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Centrism: A compilation of posts

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.

There are two kinds of centrism, which may be called by various names:

Lagging centrism is a political position comparable to a lagging indicator in economics. This position is characterized by going with the direction of the political winds of the day but lagging behind as if hedging one’s bets or being somewhat cautious. It is a position in the middle of the range of acceptable opinions, which changes as that range changes. Lagging centrists are called moderates in the U.S.

Dialectical centrism is a political position comparable to a contrarian investment strategy. This position is characterized by a dialectical strategy of supporting the opposite of the dominant extreme in order to restore balance to the body politic. It could also be called contrarian centrism, though is it not always contrarian. If the dominant position has been dominant for a long time but the opposite position is growing in influence, then the dialectical centrist will support the opposite position until balance is restored.

For example, in the common political tug-of-war between increasing liberty and decreasing inequality, if the politics of the day is tending toward increased liberty, the lagging centrist will tend in that direction but less than the leading edge. Whereas the dialectic centrist will tend against increased liberty if that has been the dominant side for some time. Yet if the dominant side has been the opposite, decreasing inequality, but increased liberty is growing in influence, then the dialectic centrist will support the latter until balance is restored.

These two kinds of centrism may be characterized as flexible centrism and stubborn centrism. Flexible centrism is willing to compromise even if it moves society away from the center. Stubborn centrism is not willing to compromise, unless it moves society toward the center.

Two other terms may be applied: A long-term centrist takes a position in the middle of the long-term range of positions. A short-term centrist takes a position in the middle of the short-term range of positions. The latter is known as a moderate, which means they go with the short-term trend, somewhere in the middle. A long-term centrist may well buck the short-term trend, and support a contrarian position.

There are three principles of what centrism is:

(1) Centrism seeks balance in all aspects of the state and its relationship with individuals, society, and other states.

(2) Centrism is non-ideological because ideologies are imbalanced: what distinguishes one ideology from another is how each is imbalanced.

(3) Centrism seeks to ensure that all ideologies are countered by opposite ideologies in order to neutralism them. Because of this, centrism is often contrarian, going against the dominant ideology so that a contrary ideology is strengthened. The goal is to gain or regain balance.

Centrism is the political philosophy of balance.

Centrism further explained

You don’t have to spend much time with a talkative progressive (aka liberal) to hear stories about the shortcomings of the private sector. Similarly, you don’t have to spend much time with a talkative conservative to hear stories about the shortcomings of the public sector. But the people in the private and public sectors are not significantly different. The incentives are different but people don’t change because they switch from the private to public sector or vice versa.

So we should really be talking about the shortcomings of humanity. And we should talk about the good things done by people as well. This kind of balance is characteristic of centrism. Let’s get real: humanity has a problem, called sin by theologians.

One way to deal with the shortcomings of humanity is to balance competing interests. This is what the authors of a political constitution do, or should do. The executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government should be able to correct and limit one another. This is called “checks and balances.”

When one branch of government is able to dominate the other branches, there is a problem. And when the people are not able to change the members of government, there is a problem. Yet the ability of the people to change the members of government should be balanced with the need for stability and continuity in government.

Centrists endeavor to balance legitimate but competing interests and principles. For example, a representative democracy requires equality among the people, but unlimited equality denies liberty. Similarly, unlimited liberty leads to inequality, for example, when the different abilities of people lead them to have different financial, social, and intellectual status.

So complementary opposites need to be balanced. In general this means that the best policy is between the extremes of progressivism and conservatism. But it may be that for some issues, the best answer is rather extreme–issues of life and death, for example.

Centrism and extremism

The essence of centrism is an acceptance of a limit for everything. This means there are limits in all directions. The image of this is a closed convex curve with a center in the middle of the region enclosed.

Without limits, there is no center. A center is always within limits. If there is any direction without a limit, the curve is not closed and there is no center.

Non-centrists are extremists in at least one way. They reject a limit in at least one direction. They are not only not in the center, but they reject the existence of a common center.

The slogan “No enemies on the Left” is a left-wing motto that goes back at least to the 1930s. It reflects an attitude that in the direction of leftist politics, there is no limit. Because it lacks a limit in at least one direction, it is extremist in at least one direction.

Most political groups promote some cause or idea that takes precedence over all other causes or ideas. They may hold these in a limited way, but unless they have ways of limiting the range of their support, they will tend to go further and further in that direction. They are or will become extremists.

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