The New Clarion

The New Clarion header image 2

The “Extremist” Smear

April 10th, 2009 by Chuck · 7 Comments · Politics

We are seeing a lot of people or groups being denounced these days for “extremism” or “extremist rhetoric.”   As Ayn Rand pointed out long ago, in her article “Extremism” or The Art of Smearing, holding an extreme position is not immoral.  It is only the substance of the position one holds that can be good or evil.  To be extreme in one’s position merely means one is being consistent – and it is this consistency that is being denounced, whether the people using the label realize it or not.  The implication is that only “moderates” (another anti-concept) are good, while the “extremists” are evil.  And what does being a “moderate” actually mean?  Pragmatism.  

If “extremism” is by definition immoral, than all laissez-faire capitalists are immoral.  All advocates of inalienable rights are immoral.  We are being equated with the murderers of al Qaeda, and the irrational religionists of the conservative movement – because we are “extreme” in our defense of individual rights, just as they are extreme in their quest to murder all who will not submit, or in their advocacy of creationism.

I don’t know if all of those using the smear label “extremist” realize what it implies.  If not, they should examine the issue more closely, and use language more precisely.

7 Comments so far ↓

  • Burgess Laughlin

    In conversation with pragmatists — either online or face-to-face — I have found the best counter to a charge of “extremism” is to simply, politely ask for a definition.

    That is the first step. The second step depends on the answer: evasion, denial of the need for definitions, outright mysticism (claims of “common sense,” for example), or an invalid definition.

    Of course, one needs to be prepared to provide an objective definition of anti-concept. One also needs to know what makes a definition objective.

  • Chuck

    Thanks for those links to the Ayn Rand Lexicon, Burgess. Another word being used today to smear principled thought is “ideologue.” It condemns anyone who has an ideology, i.e., a political philosophy, in favor of the preferred alternative, which, as usual, is pragmatism.

  • Stephen Macklin

    I like this guy’s take on the idea. He explains the whole of the Left’s political argument as “Shut Up.”

  • Michael Labeit

    I’ve found that pragmatism and moderation can also be “extreme.” Consistent inconsistency is metaphysically possible.

  • L-C

    It is a way of shutting down ideas as such, because only consistent advocates of ideas can counter altruism and pragmatism.

    Why saw off a branch when you can snap the trunk while the tree is still young?

    Pragmatism replaces – and blocks out – so much more than any particular ideology.

  • Jim May

    I like Barry Goldwater on this topic:

    ““I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

    Chuck: the use of “ideologue”, while definitely connected to militant pragmatism, tends to come more often from conservatives than Leftists, as the former have a fundamental hostility to any sort of rational “system-building”; they insist that their conservatism is not an ideology, but an “anti-ideology”.

    Apart from the fact that this claim is flat wrong, that they make it at all is extremely telling about their fundamental irrationality — and their pride thereof.

  • Chuck

    Jim, I agree the use of “ideologue,” and of “extremist” as well, is widespread on both sides of the aisle. Both of my examples are from Little Green Footballs, a right wing blog, although it is becoming unpopular with conservatives since it started denouncing creationism. I don’t even visit leftist blogs or websites, so I couldn’t point to any examples from them.