Radicalization of society

The radicalization of individuals and groups remains the center of focus in the debate surrounding the matters of “how” and “why”. While society is primarily treated as a social setting and environment in many studies, the question as to the impact that radicalized individuals, groups, milieus and social layers can have on society has gained in relevance. Not only individuals and groups that radicalize: an entire society is also capable of radicalization. This may occur, for example, when the legitimacy of the political system is put into question and the predominant social norms in the political sphere are rejected, especially a reversal towards to acceptance of political violence.

This study focuses on the matter of “the extremism of the middle” (Seymour Martin Lipset): to what extent do radicalized attitudes proliferate in the middle layers of society. As the majority of citizens take themselves to be part of the middle class, changes to this middle layer prove particularly relevant. This study shows that we cannot consider German society to be radicalized at present: the democratic, middle-layer milieus are firmly anchored within society and they have even grown larger in recent years. Nevertheless, social cohesion in Germany is currently being put to the test. In particular, right-wing populist and far-right extremist groups and milieus are placing pressure on this sense of cohesion through their anti-semitic, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views. The effect of this is political polarization. Yet, as an integral part of any democratic society, such polarization is not necessarily negative. Nevertheless, anti-democratic milieus and groups can use polarization to promote the radicalization of society as a whole.

The report (in German)

PRIF Report 8/2018
Radikalisierung der Gesellschaft? Forschungsperspektiven und Handlungsoptionen
Eva Herschinger // Kemal Bozay // Oliver Decker // Magdalena von Drachenfels // Christian Joppke (mit Klara Sinha)


[Download PRIF Report 8/2018]

The film (German w/ English subtitles)

Film "Radicalization of Society" |  Length 9"50' |  Realisation Philipp Offermann with Manuel Steinert // Lilli Kannegießer |  Subtitles Manuel Steinert |  Translation Nick Gemmell|  HSFK 2018

Policy Recommendations

  1. Strengthen social resilience, especially by way of political and cultural education initiatives. A balance must be achieved between recognition and separation in order to ensure respect towards different religions and backgrounds as well as a dissociation with all forms of inequality. This involves building a tolerance towards ambiguities: strengthening people’s ability to tolerate differences and come to terms with these without advancing stigmatizing, discriminatory and anti-pluralist positions.
  2. Depolarize the public debate. This aim will be attained when the representatives of democratic parties agree to stop adopting politically polarizing slogans for strategic purposes. Additionally, this can also be achieved through a more sensitive approach to labels and characterizations that can feed feelings of polarization and exclusion. Scaremongering should be rejected by applying the modern concept of social cohesion; forms of democracy that adapt to the diversity of life are an essential medium for integration.
  3. Deal with (right-wing) populist parties. In this area, the aim of policy work should be to convince representatives of a pluralist society to clearly demarcate and keep a distance from (right-wing) populist parties. This will prevent the limits of what may be said from further expanding and curb ongoing trends towards normalization.
  4. Promote comparative research. This will prevent or at least hedge the emergence of attitudes and actions during the “boom cycles” of extremism (considered only in terms of current threat levels).

Project members


  • Eva Herschinger
    Leibniz-Institut Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung (HSFK)


  • Kemal Bozay
    Fachhochschule Dortmund
  • Oliver Decker
    Kompetenzzentrum für Rechtsextremismus- und Demokratieforschung an der Universität Leipzig
  • Christian Joppke
    Universität Bern
  • Magdalena von Drachenfels
    Leibniz-Institut Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung (HSFK)
  • Klara Sinha
    Leibniz-Institut Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung (HSFK)