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Founding fathers: the first radical extremists

By Zack Boyden

The democratic system is supposedly the best system for giving power to the populace.

However, if the entire system is illegitimate, and no vote will change the system, there are people who believe action outside of civic participation is required.

People who take said action are called extremists.

It’s a negative connotation for most. Extremists are often seen as uncompromising and willing to resort to actions outside of the acceptable moral spectrum. There is hardly ever a time when the word is used in a positive manner.

The problem is that the biggest changes in history are often forged by extremists—individuals and groups who think that the system can only be shifted by drastic structural and cultural change.

This can be done with or without violence, but every extremist that strives to alter the course of their present situation must step on more than a few toes in order to achieve their goals.

Would it be wrong to characterize the founding fathers as extremist? They were well-read scholars who challenged the idea that, by merit of divine right, the King of England had total authority over American subjects.

They took a course of action that caused a revolution, and eventually led to the inception of our country, the United States of America.

If you use the technical term for extremist, these revolutionaries would fall exactly under that definition.

However, their reputation is now so profound that they’re thought of very highly in our nation, and sometimes even outside of it.

In fact, they are now seen as completely justified in their actions, and have given legitimacy to recent uprisings against monarchies and the eventual movement by countires toward democratic styles of government. Hardly what one would consider radical today.

The reputation they now have is that of wise and capable thinkers, certainly not as radicals. Yet, at the time, they were certainly considered extreme, as their ideas and actions took them to war with a powerful colonial empire.

In this case, their extreme actions were rewarded and their goals of sovereignty were reached.

We now have over 200 years of history that validate the actions taken by the founding fathers. Their extremist actions were completely justified given the circumstances. They saw an abuse of power and chose to put a stop to it.

There are many things I strongly, strongly believe in, but I don’t think I would characterize myself as an extremist. On the other hand, the founding fathers truly believed in what they were doing, and the actions they took were just a necessary step on the road to independence.

Radical action against a state must be conscious and thought through. A proper revolution (as oxymoronic as that sounds) is one that springs from principles, not rash action.

The implications and severity of your actions must also be considered—namely, whether actions that defy common morality, such as revolt or upheaval, are required.

zboyden@willamette.edu

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