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November 01, 2007


Bob B

"the problem isn't extremism, but fanaticism"


William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet:

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet"

Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan:

"For words are wise men's counters; they do but reckon by them: but they are the money of fools"

Tom Freeman

I like the distiction but I think there are grounds to expect a positive correlation. If the contents of a belief system include aggressive intolerance, then those beliefs are likely ot be pursued in that same spirit.

"Being in a minority" can make you feel embattled and thus act more stridently - again, depending on the nature of the beliefs. You tend not to see advocates of regional assemblies (a small minority position, and hence statistically 'extreme') promoting their views fanatically.


What is a left libertarian? As one very persuaded by the Austrian/Libertarian thesis I find the two words misplaced together?


A left libertarian is someone who combines libertarian thinking with left feeling - he still indulges in sentimentality and whim surviving from childhood or youth. Or, there again, he might just be a tease.


"In an effort to support their views, extremists should gather more evidence"

You are assuming that the fanatic needs any more evidence. He doesn't. He has all the evidence he wants/needs to support his own position.

Further, the fact that the rest of us do not subscribe to his views is "evidence" to him that we need to dealt with in the fanatical view that he has already decided upon.

You are making the fundamental error of projection in that you assume that the fanatic is rational. If he were, he wouldn't be a fanatic.

Bob B

"Extremism" or "fanaticism", whatever we call it, I think potentially important insights may be lost by failing to notice similarities with a recognised phenomenon which has in the past been linked with cults.

Cults can have a powerful influence on the behaviour of members. In some cases, this has been turned in on the membership, notoriously so in the case of the People's Temple Sect which migrated from America to establish a settlement at Jonestown, Guyana. Relatives of cult members became concerned and made representations to the US government which led to a US Congressman going there with aides on an investigative mission in November 1978. The scale of the resulting calamity is perhaps left to reports on websites:

However, there is no inherent reason why cult behaviour is necessarily turned inwards towards self-harm as there are also many cases where aggression is directed externally towards "outsiders", as in the case of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult in Japan which perpetrated the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995:


But what about the way that extremists underwrite fanatics? Take Irish Republicans. A few hundred fanatics (volunteers) were prepared to join Active Service Units (military engagement, murder, targets for 'black ops', torture, interrogation, imprisonment and the odd hunger strike), but millions in Britain, America, and even Ireland who spend Friday and Saturday nights singing 'The Merry Ploughboy' and putting fivers in the buckets ('for prisoners books')!

The latter bunch were all in favour of 'getting back our occupied six counties' - and some were even happy to advocate it over the bodies of Ulster Prods if necessary. But - when sober - they told pollsters that they were more worried about the cost of phone calls.

The extremists helped fund the fanatics for a long time.

Bob B

There are several cases where insurgent liberation movements have gradually transformed into self-serving criminal organisations.

Rob Spear

Fanaticism is a means of proving the theory. Once the Islamists implement a Sharia state in the UK, we will be able to see the extent to which their extremism is correct. Rather than seeing fanatics as irrational, they should be perceived as heroic scientists, risking their lives to test their beliefs. A non-fanatical extremist is nothing more than a coward - why aren't you setting off bombs in the name of left libertarianism, Chris Dillow?


Nah. Agree with the distinction you make but the reason extremism and fanaticism are usually positively correlated is because your first point has the opposite effect from the one you suggest. Hardly anyone agrees with me. I could conclude that this is because I'm wrong. But what if the social costs of doing so are too great? For example, I might feel giving up my religious beliefs would lose me the small band of friends I have without gaining any new ones. Hence the need, in the absence of normal social supports, for a strong emotional commitment. People rarely, if ever, put up with social ostracism for the sake of extreme beliefs that they are nevertheless uncertain of.

Also with point #2: there usually is no historical reference point for extreme views - and that's the attraction of them. You can claim to believe in a perfect society without the human stain that inevitably comes with real historical ideas buggering up the purity of your ideal. This is what faith is all about and if you want to understand extremism and fanaticism, you have to deal with that.


"historical ideas"

Sorry, that should say: historical *examples*

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