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So Why Radicalization? Essay

1558 words - 6 pages

Theda Skocpol defines social revolutions as “rapid, basic transformations of a society’s state and class structures…accompanied and in part carried through by class-based revolts from below” (4). During its course, a social revolution may experience a period of radicalization in which the initial revolutionary regime is overthrown by a more radical one that implements policies which overturn most aspects of the Old Regime and replaces them with extremist new ones. These policies result in a period of widespread Terror during which the state detains and or executes mass numbers of people for crimes that may or may not have been committed. To account for radicalization, which occurred in both France and Russia, one must begin by identifying two fundamental variables. The first, the initial revolutionary seizure of power by a non-radical group, occurred in France October of 1791 and in Russia February of 1917. The second, the failure of radical polities to appease a large majority of the masses, had begun to play out in France by 1793 and in Russia by November of 1917. By tracing the effects of these variables over time, the phenomenon of radicalization can then be explained.
Two prevailing theories that attempt to account for radicalization are the modernization theory, championed by Samuel Huntington, and the aggregate-psychological theory, posited by Ted Gurr. In the modernization theory, Huntington states that a “revolution becomes more radical as larger and larger masses of the population are brought into the political scales” (41). Huntington argues this empowers radical groups by spurring their popularity and in turn allows them to create “a new political order” under their rule (41). Yet, as the cases of France and Russia will demonstrate, radical polities do not need mass support to gain power. In fact, once they have seized it, disapproval, not support, from the masses prompts the radical polities to wield their influence and put down such opposition, resulting in violent radicalization.
In his aggregate-psychological theory, Gurr posits that revolutions will occur “when many people in society become angry, especially if existing cultural and practical conditions provide encouragement for aggression against political targets” (Skocpol, 9). Extending this theory, the angrier people become, the more radical, aggressive, and in turn violent a revolution will grow to be. The issue with this theory is that there is no source of change. Although Gurr argues that people become angry when there is relative deprivation, and that anger leads to revolution, if this were true, states would constantly be revolting, for there is always some measure of unmet expectation and some number of people who are angry (Skocpol, 9). Unless there a variable sparks the angered populace to take action, a revolution will not occur and similarly, unless there is a source of change during a revolution, radicalization will not occur either. Anger and relative...

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