- Radicals, Revolutionaries, and Terrorists by Colin J. Beck
Colin J. Beck
Malden, MA: Polity, 2015; 208 pages. $47.63 (hardcover), ISBN 978-0745662114.
Colin J. Beck’s Radicals, Revolutionaries, and Terrorists is an engaging read that addresses many pressing questions of the day. Readers will find Beck’s prose welcoming and the book informative.
The book raises eight central questions for scholars and students of radicalism, each guiding a chapter in the book. This organizational strategy encourages readers not only to read through Beck’s arguments regarding each question and possible answers, but also formulate their own. These questions are: “what is radicalism?” (chapter 1); “who is radical?” (chapter 2); “how do radical movements organize?” (chapter 3); “when and where does radicalism occur?” (chapter 4), “is radicalism about ideas and ideologies?” (chapter 5); is there a lifecycle of radicalism?” (chapter 6); “how and why does radicalism diffuse in waves?” (chapter 7); and “what is the past and future of radicalism?” (chapter 8). Quite obviously, these are good ways to structure one’s thinking and may even suggest a possible outline for a course syllabus on radicals, revolutionaries, and terrorists. This, of course, bears upon an important question: for whom was this text written?
The preceding question is difficult to answer for several reasons. First, the book, which is well written and cited, is not an academic monograph laden with cumbersome prose and a neverending stream of citations. This makes it attractive for the educated general reader. As the back cover suggests, the book is not necessarily a rewriting of theories of radicalism, revolution, or terrorism, so much as it is a companion to make sense of the literatures surrounding these topics across academic disciplines. It is a companion, a text that will help make sense of the books on one’s bookshelf or the articles in the “already read” file on one’s computer. As such, the book seems more useful for upper-level undergraduate courses than doctoral seminars. The publisher, Polity, produces many of these texts, particularly in politics and political philosophy. Yet the book also references diverse thinkers, from Charles Tilly to Leon Trotsky, Saul Alinsky to Louis Althusser. One would need a fairly deep background in history and social movements to make sense of some of these references. That, combined with some dense passages, [End Page 168] particularly in chapter 7, suggests that perhaps this book might find a home in the classroom before the living room.
In only 167 pages of text, Beck covers much ground. His use of tables and figures add to the text, helping explain complicated concepts in different ways. Figure 4.1, “Regimes and Propensity for Contention Type,” provides a way to understand the differences and similarities of radicalism, revolution, and terrorism mapped onto political structures and power bases (76). The reader will note that through terrorism in a closed political structure and a broad power base populist authoritarianism is the result. Figure 6.1 provides a bell curve that illustrates the lifecycle of radicalism (120). These sorts of visual representations are sure to help readers as they consider Beck’s thoughtful presentation of the historical, political, and social factors at play in a given situation.
Scholars will find notable omissions in this text. Scholars interested in critical theory and critical terrorism studies, like this reviewer, will notice the omission of texts by Alberto Toscano (Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea), which helps explain radicalism and its uses, and Slavoj Žižek (Violence: Six Sideways Reflections), which may be helpful in thinking about not simply what types of violence exist, but also why people might use them and to what ends. Likewise, only one of Richard Jackson’s (who provides a blurb for the book) works makes it into the references and none of Gabe Mythen’s work does. Readers familiar with the work of communication and rhetorical studies authors like Leland Griffin and those who engaged his original 1952 article on social movements will also find these scholars absent. This work would help answer chapter 7’s call and may address some issues in chapter 5. Law scholars will find that...