Radicals aren’t dangerous, but extremists are

It’s difficult to address certain ideas in contemporary English. One example is when we use “radical” and “extremist” as synonyms. “Radical” comes from a Latin word that means “root.” The opposite of “radical” is not “central,” but “superficial.” The root grows in the center, but it grows deep. On the other hand, an extremist, either of the left or of the right, is off to one side. My hunch is that the two words became identical because of our modern discomfort with strong ideas and ways of life. We want things to be easy. So we’ve gotten sloppy.


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