Extremist movements are on the rise, and they pose a threat to the stability of civil societies all over the world. Understanding extremism has never been more crucial, yet the dictionary definition—which is a sensible place to start when looking for an understanding—only says that it is “the quality or state of being extreme.” J. M. Berger provides a detailed overview of extremist movements in this book from the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series. He explains what extremism is, how extremist beliefs are developed, and why extremism can degenerate into violence. Berger demonstrates that although extreme movements have a wide range of ideologies, they share structural characteristics.
Expert on extremist movements and terrorism Berger believes that extremism develops from a view of “us versus them,” which is exacerbated by the notion that hostile acts against “them” are necessary for “us” to succeed. The broad justification of an emphasis on violence distinguishes extremism from regular unpleasantness, such as commonplace hatred and racism. The destruction of Carthage by the Romans, commonly referred to as “the first genocide,” the apocalyptic jihadism of Al Qaeda, America’s emerging “alt-right,” and the anti-Semitic conspiracy document The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are just a few examples used by Berger to support his claims. He talks about the development of identity movements, the radicalization of both individuals and groups, and more. Berger asserts that we will be more successful in suppressing extremism if we comprehend its root causes and the characteristics that distinguish extremist movements from other types.