Gore Vidal once wrote of “radicalisms.” Ron Simon, co-director of American University’s Program on Intrastate Conflict, and Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler were grappling with the term as debate moderator Martha Raddatz probed Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on whether they really believed their boldly stated positions. Kessler narrowed it down to three types, he told me, then settled on the third to offer perspective: radicalism as a violation of the settled, rational, established rules of political discourse. He’s not so sure of the claim that it encompasses everyone with a different perspective. For Kessler, radicalism means making false claims. “When you’re talking about somebody’s patriotism, for example, they’re denying the Constitutional protections of the rights and freedoms,” he said.
Vidal, a journalist and writer who died in 1993, defined radicalism as “an enthusiasm for changing the world, with utter disregard for the dangers that would inevitably occur as a result.” One caveat is that Vidal himself was known to think about radicalism in the context of gender politics. To the extent that Vidal’s political categories always tend to blend together, the similarity between a statement often labeled radical and the claim it’s made by an advocacy group might run deeper than partisans might suspect.