With Political Extremism, Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Andrew Checchia ’19

Heading deeper into 2016, we can look back on 2015 as a year during which governments continued to shift further and further from the center of the political spectrum. Although extreme movements and leaders have certainly cropped up over the ages, some for better and some for worse, none have been so sweeping as the current political shifts. Normally, such changes only take place during a time of peak global instability, but most would argue this is one of the more stable time periods of the past half-century. What is even more unique, is that there is not a clear direction in which the extreme policies and leaders are moving. Many are heading left, while a swath of powerful far right groups push multiple European governments far from center as well. One need not look past our own American political climate, with proudly far right politicians like Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz garnering popular support; they are competing equally with a Democratic race pushed left by Independent-turned-Democrat Senator Bernie Sanders. One may ask why such changes occur and what these shifts mean for the common citizen in the near and distant future. There is not a clear answer.

A leading cause of extremism historically is a failing economy, causing civil unrest and, therefore, a desire for change. A familiar but radical example is the rise of Nazism in a defeated post-World War I Germany. This is certainly most clearly illustrated today in a politically-moving Europe. The European Union, and more specifically the Eurozone, have undergone the effects of an economic recession, but also allowed such a downturn to impact the European continent top to bottom. Because of this, aforementioned civil unrest has increased. As the Carnegie Council of International Affairs reports,  “continent-wide, only one in four voters express confidence in their national leaders.” A case study amidst the international upheaval, Greece has had a very troubling time. What is most interesting, however, is the effect the Greek economic meltdown had on internal political movements. For example, far-right factions such as the Golden Dawn Party have shown relative support for neo-fascist groups, particularly the ones championing a renewed embrace of extreme nationalism. Undoubtedly, this political shift to the far right in Greece has only been catalyzed by the addition of millions of Syrian refugees seeking political and economic asylum.

Although Europe has seen the most extremism in its government most recently, this movement away from center is globally widespread. In Ukraine, another country ravaged by turmoil, the previously successful Svoboda Party began to decline. This far-right party, supporting mainly anti-communist, anti-Russian policies, has lost its footing after the violent outbreak and strife regarding Crimea. As a result, many Ukrainians are moving left in opposition to the majority party. Another right-wing movement is present in Japan. Uyoku dantai, literally translating to “right-wing groups,” have slowly but surely garnered high levels of support. Originally near-meaningless in Japanese politics, these right wing groups have used extensive public propaganda campaigns, complete with distinctive black, white, and red vans expressing messages of ancestral veneration and sometimes even the World War II imperial flag, to promote a culture of political extremism.

Now, the common American citizen ought to ask the question, is this a good thing or a bad thing for our country? Is the expression of all opinions a justified use of free speech and new media, or is it a slippery slope to past mistakes? Are those who don’t know history doomed to repeat it? The reality is, this movement sparks a nationwide realization, that above all, one must be informed. The most dangerous and extreme ideas are only successful because of a fundamental lack of understanding by an everyday person. These expressions are healthy, when intelligently debated, approached with caution, and grounded in reason. But oftentimes, they simply are fueled by xenophobia, misinformation, and fear. It is necessary for one to take these ideas of such magnitude with a grain of salt, or two, for that matter; and to explore, investigate, and debate their reasoning, background, and overall viability before one jumps on board a potentially dangerous bandwagon. These extremist movements show us, as they seemingly always do, that ignorance is not bliss.