Radical politics denotes the intent to transform or replace the fundamental principles of a society or political system, often through social change, structural change, revolution or radical reform.[1] The process of adopting radical views is termed radicalisation.

The word radical derives from the Latin radix ("root") and Late Latin rādīcālis ("of or pertaining to the root, radical"). Historically, political use of the term referred exclusively to a form of progressive electoral reformism, known as Radicalism, that had developed in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the denotation has changed since its 18th century coinage to comprehend the entire political spectrum, though retaining the connotation of "change at the root".[1]


The Oxford English Dictionary traces usage of 'radical' in a political context to 1783.[2] The Encyclopædia Britannica records the first political usage of 'radical' as ascribed to Charles James Fox, a British Whig Party parliamentarian who in 1797 proposed a 'radical reform' of the electoral system to provide universal manhood suffrage, thereby idiomatically establishing the term 'Radicals' as a label denoting supporters of the reformation of British Parliament.[3]

Throughout the 19th century, the concept of radical politics broadened into a variety of political notions and doctrines. Party politics in England began to favour moderate positions, marginalising other movements into more politically aggressive factions.[citation needed] As open advocacy of republicanism was illegal in France following the Napoleonic Wars, Radicals emerged under similar reformist ideals as their British counterparts, though they later branched out to form the Radical-Socialist movement with a focus on proletarian solidarity.[3][4] With the rise of Marxism, the notion of radical politics shifted away from reformism and became more associated with revolutionary politics.[3] In United States politics, the term is used pejoratively among conservatives and moderates to denote political extremism,[3][5] with the 19th-century Cyclopaedia of Political Science describing it as "characterized less by its principles than by the manner of their application".[6]

During the 20th century, radical politicians took power in many countries across the world. Such radical leaders included Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin in Russia, Mao Zedong in China, Adolf Hitler in Germany, as well as more mainstream radicals such as Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom.[1][7]


Status quo change

The common feature to all radical political forms is a view that some fundamental change is required of the status quo. For an array of anti-capitalist forms, this manifests in anti-establishment reactions to modern neoliberal regimes.[1]

Concept of ideology

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes the radical concept of ideology to be that:

This view reflects "a consensus among radicals of all stripes on the role of law as a dissembling force to safeguard the unjust relations of the status quo."[8] This radical critique of ideology is especially prominent within post-leftism.[9] In addressing specific issues, some radical politics may completely forgo any overarching ideological plan.[1]

Difference from extremism

Astrid Bötticher identifies several differences between radicalism and extremism, among them in goals (idealistic vs. restorative, emancipatory vs. anti-democratic), morals (particular vs. universal), approach towards diversity (acceptance vs. disdain), and use of violence (pragmatic and selective vs. legitimate and acceptable).[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Pugh, Jonathan, ed. (2009). What is Radical Politics Today?. Palgrave Macmillan UK. ISBN 9780230236257.
  2. ^ "radical". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.) "That the omnipotence of the state is not lodged, by the constitution, with the people, but with the whole legislative body in parliament assembled, was a radical doctrine of this obnoxious ministry."
  3. ^ a b c d "Radical (ideologist)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  4. ^ Hayward, J. E. S. "The Official Philosophy of the French Third Republic: Leon Bourgeois and Solidarism". International Review of Social History.
  5. ^ Sanders, Mike, ed. (2001). "General Introduction". Women and Radicalism in the Nineteenth Century. p. xix. ISBN 0-415-20526-3. Retrieved 18 September 2020. Conservatives frequently deployed 'radical' as a blanket term of abuse
  6. ^ Block, Maurice (1893). "Radicalism". Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States. p. 492.
  7. ^ Short, Clare (2009). "The Forces Shaping Radical Politics Today". In Pugh, Jonathan (ed.). What is Radical Politics Today?. Palgrave Macmillan UK. p. 59. ISBN 9780230236257. For example, Mrs Thatcher was radical, the British National Party is radical and Hitler was radical.
  8. ^ a b c Sypnowich, Christine (2001-10-22). "Law and Ideology". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2019 ed.).
  9. ^ McQuinn, Jason (2004). "Post-Left Anarchy: Leaving the Left Behind".
  10. ^ Bötticher, Astrid (2017). "Towards Academic Consensus Definitions of Radicalism and Extremism". Perspectives on Terrorism. 11 (4): 73–77. ISSN 2334-3745. JSTOR 26297896.