When will the right?

Radical flank effect

The radical flank effect refers to radicals’ effect on moderates within a social struggle. Many moderates warn that radicals discredit moderate groups. The political scientist Herbert H. Haines has argued that radicals often strengthen moderates and thus have a “positive radical flank effect”: “Radicals may thus provide a militant foil against which moderate strategies and demands can be redefined and normalized, i.e., responded to as ‘reasonable.'”[1]

In Black Radicals and the Civil Rights Mainstream, Haines argues that radical black movements and insurrections helped moderate groups win more victories and secure more funding than they otherwise would have. To help demonstrate the effect, Haines includes an account of a white liberal moving further to the left in response to black struggles’ increasing radicalism:

About 1953, I had my first conversation with [a southern friend] about race relations, and he and I agreed that while the Negro deserved a better chance in America, we must be careful to oppose two kinds of extremists-the NAACP and the Klu Klux Klan. In 1955, we had another conversation, and again we agreed that Negroes ought to be able to attend desegregated public schools, but that we should oppose two kinds of extremes-White Citizen’s Councils and Martin Luther King. In 1966, this same friend said to me, ‘If we could get the good whites and the good Negroes to support Martin Luther King, perhaps we could put the brakes on these SNCC and CORE people and also put a stop to this ridiculous revival of the Klu Klux Klan.’ I submit that this is evidence of some progress.[2]

  1. Jump up Herbert H. Haines, Black Radicals and the Civil Rights Mainstream, 1954-1970 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press 1988), 3-4.
  2. Jump up Haines, Black Radicals and the Civil Rights Mainstream, 75-76.