Final Word

Radical transformation can rot the roots


Radical economic transformation has become the dominant political slogan of the day at both ends of economic ideological spectrum, with dangerous implications at both ways.

The concept radical, quite literally goes to the root of the matter at hand, the structure of the economy and the fruits it bares for the inhabitants of the land.

The word radical arrived in late Middle English in the senses ‘forming the root of,’ and being ‘inherent to’ something. It came to us via French, – also spelled radical – which got it from the Late Latin word radicalis, indicating “of or pertaining to the root and being radical if it has roots.

Radicalis in Latin was formed from the word for “root,” radix. How fundamental the very root, or fruit of something is to the whole concept, is illustrated by the fact that the Cruciferous, slightly pungent plant, the Raphanus sativus, we often find in our stews, salads or eaten as relish, is also called radish, from the same word.

From the plate to politics

The word radical started it journey from the world of plant and from our plates to the word of philosophy and politics in the late 14th century, taking on a medieval philosophical sense of the fundamentals of a particular construct of a strain of thinking.

In short, since a root is at the bottom of something, radical as concept came to describe what is at the base or beginning, in other words, what is "basic, fundamental."

Even in mathematics the term found application and a radical sign indicates a root of a number, and in chemistry we find fee radicals.

In the modern political sense of the word, representing the notion of change from the roots, it was first recorded as a noun in 1802 and as an adjective 1817 in relation to an extreme faction of the British Liberal Party – reminding one a bit of what one presently experience around factions and radical ideas in public political debate in South Africa.

However, the phrase ‘radical reform’ has been a current one since 1786. Over time it increasingly became used to describe something that is extremely different from the excepted norm.

In the sense of being "unconventional," dates back to 1921 and it was recorded as surfer slang, to mean “at the limits of control," during the 1970s.

The later implication could probably also be applied in the world of politics and the economy. Just think of Leon Louw of the Free Market’s suggestion that there should be no property zoning bylaws or restrictions on subdividing agricultural land.

He want to see just about an complete eradication any controls over, or regulation of the free market. It just so happens that the word eradicate can also be traced back to Latin’s radix.

The marriage of radical and transformation

The marriage between radical and transformation is quite a natural one, the two coming from the same Latin linage, via French.

Transformation also landed in Middle English from Old French’s transformer, and which got it from Latin’s trānsfōrmātiōn with trānsfōrmātiō as stem, meaning ‘change of shape or form.

The Oxford Dictionary give the definition of transformation as “a marked change in form, nature, or appearance,” with as first example: “British society underwent a radical transformation.”’

The term, however, also finds application in the worlds of the theatre, mathematic, biology, linguistics, logic and more.

In the world of social interaction, be it politics, institutional organisations and the economy or one of its sub-sectors when transformation, especially or the radical kind, is embarked on, it is virtually impossible to predict the end result..

The danger of the phenomenon of unintended consequences will always loom large – something we will take a closer look at next week.

by Piet Coetzer

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Final Word

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