iSoul In the beginning is reality.

Category Archives: Relating

Relating as persons: psychology, society, politics

On the Centrist Project

The Centrist Project proposes to break the gridlock in Washington by electing five independent Senators.  It’s an appealing strategy.  But their Centrist Principles show a moderate go with the flow attitude that eschews “ideology” for trendy politics.

For example, under Environmental responsibility it reads:

“I will act as a steward of the environment for future generations. I believe that climate change represents a potential threat to the United States and the international community. I will support international efforts to curtail carbon emissions, including policies that raise the cost of polluting behavior.”

There is no awareness of trade-offs here or of the extremes of environmental and anti-environmental politics.  Without an “ideology” of centrist philosophy this effort will drift into going with whatever direction the political winds are blowing.

The centrist

In my usage, centrism is distinguished from moderation as follows:

The moderate seeks the relative middle so if the winds blow in one direction, the moderate moves in that direction to a moderate degree.  In contrast the centrist stakes out a position in the long-term middle so if the winds blow in one direction, the centrist leans against the wind.  The centrist may seem contrarian in two directions at the same time depending on the issue but their focus is always on maintaining a place between the extremes.

Centrists are aware there are always trade-offs and oppositions:  liberty vs. safety, property vs. equality, big business vs. big government, present generations vs. future generations, economic stability vs. economic growth, etc.  Centrists seek a middle way between these extremes, a compromise that is aware of the tension between these extremes and expects adjustments in the future.

The order of life, liberty, and property

The first and second article of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was written by George Mason and adopted unanimously by the Virginia Convention of Delegates on June 12, 1776, states:

That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

The (U.S.) Declaration of Independence, which was primarily drafted by Thomas Jefferson and adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, states:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I suspect that the omission of “property” from the Declaration was to avoid the potential for this revolutionary document to be challenged as an attempt to abrogate British property rights.  In any case, the rights to “life, liberty and property” are asserted in the Declaration of Colonial Rights, a resolution of the First Continental Congress.  The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution declare that governments cannot deprive any person of “life, liberty or property” without due process of law.

The U.S. Civil War can be understood as a conflict over the rights of liberty vs. property.  Slaves were chattel property and their right to liberty was not acknowledged until the war was decided.  The right to liberty trumps the right to property if there is a conflict.

The continuing clash over abortion can be understood as a conflict between the right to liberty and the right to life.  It is greatly to be hoped that the right to life will prevail as liberty means little if a life can be taken without due process of law.

In short, the rights to life, liberty, and property should be acknowledged in that order with life taking precedence over liberty and liberty taking precedence over property.

January 2011