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Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.
—George Santayana[1]

Fanaticism is defined as a life-consuming obsession to some idea or cause. Fanaticism with respect to social ideals is roughly a synonym for extremism, although "fanatic" originally referred to extreme religious devotion,[2] and the term still sees more application to religious extremists. "Fan", the shortened form (as in "sports fan" or "fandom"), originates from "fanaticism", although fans of something don't necessarily display uncritical, excessive enthusiasm towards that thing.[3]

The concept of the fanatic is similar to that of the crank, though they are not identical. The difference is that the subject of the fanatic's devotion may be mainstream even if the devotion itself is not, whilst a crank is devoted to strange or odd ideas; hence, one speaks of a fanatical Christian or Muslim, but a crank adherent to New Age ideas.

Fanatics' adherence to mainstream ideas makes them much more capable of doing damage, as they have ready access to, and influence over, a large body of non-fanatics who agree with their ideas. Notable examples are the Religious Right in the United States and Muslim fanatics such as Osama bin Laden inducing Muslims to go on suicide-bombing missions.

In the language of the Third Reich, "fanatical" was given positive connotations and was the adjective attached to the ideal Nazi devotee.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. The Life of Reason (1905-1906), Vol. I, Reason in Common Sense
  2. Etymonline - origin of "fanatic"
  3. Thorne, Scott and Bruner, Gordon C. (2006). "An exploratory investigation of the characteristics of consumer fanaticism". Qualitative Market Research: an International Journal. 9(1): 51–72.
  4. Victor KlempererWikipedia (1947). "The Language of the Third Reich: A Philologist's Notebook": The word 'fanatical' was, throughout the entire era of the Third Reich, an inordinately complimentary epithet. It represents the inflation of the terms 'courageous', 'devoted', and 'persistent'; to be more precise, it is a gloriously eloquent fusion of all of these virtues."