All posts filed under: Centrism Debate

American Centrism Has Failed

Editor’s note: this essay is part of an ongoing series hosted by Quillette debating the merits and spirit of centrism. If you would like to contribute to respond to this essay or others in the series, please send a submission to pitch@quillette.com.   The American political centre, which supported Hillary Clinton and rejected all arguments of her corruption, was hit last week hit with a political blow that, in ordinary times, would be a scandal capable of unwinding the entire Democratic Party. Donna Brazile, the former chairperson of the DNC, blew the whistle on the primary process a year and a half too late, telling many Sanders supporters exactly what they had suspected – that the Clinton campaign had been running the DNC since 2015. When Elizabeth Warren flatly stated on CNN that the primary was ‘rigged’, any notion of centrist unity around Hillary Clinton fell apart. Consider the two politicians who have arguably received the most disdain from Donald Trump: Hillary Clinton and John McCain. What do they have in common? Despite being supposed partisan rivals, …

The Spirit of Centrism

“The far-right and far-left can be equally insane.”  ~John P. Avlon Centrism is a decidedly wimpy word, but it is a powerful political idea. Over the last few weeks, many commentators and critics have compelled me to contemplate centrism more carefully. Is centrism a kind of “average” of extremes: They want single-payer insurance; the other side wants free market insurance; centrists want some unique hybrid? What then when the extreme position is the correct one? Does the centrist defy the truth simply to mold the world to his or her obsessions with compromise? As I’ve contemplated these important questions, I’ve begun to believe that the truly unique and important thing about centrism is its insistence on debate, and its uneasiness with prepackaged dogmas and identity narratives. Centrism is a flexible political position, but it is inflexible in its urging of open inquiry and spirited discourse. Comprised of many competing interests and factions, modern post-industrial society is incredibly complicated. The best policies are difficult to discover, and they almost always require painful tradeoffs. The most straightforward …

Universalism Not Centrism

The notion of “centrism” aims to stake out ideological ground between the extremes of contemporary left and right. But the centrism-extremism distinction fails to get at essential differences. Finding those means going deeper into Western intellectual history. Ideologies are like organisms, and tracing their origins back to common ancestors starts with a system of classification based on careful observation and comparison. Our goal is ultimately to unravel the DNA of ideological movements. However before DNA, you need Darwin and Linnaeus. So let’s start with some actual specimens of “centrism.” Here I mean ‘neo-Enlightenment’ thinkers like Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, George Will, Maajid Nawaz, Scott Alexander, Christina Hoff Sommers, Christopher Hitchens, Bret Stephens. And their ideas have a clear line of descent from core Enlightenment values, which are under attack from factions on the left and right today. Anti-Enlightenment ideas are springing up from the left in: attempts to shut down speech in the academy, increasing toleration of violence in “anti-fascist” and “anti-racist” protests, and rhetorical strategies aimed at opponents’ racial or sexual attributes rather than …

Centrism: A Moderate Manifesto

Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; W. B. Yeats Centrism. It’s a decidedly wimpy and unexciting word and it often inspires derision as a kind of pallid purgatory for those afraid to take bold action or propound creative political ideas. Worse, it is less a coherent philosophy than a potpourri of concerns, complaints, and anxieties about other philosophies. The center is where those who can’t quite commit to something better land. And the centrist is that staid friend who orders vanilla pudding for fear that anything unique might offend his delicate palette. These common complaints might contain more than a kernel of truth, but centrism doesn’t need to be dull or incoherent. Understood properly, centrism is a consistent philosophical system that attempts to guide political and cultural systems through change without paroxysms of revolution and violence. The centrist, in this sense, believes that political and cultural progress is best achieved by caution, temperance, and compromise, not extremism, radicalism, or violence. Like …