When is Extremism Justified?

It was him they’d come for, not only Jabez Stone. He read it in the glitter of their eyes and in the way the stranger hid his mouth with one hand. And if he fought them with their own weapons, he’d fall into their power; he knew that, thought he couldn’t have told you how. It was his own anger and horror that burned in their eyes; and he’d have to wipe that out or the case was lost.” – The Devil and Daniel Webster, by Stephen Vincent Benet

This excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s masterpiece offers a critical perspective on the nature of extremism. It is altogether justifiable to have an extreme reaction to an extreme problem, but if one descends to the same level of hatred and evil that inspires their oppressors, their fight loses its virtue. But can fate be reasonably expected to deliver a positive outcome merely because the good guys were more eloquent? Daniel Webster knew he could not overcome hatred with hatred, but his ability to persuade a jury of the damned to spare a man’s soul, while a powerful moral fable, is nonetheless fiction.

In the year when The Devil and Daniel Webster was written, 1937, ideological hatred was exploding into violence and war across the world. But unlike in Germany, where an entire population succumbed to the exhortations of a fascist demagogue, in America, the growing extremist militancy was attenuated by the calm leadership of FDR. The point here isn’t to […] Read More

Realignment and Race in the Anglosphere

Two national elections, one decisive and the other a cliffhanger, have shaken the politics of the West to its core. In the United Kingdom, just last month, Conservative candidate Boris Johnson won a decisive victory for himself and his party. In the United States, barely three years ago, Republican candidate Donald Trump won the presidential election in a stunning upset where he narrowly lost the popular vote but logged a decisive victory in the electoral college.

The voters that supported these candidates represent a movement that has been building for several years but was not expected to result in a political realignment so disruptive and polarizing. Both candidates prevailed in the face of almost universal condemnation from the establishment media, the entertainment glitterati, most major political donors, and even members of their own party.

The reasons for their success are no secret, the only surprise was the level of support they were able to attract. To repeat what everyone acknowledges – whether or not they agree or disagree – Boris Johnson and Donald Trump owe their political success to a populist reassertion of national sovereignty. They represent renegotiating bad trade deals, reconsidering mass immigration, restructuring tax laws to discourage exporting jobs, repealing crippling regulations, and rethinking foreign policy to replace nation building with principled realism.

There’s much more to this picture, however, something harder to recognize, obscured by Johnson’s bombast and Trump’s bellicosity. While both of these politicians are channeling resurgent nationalism, they are also common sense centrists. While common […] Read More