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Michigan State University

The American Radicalism Collection: An Overview: What is Radicalism?

What is Radicalism?

We recognize that defining the term "radicalism," and distinguishing radical movements from activist ones, is difficult and dependent on interpretation, perspective, and context. Nevertheless, to help with the purposes of collection and scope, the following definition of radicalism serves as a general guide for our collection:

Radicalism: the beliefs or actions of individuals, groups, or organizations who advocate for thorough or complete social and/or political reform to achieve an alternative vision of American society

This collection aims to document the ideologies, goals, and tactics of individuals, groups, parties, and other organizations who strive to enact complete societal overhaul, often through revolutionary means. Sometimes, these revolutionary means include violent and/or illegal tactics. 

However, we also collect material on groups and movements that aim to alter or improve existing political and social systems, rather than replace them altogether, and do so primarily through legal and nonviolent means - what some would consider to be more along the lines of "activism." This flexible collecting scope allows us to preserve a more complete record of historical and current efforts to enact political, economic, or social change, and of alternative visions to American society.

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