Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Politics and the Seduction of Extremism


Politics and the Seduction of Extremism

Peter Schultz


            What drives politics towards extremism, the pursuit of the good or of the bad? Try the good.


            “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Barry Goldwater/Harry Jaffa.


            Extremism in the eradication of evil, terrorism and radicalism is no vice.


            Extremism in the pursuit of purification, restoration, redemption, or reconstruction is no vice.


            Extremism in the defeat of treason, secession, or the eradication of slavery is no vice.


            Extremism in the pursuit of greatness, political, cultural, or economic greatness, is no vice.


            Extremism in the pursuit of the good is no vice.


            So, Hitler’s extremism in the name of a German rebirth or a rebirth of genuine Germanness was no vice. And his antisemitism was part of this project, which was admittedly extreme. Extremism, as Goldwater’s assertion indicates, is politically attractive, is politically seductive. We may even speak of the seduction of political extremism.


            Nat Hentoff, in his book Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee, argued that censorship is more powerfully seductive than sex. And it may be argued that political extremism is more powerfully seductive than political moderation. Witness the appeal of Reagan, Bush II, and Trump versus the lack of appeal of Carter and Bush I.


            Ullrich, in his biography Hitler, argues that people frequently underestimated Hitler’s appeal, which Ullrich may also be guilty of as well. Perhaps this is merely a reflection of how most people fail to recognize how powerfully seductive political extremism is. Hitler understood it.


            Interestingly, those most immune to Hitler’s seductive powers were “blue-collar workers” insofar as “despite [directing] their propaganda” at these workers, “the Nazis didn’t do well with this demographic group.” Hitler wrote: It is “difficult to win over workers who have belonged to the same organizations for decades.” As a result, in 1922, although the Nazis aspired to be “a popular movement, not at class movement,” they had not succeeded. Apparently, the middle class is more immune to political extremism than are other classes, including the upper classes. Perhaps it is because middle-class conditions impress its members with the limited potential of the human condition. So, for them, political extremism is a vice.

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