Though currently associated with the left-of-center, dominant, two-party American politics, Liberalism in its classical sense is the underlying scaffold for nearly all non-radical, contemporary political dispositions. Classical Liberalism, which coincides with the incarnation of modernity, as a political philosophy concerns itself with, in the most simple terms and as enunciated by the French Revolution, Liberte, Egalite, and Fraternite. It is from these words that the principles of life, liberty, and property are placed in a universal context. This universalism allows Liberalism to easily become compounded with the concerns of social welfare, or, in perhaps a counter intuitive way, provides a foundation for all but the most traditional conservative ideology. Thus-ly, Liberalism becomes synonymous with capitalism.

Moving away from its classical basis, Modern Liberalism is a political, though in many ways predominantly economic stance wherein the prevailing socio-economic theory of universal employment (Keynesian model) and open markets advances the common good and  serves as a primary driver for government control/regulation of the economy to prevent unfettered capitalism from creating societal inequality and financial/class disproportionality.  Liberalism favors reform by law and government action, rather than revolution, and in the late stages of Liberalism, perhaps actively prevents the possibility of revolutionary change as economic inertia and interdependence, symmetrically or asymmetrically distributed, becomes a primary means of governance. (See Neo-Liberalsim)


Simply, the global, or transnational implementation of liberal economic policy. Neo-Liberalism produces an extremely deregulated economy within its host nations. This state is facilitated by free-trade and open markets between nations, emphasizing privatization and individual responsibility whilst largely maintaining liberal, in a classical sense, views on social issues.

 Economic growth is viewed as a social “bottom-line”, allowing market forces to regulate(?)the economy, extolling an exchange-society model, with porous, unregulated trade movement. In Neo-Liberalism, state and quasi-state entities, for example the World Bank, IMF, UN, global investment banks, etc have superseded the initial, individual rights-based, universal ambitions and capacity of Classical Liberalism, in favor of a universalism that is more globe-spanning and  a dominant, pragmatic, global capitalist reality, rather than freedom-creating universal born of the Modern project.

Dangerously, Neo-Liberalism drapes, or rather camouflages itself in this same freedom-inducing, progress-driven mantel to produces a manically growth-driven hyper-capitalism. See Neo-Colonialism.



Radicalism purports that fundamental and systemic change is the root motive and strategy for revolutionizing the existing governing apparatus of political power and economic mechanisms.  Radicalism can be attributed adjectivally to any political affiliation, though generally to the extreme wings of the right or the left. The definition lies in the application or means of governmental change and less as a theory or stance in itself. Yet in contemporary parlance, Radicalism and “to be Radical” is associated with left-of-center politics and claimed by Leftist political organizations, as well as any number of anti-status quo and often anti-colonial/capitalist activities. This is not to say that Radicalism is not deployed by right wing organizations, but as Radical activity in the 1960’s consisted of  left wing movements, civil rights, the women’s movements, LGBTQ movement, Black Power, the environmental movement, the anti-war movement,  this lineage has come to define the political narrative of Radicalism.


Lazzarato, Maurizio. The Making of the Indebted Man. An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition. Los Angeles,CA: Semiotext(e), 2012


John + Matthew

Matthew Story


  1. the critical Lexicon of Radicalism as a term defined by leftist movements of the sixties while certainly some of the more obvious and celebrated radicalism, I think your definition fails to take a broader scope on radicalism. Maybe that radicalism is not always defined by violence or as a tool of social change. What comes to mind for me is a concerning right wing anti imigrant radicalism that has begun to emerge in Europe in the last decade but is perpetuated by many current anti immigration and tough citizen ship laws in place in those countries. Specifically Switzerland comes to mind, with the ‘black sheep movement’ a anti immigrant, pro security campaign undertaken in 2007 by a right wing political party part of Switzerland’s coalition government

  2. It seems that the provided definition of Radicalism here is a contemporary one, and one based completely on the idea of a bi-directional politics. It is interesting that the definition and Nate’s comment above both refer to Radicalism as directly related to certain movements. I believe that Radicalism could also be an identifier, or signifier, of those who refuse to participate in the prescribed system laid out by Neo-liberal capitalism. For example, it seems that many housing cooperatives, intentional communities, and even semi-cities such as Christiania in Copenhagen or Auroville in India oppose neo-liberal systems as a Radicalism not aligning itself with the ‘wings’ of politics or governmental change. These types of Radicalism instead offer a ‘way out’ of the neo-liberal political order altogether by creating production/distribution chains within communities, not global economies. So it looks like Radicalism can be a social or political project, as well as an undefined critique of system politics altogether.

  3. As John and Matthew crucially note, radicalism has commonly come to denote politically left-leaning activity, in America. As such it is used in mainstream media to denounce and pronounce invalid claims by left leaning individuals or parties. However, as norms destabilize, the term can be co-opted by ‘radical’ right-wing pundits, purporting to be right of center, if not centrist, to denounce any left-leaning view as grossly irresponsible and an extreme change from accepted modes of operation, thus furthering a radical right agenda by co-opting the term radical as pejoratively left-wing and delinquent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *