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In political science, the terms political radicalism and radicalism denote radical political principles. Derived from the Latin radix (root), the denotation of radical has changed since its eighteenth-century coinage to comprehend the entire political spectrum — yet retains the “change at the root” connotation fundamental to revolutionary societal change; thus, radical right and radical left.

The forms of political radicalism range from reformism (ca. early 19th century) to conservatism (in the USA) to extremism — each antonymous to “political moderate. The nineteenth-century Cyclopaedia of Political Science (1881, 1889) reports that “radicalism is characterized less by its principles than by the manner of their application”.[1] Conservatives often used the term radical pejoratively, whereas contemporary political radicals conservative derogatorily; [2] thus contemporary denotations of radical, radicalism, and political radicalism comprehend far left, radical left, [3] and far right (radical right).[4]

The Encyclopedia Britannica records the first political usage of radical as ascribed to the British Whig Party parliamentarian Charles James Fox, who, in 1797, proposed a “radical reform” of the electoral system franchise to provide universal manhood suffrage, thereby, idiomatically establishing radical to denote supporters of the reformation of the British Parliament. Throughout the nineteenth century, the term was combined with political notions and doctrines, thus working class radicalism, middle class-, philosophic-, democratic- bourgeois-, Tory-, and plebeian radicalism. In the event, politically-influential radical leaders give rise to their own trend of political radicalism, e.g. Spencean radicalism and Carlilean radicalism. Philosophically, the French political scientist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78), is the principal theoretician proposing political radicalism as feasible in republican political philosophy, viz the French Revolution (1789–99), and other modern revolutions — the antithesis to the liberalism of John Locke.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States, 1893, p. 492, article "Radicalism", by Maurice Block
  2. ^ Mike Sanders (ed.) (2001) "Women and Radicalism in the Nineteenth Century", ISBN 0415205263, "General Introduction"
  3. ^ Edward Walter (1992) The Rise and Fall of Leftist Radicalism in America, ISBN 0275942767
  4. ^ Gilbert Abcarian (1971) American Political Radicalism: Contemporary Issues and Orientations
  5. ^


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