Who is apt to throw a bomb?

16 Sep




“Real anarchists don’t throw bombs,” the political science professor said while lecturing a class at a Lancaster County (Pa.) college. “There’s a large group of them living on farms not far from here. They’ve never thrown a bomb. Do you know who they are?”

The class didn’t.

“They’re the Amish.”

The professor went on to explain about organized groups who prefer to live without government.

It was an interesting exercise, separating violence and radicalism from a term that normally suggests only terror.

I thought about this lecture, given during a time of great unrest in the U.S., after reading a piece by Carlin Romano in the Chronicle of Higher Education. (I’d link to it but you have to subscribe.) Romano, a former journalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, teaches philosophy at Ursinus College. He called his piece, “Getting to the Root of ‘Radical’ ”

In part, he takes a look at some of the clever definitions historic figures have given to political labels.

Here’s FDR:

“A Radical is a man with both feet planted — in the air. A Conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward. A Reactionary is a somnambulist walking backwards. A Liberal is a man who uses his legs and his hands at the behest  — at the command  — of his head.”

And Woodrow Wilson:

“By ‘radical,’ I understand one who goes too far; by ‘conservative,’ one who does not go far enough; by ‘reactionary,’ one who won’t go at all.”

Poet Robert Frost, according to Romano, said:

“I never dared be radical when young for fear it would make me conservative when old.”

Pretty good.

OK. So how should we categorize the thousand who have taken to the streets of Middle Eastern cities in anti-Western protests?

How about young, unemployed, angry, outraged, frustrated? I’m not sure there is any real politics involved. The non-political radical may be the most dangerous of all. Unlike the Amish, they will throw bombs.

– Lanny Morgnanesi


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