literature demonstrates that extremism produces a form of modernity skewed against its own values. Radicals feel those tendencies more keenly than others. They are more adaptible and react more quickly. Some prefer the monotony of democracy. They excel at digging up those resentments, hatreds, envies, and chauvinisms that enjoy a sort of clandestine consensus. They are good at finding scapegoats. At mobilising people around harmful causes. At making use of history, tradition, democracy, and great ideas to produce something new – yet another novel mutant.
By Adrian Cioflâncă
Translated by Roland Clark
Adrian Cioflâncă is Director of the Centre for the Study of the History of Romanian Jewry and a Researcher at the A. D. Xenopol Institute of History.
Dr Roland Clark is a Senior Fellow at CARR and a Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Liverpool. See full profile here.
©Roland Clark. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
Originally published on Scena9. Translated and reproduced with permission.