The dynamic of state repression based on countersubversion and centrist/extremist analytical models involves not only conservative and reactionary forces but the periodic cooperation of their liberal and neoconservative allies. (Neoconservatism is a political movement of former liberals who rejected the methods (and many of the demands) of the social liberation movements and the New Left in the 1960's and 1970's.)
Centrist/extremist theory gives an excuse for liberals and neoconservatives to tolerate state repression as a necessary last resort to protect democracy from the mob. So when mass movements form that challenge elite control of various social and political institutions, the reactionaries, conservatives, neoconservatives, and liberals find themselves as strange (and fickle) bedfellows. So not only does centrist/extremist theory insulate the political system from criticism, but its concept of irrational subversives undermining the idealized center helps provide a justification for state repression.
It is important to recognize that the US political right is complex and not monolithic. William B. Hixson, Jr. noted the fluid and complex nature of the US Right, pointing out that "[T]here are many conflicts in which `elites' and `masses' both divide, with segments of each interacting with those among the other with whom they agree."72 Sara Diamond argues there are distinct sectors of the right that are sometimes system supportive and sometimes system oppositional and they form shifting alliances based on shared goals that vary across time and topic.73 When "system supportive," right wing countersubversion movements are often embraced by the state, in part because they spread conspiracist scapegoating in defense of the status quo.
William W. Keller argues that in times of widespread social unrest, liberals retreat from their oversight function as protectors of civil liberties and allow authoritarian methods to restore order and defend the state.74 While we question the overall track record of liberals on civil liberties, we agree that liberals show less commitment during certain periods of social crisis. The way this works depends on the historic moment and the nature of the social unrest.
When right-wing groups become system oppositional, they are no longer allies of the state but enemies of the state. Liberals then rally behind the state and tolerate (or openly support) repressive measures to limit the system-oppositional activity of the rightists.
During periods when liberals and radicals share a criticism of the state that is not shared by rightists, law enforcement agencies often forge ties with system-supportive right wing groups (even clandestine paramilitary units) in extralegal campaigns against progressive and radical movements that shift the momentum of the criticism toward liberal reforms or simply crush dissent to buttress the status quo.75
When progressive or radical left forces gain a mass following for demands that would radically transform the existing economic or political system, liberals often rally behind the state and tolerate (or openly support) repressive measures to limit the system-oppositional activity of the leftists. The same is true when left and right both raise criticisms of the state.
The embrace of centrist/extremist theory by mainstream groups such as the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (ADL), Southern Poverty Law Center, and Simon Wiesenthal Center, helps to explain why these groups develop close ties to law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the US.
This overly close and often covert relationship with law enforcement limits criticism by some human relations groups of institutionalized forms of prejudice, discrimination, and oppression. This is especially true with police misconduct that frequently involves racism.76 Some human relations groups engage in questionable activities such as the collection of names and auto license plate numbers of dissidents attending meetings. This information is then made available to law enforcement and intelligence agencies that generally are prohibited from collecting such data without evidence of criminal intent.
More on Activism/Liberty
Political Research Associates
PRA is an affiliate of:
Unless otherwise noted, all material on this website is copyright 1981-2013 by Political Research Associates
Political Research Associates • 1310 Broadway, Suite 201 • Somerville, MA 02144
Voice: 617.666.5300 • Fax: 617.666.6622 • firstname.lastname@example.org