Political Extremism
Posted on February 10th, 2011

By Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge

 Political extremism involves two prime ingredients: an excessively simple diagnosis of the world’s ills, and a conviction that there are identifiable villains back of it all.–John W. Gardner

 http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/johnwgard134412.htmlPolitical extremism is any political theory favoring immoderate uncompromising policies with the actions or ideologies of individuals or groups outside the perceived political center of a society with the violation of moral standards. Political extremism is a damaging factor to a country both economically and spiritually. Political extremism has many faces and the end result would be always disastrous. The extremists can often use religion, patriotic feelings to hide their ulterior motives.

Roger Scruton, in the Dictionary of Political Thought defines “extremism” as grasping a political idea to its limits, regardless of ‘unfortunate’ repercussions, impracticalities, arguments and feelings to the contrary, and with the intention not only to confront, but also to eliminate opposition. It is intolerance towards all views other than one’s own. Often it adopts the means to political ends which show disregard for the life, liberty, and human freedom. Political Extremists often attack the opponent rather than deal with the facts and issues that he raises or debate the points of his arguments. This is used as a diversion from the issues under consideration.

 Personality Traits and Extremism

Personality traits and childhood experiences are closely linked to the genesis of political extremism. Political extremist is a person who is unbalanced in his personal and in his social life. A person who was traumatized in his childhood could view the society as a hostile place to live and may want to change it by any means. Sometimes he can project his anger to society unleashing deadliest waves of violence. Racial and religious prejudices could emerge following negative experiences and it can deeply root in the psyche of the person. There were many such examples in the history.

 Hitler and His Extreme Political Movement

Young Hitler wanted to become an architect but his father Alois Schickelgruber forced him to become a civil servant. Hitler was often punished and humiliated by his father. As a young boy he hated his father and loved his mother. When his mother died of breast cancer Hitler was devastated and he blamed the Jewish doctor who treated his mother. Hitler’s hate and disgust towards the Jewish people were mostly based on personal experiences. He gave leadership to the anti-Semitic movement which evolved soon after the World War 1.

Hitler believed that Aryan superiority was being threatened by the Jewish race. He claimed that the “Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end satanically glaring at and spying on the unconscious girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood with the ultimate idea of bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate.”

In Mein Kampf Hitler was dealing with his own past, which he worked through his experiences. He created an organically grown anti-Semitic career for himself with politically convenient anti-Semitic images in its key scenes. Hitler picked up the stereotyped, obsessive path of racial supremacy. Hitler’s anger and hatred towards his own father was projected to the people. He became an authoritarian and he thought that people could be controlled imposing severe punishment. Gestapo was his personal instrument of terror. His prejudices were generalized. Once he stated “All great movements are popular movements. They are the volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotions, stirred into activity by the ruthless Goddess of Distress or by the torch of the spoken word cast into the midst of the people. “

Hitler saw a struggle between races. He applied extreme political concepts in the world politics which originally stemmed from his personal experiences and prejudices. Hitler ignited the World War 2 which wiped out millions of people. His political extremism caused enormous chaos of biblical proportions.

 Joseph Stalin and his Paranoia

During the time when Joseph Stalin was about to be the leader of the USSR the great Russian Psychologist V.M Bekhterev did a psychological analysis of Stalin and pronounced that Stalin had a persecution mania connected with political paranoia. Soon the clinical documents went out of circulation and eventually it affected Bekhterev morbidly.

Born to a poor Georgian peasant family Joseph Stalin often underwent violent punishments by his father. Young Joseph went to Tiflis Theological Seminary to study theology. But his academic gradings were poor and soon he was expelled. Then he joined a secret political organization and raised funds by robbing banks. He was struck by a personal tragedy too. Stalin lost most of his human feelings when his first wife died of Tuberculosis. He became emotionally numbed and became a full timer of the Bolshevik Movement.

Stalin was often driven by power hunger, suspicion and political conspiracy. At the Party Conference in April, 1922, Lenin suggested that a new post of General Secretary should be created and Stalin was elected to this post. When Lenin suffered a stroke Stalin gradually made his position strong and steady. Hence he became Lenin’s successor.

After coming to power Stalin eliminated most of the Politburo Members, Lenin’s comrades who participated in the October Revolution, Veterans of the Civil War and the Red Army Commanders. He used a common term -the enemies of the people to eliminate these people. Throughout his reign Stalin saw vivid conspiracies and terminated his close associates. He trusted no one.

His extreme economic policies such as forced collectivization killed millions in Ukraine. His suspicion and paranoia resulted in great purges in the USSR. Following the political persecutions millions of people were sent to Gulag forced labor camps. Stalin’s political extremism eliminated over 20 million people in the USSR.

 Pol Pot and Killing Fields

Saloth Sar alias Pol Pot was fascinated by the ancient Angkor Civilization (or Khmer Civilization) which existed roughly between 800 to 1300 AD. He was determined to bring the ancient Kama civilization to the present. Pol Pot s fantasy and nostalgia became a deadly reality for the millions of Cambodians.

Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge movement came in to power in 1975 and introduced violent political reforms. They abolished currency, religion and private property and evacuated cities in the hopes of creating an agrarian utopia. They pronounced the Year Zero and forced people to work in the paddy fields which later came to known as the Killing Fields.

The Khmer Rouge leadership often said that only one or two million people were needed to build the new Agrarian Communist Utopia. The rest of the population shold perish.  In the Killing Fields people were tortured and killed. Many died of starvation. Pol Pots motto was “To keep you is no benefit; to destroy you is no loss. Pol Pot’s radical political experiment cost over 3 million lives.

 Political Extremism and Cognitive Complexity

Political extremism is widely considered to be the product of irrational behavior. The studies that tested the relationship between political extremism and cognitive complexity was studied by Alain Van Hiel of the Ghent University. According to Alain Van Hiel extreme ideologies exhibit low levels of cognitive complexity. In contrast Context theory of Political Psychology states that extremists think in a more complex and sophisticated way about politics.

Political extremists often live in a fantasized fear land. They think that they are vulnerable and under a constant threat. They constantly feel that the enemies are preparing for a full scale attack or to eliminate them. Therefore violence becomes an accepted and a reasonable means to deal with the opponents.

 In absence of a true enemy, political extreme groups find difficult to function with their political agenda and sometimes deleberatly create unseen enemies. This gives the followers a constant stimulation and a drive. These extreme groups have a cognitive vacuum and they analyze socio political problems in extreme stereotyped terms. They often believe in conspiracy theories which has no logical basis. 

 

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