What does the social science literature have to say about social change, especially for democratic countries like the United States? There are a handful of general findings, along with some specific ones that are spelled out in the additional documents listed in the box on the right.
First, social-psychological studies of small groups show that “moral exemplars” — those who stand outside the general consensus and at first are labeled as “extremists” — can often be very effective, but with one important qualification: they can’t be too extreme or else they will be ignored. Thus, the trick for any social change agent is to be just extreme enough to be an “effective extremist.”
Second, historical case studies of social change show that a very small number of highly organized and disciplined people, drawing great energy from their strong moral beliefs and supreme confidence in their shared theoretical analysis, can have a big impact.