We shouldn’t be concerned about the rise in “extremism” because radicalization is inevitable and a historically necessary development after a period of degeneration. It is a natural process that dissolves a dying social order. The growth of “extremism” is a sign that a society is regenerating.
The following excerpt comes from Peter Turchin’s book Ages of Discord: A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History:
“The cycle starts when the number of radicals is low and that of moderates high. Few naives are radicalized because they rarely encounter a radical, and the radicalization rate is low, thanks to the presence of many moderates. For the next 25 years the number of radicals continues to stay low, and the overall society enjoys a period of internal peace and stability. However, and more ominously, during this period the number of moderates declines as moderates retire from active political life. There are few new moderates because they arise only when radicals become disenchanted with radicalism, and the levels of political violence are too low to cause such disenchantment and, anyway, there are few radicals to convert into moderates. As a result, around the midpoint of the peaceful phase the number of radicals begins to increase, although initially very gradually.
Meanwhile, the number of naive individuals grows, primarily due to moderates retiring and new individuals becoming adults. Around year 25, however, naives start turning into radicals in increasing numbers. The growth of radicalism enters an autocatalytic phase (more radicals means greater numbers of naives becoming exposed, while fewer moderates cannot exert a dampening influence on this process). The numbers of radicals explode, so that the second half of the cycle is characterized by elevated sociopolitical instability.
Sociopolitical instability reaches a peak around year 40 and then starts to decline. This decline is because increasing numbers of radicals become disenchanted, as a result of high levels of political violence, leading to the rise of moderates. By the end of the cycle (year 50), the moderates reach their peak. Their collective influence results in the suppression of radicals, radicalism and instability, signaling the start of a peaceful phase (and the beginning of the next cycle).
The main lesson from this modeling exercise is that it is not necessary to assume there are distinct (or even self-aware) “generations”. Generations arise as a side effect of age structure and the dynamics of social contagion. Thus, most individuals who become adults during the peaceful phase (the first 25 years of the cycle) will never become radicals or moderates. Thirty years into the cycle, over 80 percent are naives. On the other hand, individuals who enter adulthood during the next 25 year period, the instability phase, have a high chance of becoming first radicalized and then “burnt-out”, and make the transition into moderates. Half or more of those cohorts who are in the young adult stage during the acceleration phase of instability (25-40 years into the cycle) will travel the radicalization-moderation path.”
This is interesting.
I hadn’t thought of it that way.
According to Peter Turchin, all complex human societies go through short and longer term historical cycles and oscillate between integrative and disintegrative phases. Periodically, complex societies go through these natural periods of radicalization and combustion. This is also true of the United States. There is no such thing as “American exceptionalism” in historical dynamics.
Why is the growth of “extremism” a constant throughout history?
Why are there long periods of peace, moderation and contentment which are inevitably followed by nasty periods of war, division, dissatisfaction and strife? Why do radicals suddenly begin to gain traction in some historical periods but not in others? Why is history punctuated by periodic crises?
It never seems to have occurred to progressive liberals that this could be a natural process like plate tectonics. In light of what we know about history, why on earth would the future be the eternal perpetuation of the present? Isn’t that about as stupid as trying to stop the wind? The world is now a radically different place that it was 100 years ago in 1920 which was a radically different place than it was in 1820. The growth of “extremism” was the source of many of those social changes.
Consider the Lost Generation which lived through the trenches of World War I, the decadence of the 1920s in America and the Weimar Republic in Germany and the Great Depression. They were living through the tail end of the Age of Romanticism in which most of Europe’s nation states had been created in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They took the spirit of the trenches, combined it with romantic nationalism and a desire to regenerate their decadent societies and the result was fascism.
Go back a century before to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Europe was overrun by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. There was a long period of relative peace that followed the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo which prevailed down until the Great War. The British Empire dominated the world from Queen Victoria’s time down to the World Wars after which it was exhausted and collapsed. The American Empire has dominated the world since 1945.
Are we to believe the American Empire will continue to dominate the world indefinitely? Isn’t it more likely that it will decline and collapse like all of its predecessors? In light of all that has happened over the last six months, why would the world look to the United States which has been convulsed by destructive riots and where over 150,000 people have died of COVID-19? Aren’t we clearly in decline?
Let’s be honest with ourselves: everyone knows we are decline. We know our society is in decline. That’s why we have more radicals. The former is the cause of the latter. The number of radicals will continue to increase until two conditions prevail: social stability is restored paired with a broader division of wealth. We have a bloated oligarchy that is desperately in need of an enema.