Patterns in the Politics of Extremism

In the 19th century the forces shaping the modern world brought industrialization and with it new economic nets that connected settlements, then regions and finally continents. People were made aware that their well-being depended of forces whose roots and movers were beyond their community. Not being able to encounter the remote figure who seemed to have been one’s good or bad fortune was of significant novelty.

For centuries a flesh-and-blood person, the lord of the manor, the master of the shop set prices for labor and local products or the terms of employment. These terms were not necessarily fair or beneficial. Nevertheless, being personalized they were understood and tied to a source that was to the extent it was present, also “understood.” Economic growth and the specialization of work brought more efficiency. So did, in politics, the emergence of the territorial and later the national state and then the rise of the empires. A higher standard of living became possible but with it came also a depersonalization of relationships and of the entities in which one lived. Man depends from the social context in which he exists. The process of growth that went from the community to the state and from the cabbage patch to the factory and then to globalization made it difficult to trace the origins of the strings at the end of which we dangle. The confusion regarding the relationships, attributable to the remoteness of the energy determining lives created new needs. The “self evident” of earlier days had to be replaced and new causes for new burdens had to be found. None of these were included in that part of traditional religion that dealt with the social order.

Seeking insights to explain complex situations with roots beyond the vision of the un- or partially educated created a bull market for secular religions – and for their not-always-benign prophets. For the latter the fitting analogy is not the Dalai Lama but Ayatollah Khomeini. A characteristic of these ideologies is the upshot of the need they were reacting to. Those fearful of losing their way in confusingly complex surroundings atavistically craved simplicity. Ergo a simple idea to make order in an apparently disorderly world was in demand.

Today, for many sub-groups within the developed world as well as for entire national communities beyond it, the described psychological state of emergency still exists. Small wonder! Creative destruction threatens safe jobs. Meanwhile world politics brings the problems of remote peoples near, thus encroaching on those who expected to live in the cocoon in their “reservation”. Globally the intensifying interaction of civilizations causes comparisons to be made between ways of life: frequently not a convergence or ideals and customs but a threat to accustomed ways is the reaction – which leads to a clash of cultures.

The longest threads in the webs spun by the ideological simplifiers are leftist collectivism – mainly Communism and its mutations – and racist nationalism – chiefly National Socialism’s “first half” and anti-Semitism. Reactionary Eastern Orthodoxy and Slavophilism also belong here, for the Islamists have taken up its basic cause and thesis. Notable is that these strands are interwoven not only through the conditions to which they react but also in some of their tenets, namely by utopian collectivism directed against an “outsider” enemy.

In European culture –  which is not limited by the term’s geographic component – the favorite enemy cast in the role of the biblical devil is a composite apparition. Jewdom’s and Capitalism’s conspiring witchcraft is the cause and the beneficiary of the unnatural and immoral order that deprives mankind of the harmonious condition it should enjoy. The basic concept’s attraction is age old: just remember Adam, Eve, the snake and paradise. The task then is to mobilize mankind to regain its patrimony. “Expropriating the expropriators” and eradicating the “vermin,” or prevailing over the morally decadent but technically advanced, are markers on the road to a state of justice, harmony and equality. (What is really meant is “uniformity.”)

The anti-Semites and anti-Capitalists of the post-WW1 era reacted to humiliation, defeat, truncated countries, and existential fears amplified by the “depression” that threatened accustomed ways of life. Their “isms” also fed on their dread of each other. Later, revulsion about the Holocaust and the total defeat of the revolutionary-totalitarian Right compromised the anti-Semitism that came from that corner. (Its Leftist version survived under the code “Cosmopolitanism.” If etymologized the term suggests an inclusion of everything foreign and global.) The embracement of the Palestinian cause because of its anti-western possibilities – it served as a catch phrase for radical Arabism and then of Islamism – by the Left changed matters. It gave respectability to repressed hostility felt for Jews that then re-emerged in the form of (some, but not including all varieties) anti-Israeli positions.

Concurrently, the reaction to what is labeled as “globalization” is growing. On the governmental, institutional and on the level of mobilized masses, the fear of the new and of the plotting aliens behind it is easily gauged. This is especially the case with conservative Islam. Its dogmas, converted into a way of life, enshrine approaches that guarantee stagnation. A consequence is weakness relative to a foe chosen because his success challenges the correctness of the faith’s assumptions and the order built upon it. Since an adjustment is impossible unless the doctrine is modified, the developed and democratic world must be destroyed for “good” to prevail. Marxists and Nazis share(d) the same conclusion.

Today’s fear of the future’s economic dimension is coupled to concerns regarding personal financial security. Complementarily, violence in the case or radical Islam has, again, proven to be an excellent propagandist. Although the Jihadists are openly articulating their goals, as their violence grows so does the inclination to weasel out of the problem – as was the case in the Thirties, and then with the “better red than dead.” Unfortunately, mistaken policies – even if they are “repeats” whose originals failed – are attractive because they justify postponing painful dealings. “Pretending away” the facts momentarily diffuses the challenge – only to make the threat emerge irrepressibly and with a greater punch later. Appeasers today like to attribute Islamism to something like the “aggressive, anti-humanitarian US foreign policy, the failure to create a Palestinian state and the aggression against Moslems.” The implication: let us distance ourselves from America and its minion Israel. Some prefer to reverse the terms as for them a Jewish conspiracy already rules the USA and with it the world. The practitioners hope to be spared the wrath of the Jihadists that will reward cooperative neutrality. Even small yet telling signs point to another outcome. Take this report of a graffiti in Switzerland: “You dirty Christian dogs, when are you going to leave this country?” Well, you can run. You can hide. You can gain time. But you cannot get away.

With this we encounter a new symbiosis of what used to be the separately marching columns of the extreme Left and the Right. The Left that, when in power, persecuted Moslems as “clerical reactionaries” now finds it convenient to support Islamists. Revealingly in the elections in Yemen the Islamists and the Communists were allied to replace the government. The bridge is the Left’s anti-modernism and its anti-Capitalist suspicion of Democracy rounded out by the anti-Americanism derived from these. The absorption of nationalism – and vice versa – by the Left is and old amalgam. Current mutations are illustrated by Castro and Chavez. Also the “anti-Zionists” advocates of a Caliphate share common enemies with the Left. America and Israel, with the democracy and the dynamic economic system they represent and share with many others, must be destroyed to erect the Islamists’ ideal polity. Obviously, in case of success the systems erected by the Left and the Islamists would have to clash. Nevertheless, for the time being they can cooperate against a world order with which they feel unable to compete and cannot coexist. For this reason anti-modernism and authoritarian collectivism have become a mixture with complex ingredients that expresses itself on the popular level by being at the same time anti-modern, anti-American and anti-Semitic.