A definition of ‘radical’

From his by now rather famous Terry Lectures, given at Yale in April 2008, now published as Faith, Reason, and Revollution, Terry Eagleton offers a succinct definition of ‘radical’:

“Radicals are those who believe that things are extremely bad with us, but they could feasibly be much improved. Conservatives believe that things are pretty bad, but that’s just the way the human animal is. And liberals believe that there’s a little bit of good and bad in all of us.”


Comments (5)

  1. John Ballard

    Two thoughts.

    Ambrose Bierce said Conservatives are enamored of existing evils as opposed to Liberals who wish to replace them with new ones.


    * Unthinkable
    * Radical
    * Acceptable
    * Sensible
    * Popular
    * Policy

    The Overton Window is a means of visualizing which ideas define that range of acceptance by where they fall in it, and adding new ideas that can push the old ideas towards acceptance merely by making the limits more extreme.

  2. Daylight

    Definition is as good as it goes. All three believe change is possible. Oh, yes even Conservatives. A Conservative does believe things are bad and that is the way the human animal is. Therefore, transformation must take place through a life changeing encounter with Jesus. Change comes from within. Liberals, on the other hand do have a little more positive view of human nature and put their trust in social institutions, namely government, to bring about change. Liberals primarily believe the bad comes from faulty societal structures (poverty, racism) and therefore they must put society in back in proper order to fix the problem. Jesus, for the liberal, gives some good ideas what society should look like. The radical wants to scrap it all and start from scratch since they do not have much faith in society or the person. But like the Liberal, they primarily focus on changing society.

  3. Remy

    I think Eagleton’s definition is much better than others around at the moment like John Milbank’s. I’m growing a little tired of the latter’s attempt to show how [neo]traditionalism and conservatism is in fact radical. But maybe I’m just too stupid for “Radical Orthodoxy”.

  4. Bill

    Simplistic nonsense. Was it not Wilde who noted that all generalizations are odious, including this one?

  5. Alan

    Question of clarification:

    How are we using “conservative” and “liberal”? Do those terms refer simply current political designations or something within the church; Anabaptist or otherwise?

    The reason that I ask is that in response to Daylights comment I would find myself coming out at some rather “liberal” social positions, as defined but the current political landscape, but at the same time I would hold to the belief that our ultimate hope must be in the kingdom of God, not in the kingdom of the USA.

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