A Dangerous New Americanism?

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by Neil Godfrey

Part of the reason for my delay in posts has been extra time I have been taking on studying a new report by J.M. Berger on the emergence of violent extremist groups. Hopefully the post will be up soon: it addresses that quaint old British-Israelism belief that the lost ten tribes of Israel became the British Commonwealth of nations and the United States of America, and how and why that positively philo-Semitic group of adherents evolved into the anti-Semitic and violent extremist Christian Identity movement.

Meanwhile, I have just learned of another article by J.M. Berger that appeared on online a couple of weeks ago and that is based on the same report I have been studying:

A Dangerous New Americanism published by War on the Rocks:

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24 thoughts on “A Dangerous New Americanism?”

  1. I appreciate the question mark in the title of the post. As someone who spent most of his life in the US, I find Berger’s analysis – as the current president would say – weak. But it does do a good job of ‘othering’ the so-called alt-right and deplorables and creating its own in-group/out-group dynamic. To that point, one need merely ask whether there’s any evidence for a “U.S. federal government in thrall to an extremist presidency”. If anything, Trump – like Obama before him – has already been ensnared by his own federal government, unable to achieve a rapprochement with Russian because of the control of US foreign policy by neo-conservatives; unable to get meaningful reforms through Congress, etc.

    One could easily argue that as Berger for being a fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism—The Hague would probably define anything anti-globalism as ‘extremist’. The essay itself can be read as a veiled privileging of global preference and opinion over domestic decision-making.

      1. Your reply is neither here nor there. An organization would hardly identify itself as ‘neo-liberal’ on its about page, nor would Wikipedia likely identify it as such.

        As for its funding, I can hardly say. But an organization in Europe or this sort is likely to share the an pro-economic globalization worldview. That’s not only the zeitgeist, especially in Western Europe, but there are institutional pressures to do so.

    1. One could easily argue that as Berger for being a fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism—The Hague would probably define anything anti-globalism as ‘extremist’.

      FYI, Berger’s definition of “extremism” is found in the source document, Extremist Construction of Identity, p. 6f:

      : A spectrum of beliefs in which an in-group’s success is inseparable from negative acts against an out-group. Negative acts can include verbal attacks and diminishment, discriminatory behaviour, or violence.

      Competition is not inherently extremist, because it does not require harmful, out-of-bounds acts against competitors (such as sabotage). The need for harmful activity must be inseparable from the in-group’s understanding of success in order to qualify. Similarly, not every harmful act is necessarily extremist.

      Violent Extremism: The belief that an in-group’s success is inseparable from violence against an out-group. A violent extremist ideology may subjectively characterise this violence as defensive, offensive, or pre-emptive. Again, inseparability is the key element here, reflecting that the need for violence against the out-group is not conditional or situational. For instance, war is not automatically an extremist proposition. But endless, apocalyptic or genocidal wars are usually seen as inseparable from the health of the in-group.

      Violent extremist groups may claim (sincerely or insincerely) to consider temporary cessation of hostilities when certain conditions are met. For instance, al Qaeda statements regarding the West sometimes outline conditions under which a truce or treaty can occur.12 But al Qaeda’s ideological texts stipulate in various ways that fighting against out-groups must continue until the end of history.13 The ability to entertain a truce does not disqualify a movement from extremism, although the inability to entertain a truce is likely a definitive indicator of such.

      From the two definitions above, a third follows:

      Radicalisation into Extremism:
      The escalation of an in-group’s extremist orientation through the endorsement of increasingly harmful actions against an out-group or out-groups (usually correlating to the adoption of increasingly negative views of the same).

      These definitions are applied within this paper, and the author believes they may be useful in other contexts. However, additional grounded study may lead to revisions for wider contexts.

      Is there anything that you see as problematic in these definitions? Or anything in these definitions that would support the view that “anything anti-globalist” is extremist?

      1. I’m not sure these definitions are in any way germane. At a minimum, their application is what is at issue. Given that Berger is evidently defining Trump as an extremist, it not only robs the category of ‘extremism’ of any of its value, it has to raise the question of why – or more precisely, what worldview would see someone like Trump as an ‘other’, as a threat, and define him as an extremist. A likely guess would be a broadly pro-globalism, neo-liberalist worldview.

          1. Why call it a ‘front’? I don’t know anything about this organization (and am not terribly interested). But if I had to guess, I’d say its members have a broadly pro-globalism, neo-liberal worldview. That’s because nearly without exception, such organizations today (especially in Europe) have this orientation – apart from those that are increasingly being dubbed extremist. Further, it’s also a good guess because a broadly pro-globalist neo-liberalism is today’s prevailing worldview, especially in urban centers. Finally, Berger calls Trump ‘unhinged’ (this word has become a kind of meme) and cites at least one Huffington Post article (a plainly partisan source) as support.

            All this aside, since my opinions about some obscure organization at The Hague can hardly be of interest – there are a number of philosophers and social scientists who would dispute the idea that ‘othering’ only occurs in extremists. That is, it’s fairly clear that ‘othering’ as so many philosophers and others have observed, is constitutive of human identity, period. There’s a pretty strong irony in this piece that it’s being put down only to extremists – at the same time the author tries to make Trump and his ‘deplorables’ (by no means a monolithic entity) into an other by calling them ‘extremists’. This ought to be obvious.

            1. The definitions I gave are indeed germane to Berger’s and your understanding and use of the term “extremist”. From my reading of Berger’s work here and elsewhere, and from the little I have seen of the publications produced by ICCT, I don’t see clear grounds for what appear to be speculative surmises about his argument or perspective.

              1. You have a remarkable way of reading my comments without ever noting what they say. But since you want to revisit this point of discussion, I’ll repeat:

                1) A neo-liberal pro-globalist outlook, broadly speaking, is the prevailing attitude today, certainly in Western Europe, and certainly among NGOs, think-tanks, and policy-related institutions.

                Would you disagree?

                2) Berger’s definitions of extremism, whatever form they take, are of less importance than how the term gets applied by Berger. In principle, anyone can apply or misapply a term however he likes whatever his previous definitions.

                Would you disagree?

                Finally, my main point – which you miss, but no doubt it’s because your own prejudices and your sympathies with Berger here – is that calling Trump an ‘extremist’ is to so distort the term as to make it meaningless. There is no evidence that Trump is an extremist unless we’re citing our own certainty belief thanks to mass hysteria as evidence. Berger’s definition of ‘extremism’ seems to refer to a zero-sum worldview with ‘out’ groups: for us to go up, they have to go down. Where is evidence for this in Trump that isn’t 80% fanciful thinking? If Trump says manufacturing jobs once in the USA are now in Mexico, and he wants to bring him back – does this economic argument qualify him as an extremist according to Berger’s definition? No doubt it does – because Berger can apply his definitions any way he likes, citing evidence from The Huffington Post. Personally, I’m still waiting for all the mass deportations, the extermination camps, the martial law, and so on that should come with Trump being an extremist.

              2. I have before attempted to explore what you do in fact mean by some of your comments but without success.

                I don’t think we can get very far if you presume my misunderstandings are to be explained by my prejudices. Perhaps they are, but you would do me a favour if you identified those prejudices with clear evidence. (I could say your introduction of such concepts as “neo-liberal pro-globalist” outlook that appear to me to be unrelated to Berger’s article betrays prejudices of your own.)

                It is not clear to me that you have even looked at Berger’s explanation of his use of the word “extremist”. You seem to be objecting to Berger explaining what he means by the word — if I understand you correctly. Our words mean what we mean them to say, and if Berger says he is using a word to mean a certain thing then that’s how we should interpret him, yes?

                Correct me if I am wrong, but you seem to be judging Berger on the presumption that “extremist” is not a valid descriptor unless it embraces your own definition that includes extermination camps, mass deportations and martial law.

                If I say I am using the word “extremist” in the sense of X then that is how my statements about extremism should be evaluated. If you object to my meaning or use of the word then I can change it to whatever you like so long as it means what I am trying to discuss. If Berger is not here to engage in that dialogue then we have no choice but to judge his argument according to how he uses the word — and according to how he justifies his use of the word.

                (On your other point, I don’t know if NGO’s, think-tanks, and policy-related institutions are all aligned with neoliberalism (though some of course evidently are), and I don’t know anything about ICCT’s relationship, if any, to such an ideology — or how such a relationship would or should affect our reading of Berger’s paper.)

              3. If you don’t think that Western European think-tanks, NGOs, etc., aren’t united by their acceptance of broad ideological principles – neo-liberal, pro-globalism with very few exceptions – then I’m not sure what you’re doing commenting on politics.

                Incidentally, it is not because these are personal bogeymen of mine that I take the trouble to identify them. I’d merely observe that the political contest that has been dominating the news every single day for the past year has been about this political divide: neo-liberal, pro-globalism vs. heterodox, anti-globalism. Brexit, Le Pen, Wilders, Trump, you name it.

                If this ICCT – located at The Hague, of all places – weren’t a member of the winning team, it’d already have been flagged as disreputable, and you probably wouldn’t be championing it.

                As for for divining the meaning of my fairly clear and concise comments: it’s a mystery to me that you can produce insightful interpretations of biblical and other texts from antiquity, but still remain impervious to fairly straightforward argumentation of mine.

                I’ll state for the third time: whatever the handy definitions provided by Berger, the application of his definitions is at issue. You fail to see this distinction evidently. I assert that the reason for making this distinction is the simple fact that he calls Trump – in the article to which you linked – an extremist.

                Why is this objectionable? Because I am a Trump supporter? No, ‘support’ of Trump is not required.

                First, in Berger’s piece, among the links he provides as support for his various assertions is at least one link to The Huffington Post. This is as plainly a partisan source as it gets.

                Second, I fail to see in his piece how Trump is an extremist according to the strict definition to which you keep appealing. I read his definition for the first category. And I believe I have given it an even more precise restatement than you have: a) the creation of an ‘out’-group; b) the belief that ‘our’ success is a zero-sum game with that out-group.

                Third, and finally, you can say that I disagree with Berger’s definition of extremism because it doesn’t match mine all you like. I submit there’s some moral responsibility that goes with the use of the word. If we call every political opponent an ‘extremist’, then we risk the term losing its meaning and utility, possibly blinding people to the very real extremism of expulsions and mass incarcerations and genocides when they are about to occur.

                Bottom line: opponents of Trump have been calling him Hitler before he was even sworn in. Applying this pseudo-academic taxonomy of types of extremism to Trump is just another version of the same.


              4. If you don’t think that Western European think-tanks, NGOs, etc., aren’t united by their acceptance of broad ideological principles – neo-liberal, pro-globalism with very few exceptions – then I’m not sure what you’re doing commenting on politics.

                If you can supply me with evidence that (a) the ICCT is guided by a neoliberal agenda — and most importantly (b) that the neoliberal agenda has influenced Berger’s analysis, then I will of course take it on board.

                I don’t know why or on what grounds you infer that I am somehow “championing” the ICCT, by the way.

                We have each made our respective positions clear on the article’s use of the term “extremist” and I think we can leave it at that.

              5. Evidence is a fine thing. Maybe someone can do a scientific survey of the members of the ICCT for their opinions and attitudes. I, for one, don’t intend to spend any time scouring the members’ publication histories or social media for evidence in their belief in the theory of evolution or climate change. Nevertheless, I’d bet you 20 Australian dollars that not a one among them – or perhaps, no more than one – wanted Wilders, Le Pen, or Trump to win. I’d further bet money that no one in that think-tank located in The Hague is in favor of Brexit.

                Sometimes we have to use the evidence of our senses. We all inhabit the same contemporary milieu. I made the non-controversial observation above that today in the West there are two broad ideological orientations: neo-liberal and pro-globalist on the one hand, pro-nationalist, anti-globalist on the other. You don’t comment on this point because, in fact, it provides all the basis any one needs for supposing this particular group, the ICCT, is neo-liberal and pro-globalist. That’s because this is the ideology that’s ‘winning’: it is in control of universities, government, corporations, and urban centers generally. It’s sufficiently successful that the opposing ideological orientation – pro-nationalism, anti-globalism, broadly speaking – is characterized as fringe, radical, and ‘extremist’. That you don’t want to admit this point seems to me either willful blindness or disingenuousness.

                There is even some circumstantial evidence for the ICCT being part of the winning team. For one, I see no sign of it being tarred as conservative, right-wing, etc. In fact, it seems to sort of exude respectability – which would be impossible were it not on the inside of the neo-liberal, pro-globalism ‘in-group’. There’s also the Trump hit piece which ironically uses a pedantic definition of ‘extremism’, i.e. those who create ‘out-groups’ and believe themselves in a zero-sum game with them, to put Trump into an ‘out-group’. Further, scanning the publications listed on the ICCT website, there seems to be a sort of prima facie acceptance of terrorism as a ‘thing’. Whereas I observe that on most anti-globalism, anti-neo-liberal sites, there’s considerable skepticism about terrorism as a given, and emphasis on interpretations that foreground terrorism’s connections to intelligence services, the so-called deep state, etc.

                When I say you’ve championed the ICCT, it’s not in the strong way the word might suggest. You’ve chosen to present a piece by the ICCT on your blog. That’s as far as it goes, but it’s not nothing. Presumably you saw something of merit in the piece to include it here.


              6. You don’t comment on this point because, in fact, it provides all the basis any one needs for supposing this particular group, the ICCT, is neo-liberal and pro-globalist. . . . That you don’t want to admit this point seems to me either willful blindness or disingenuousness.

                Woah there, mister! I don’t comment on something for which I can see no relevance to the post or argument of the post I have made. You are the one who introduced a particular ideological divide in the discussion and all I have done is to ask for evidence to support your assertions and evidence of their relevance to the argument of the research article at hand.

                You seem to be hell bent on imputing ideological views to me or to arguments I post about entirely on the basis of belief and assertion, not evidence. When I don’t enter into what I consider a discussion irrelevant to the points I have made you seem to be inferring that I am siding with an ideology you object to. Your assertions about my supposed motivations strike me as groundless mind-reading, etc.

              7. Very tedious. Your comment has the appearance of being reasonable, but isn’t. My comments have been far less about your politics or ideological persuasion than about Berger’s and his organization’s – all of which I’m drawing on inference.

                Here’s the bottom line as I see it: you offer a link to a counter-terrorism think-tank. The piece on the site offers up definitions of extremism. You apparently accept these definitions as objective, maybe even authoritative.

                I reply by saying this application of the ‘extremism’ label to Trump seems ideologically driven. You apparently think the ICCT, for appearing authoritative, has no ideology.

                I suggest that in all likelihood its members share the pro-globalism, pro-neoliberalism mindset that currently has majority status in the Western world. I cite circumstantial evidence for this – namely, that the ICCT is not being decried as ‘fringe’ or ‘right-wing’, it looks ‘credible’. Plus I note the piece you linked to is an anti-Trump piece that cites as a source – of all things – The Huffington Post. And that it’s not clear whether Trump even falls under Berger’s own definition.

                You respond by continuing to call for evidence. And I suggest that the pedantic call for evidence for a reasonable, non-controversial inference is – well…


              8. The piece on the site offers up definitions of extremism. You apparently accept these definitions as objective, maybe even authoritative.

                No. I don’t believe there is any universal authoritative definition of the word. I merely think it is valid to accept the author’s definition for the sake of argument and to assess his research in accordance with his own claims or definitions. I don’t think I have even suggested that his research is definitive. It is a contribution — make of it what you will. I see it as explorative, not definitive.

                You apparently think the ICCT, for appearing authoritative, has no ideology.

                I don’t know how you make that leap of inference. My interest is not in the ICCT but in Berger’s research article. If my lack of interest is misguided then I have asked you to offer me evidence to give me grounds for being more cautious about any article I read on the ICCT site. I still do not know what relevance your particular objections have to Berger’s article and larger argument.

                You respond by continuing to call for evidence. And I suggest that the pedantic call for evidence for a reasonable, non-controversial inference is – well…

                A request for evidence is “pedantic”? Often we hold beliefs we are sure are reasonable and non-controversial but that on closer inspection lack any basis in evidence. That’s when we need to step back and have a second look, I think.

                I have off-line questioned Berger on a particular point of claimed “evidence” he uses as a basis for part of his argument and am suspecting he was not as thorough as I would have expected in reading a particular primary source. I have raised with him what I consider this misreading of “evidence” and have attempted to present him with evidence that challenges one particular point he makes. Perhaps he considers me pedantic for my efforts, too. I don’t know.

              9. Very droll. I’m pleased to see that you haven’t taken on board Berger’s definitions, and are touching on some of his work in an ‘explorative’ way. That’s totally appropriate.

                On asking for evidence: not pedantic per se. But pedantic in some cases. If you shrilly asked me for evidence that members of the ICCT believed in the theory of evolution or that they weren’t Islamic fundamentalists, when a reasonable surmise can be made in these cases – well, I’d call that pedantic. I think that was clear from my earlier comments.

                Also clear is my point of view that Berger’s work appears to inhabit an ideological framework with assumptions that can be questioned: Trump is an extremist, terrorism emerges organically as a ‘given’ and not as the cynical creation of nation-states, etc. I noted that even according to his own definition, the Trump appellation fails, suggesting both intellectual laziness and ideological bias. To my mind, where partisan politics starts, academic rigor ends. … But you “still do not know what relevance [my] particular objections have to Berger’s article and larger argument”.

                Again, I have to suppose willful blindness or disingenuousness. But I have to admit that the topic doesn’t really interest me any more.

              10. I have not indicated an any comment what my own definition of extremism would be and whether or not I “take on board Berger’s definitions”. As for the explorative nature of the work, Berger himself explains that it is explorative. Did you read it?

                I can’t take you seriously when justify your description of my request for evidence as “pedantic” by comparing it with “shrilly asking” some absurdity.

                It is clear to me that your reasoning and argument and assertions are ideologically grounded since they do not, it appears to me, require evidence. If your assertions sound reasonable to you and fit your ideological perspective then that’s apparently all you need. It is apparently “pedantic” to want evidence.

  2. This belief is usually referred to as ‘British Israelism’. Calling it the ‘British Israel Theory’ could suggest – wrongly- that it has anything to do with the state of Israel.

  3. Leads off with guilt by association. Someone in the past said something similar to what someone in the present said … and that person in the past was bad! Highly unpromising. If the author were a British Israelist, I’ll bet he could quote-mine something a bad Jew of the past said that parallels something a notable modern Jew said and put that in the lead, too.

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