(My Clovis News Journal column for January 30, 2015)
Being "radical" has gotten a bad name due to horrible acts committed by evil radicals. The fault doesn't lie in being radical; it comes from being radical about bad things, or beliefs, which convince people it's acceptable to use aggression, coercion, and theft to advance their cause.
"Radical" is from the Latin word radix, meaning "root". Most of the definitions of the word I have seen make the point that radicals "go down to the root"- to the very foundation of their beliefs. Another term for radical is "fundamentalist".
I think there's another facet to the word.
Being "radical" also means you are rooted; grounded. You are not tossed around by changing winds. Unlike a tumbleweed broken free of its roots, you stand firm as the gusts blow others off their feet.
In other words to be "radical" merely indicates you have principles. Those principles can be either good or bad. Most people seem to shy away from having principles of any kind. Too limiting, I suppose.
When your principles don't permit you to quietly go along with the prevailing culture- to stand firm, doing right when everyone around you believes you are wrong- it can be difficult.
Being a radical for good means your principles don't violate the individual Rightful Liberty or private property of anyone else, nor will you violate others in pursuit of those principles.
Flawed principles which stray from this must be quite tempting to many radicals, since going astray seems so common.
Radical is also relative.
A couple hundred years ago, anyone advocating to allow government to read all communications, to enforce "laws" regulating travel, to make almost every human activity either mandatory, forbidden, or subject to permits- in other words just about anything the various federal, state, and local governments do today- would have been the radical. This is now mainstream and anyone who objects or resists is seen as the radical.
Those who believe governing others to be a legitimate human activity- the statists- have always been the majority. They are dangerous radicals. Statists attempt to control others from every direction, and some of them like to use a particular set of religious radicals, among other hobgoblins, as justification for violating everyone else.
Bad radicals are most dangerous when they get political power and use it the way all statists do: to impose their beliefs, with force of law, on those who don't share their beliefs. Bad radical versus bad radical, with you and me caught in the middle.
Have principles. Be a radical. Make certain your roots are in the right place, and don't ever forget that the end never justifies the means.