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Tag Archives: Centrism

centrism as a political philosophy and political postion

Centrism and extremism

I’ve written on my understanding of centrism here and here.

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.

Return to federalism

When the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1789, it established a federation of the independent states called the United States of America. But over time the national government has expanded and overshadowed the states. The Seventeenth Amendment changed Senate elections to a direct ballot, which took state governments out of the loop of federal decision-making. The development of a regulatory process since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal produced innumerable new rules for citizens and businesses. Since then a centralized national government in Washington has taken authority from state and local governments.

Today “Washington” refers to the central government and its power over the lives of American citizens. Many people are fed up with it and its interference in their affairs. Others look to it and its supply of dollars for financial deliverance. Either way, the central government has become more powerful than King George III whom the colonists rebelled against. And the American people have become more divided from each other and alienated from their national government.

We have forgotten that “United States” was originally plural. We have forgotten that “federal” means that state and local governments are not bypassed but are part of a tiered structure. We have left individuals to face the might of the national government rather than state governments who have more resources to stand up to it. We have let the national government ride roughshod over state and local governments so that it is “federal” in name only.

The solution to this situation is a return to a federal structure of government. The national government should be largely answerable to the states, not the other way around. The states should not be forced into a single mold and composition. Rural and urban states should not be treated the same. The laboratory of the states should be allowed to flourish.

New political leadership is needed and eventually a constitutional amendment to define the relationship between the states and the federal government. State governments must be in the loop, for example, by having at least one Senator appointed by the Governor and ratified by the state legislature. The Fourteenth Amendment must be applied in a balanced way to the states. Where the Constitution is silent, the federal government must not be empowered to act.

This return to federalism will not happen in one election cycle. It will take a long effort to bring about. People with different political views will have to work together to make it happen. But a federation of states can and should return to America.

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.

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.


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.