A refreshing tirade against political centrism
Most regular readers will know that this blog has time for just about anyone on the political spectrum, save the out-and-proud centrists, those virtue-signalling, sanctimonious oiks who think that by eschewing strong opinions and continually fudging every issue they are somehow morally superior to us hot-headed partisan folk.
That’s why this blog has been a consistent supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. While I would never vote for him myself – and what’s with this trend of demanding that even the leaders of parties we would never vote for still agree with us on key issues? – far better that the Labour Party has at its head someone who stands for vaguely socialist principles than another rootless centrist in the mould of Tony Blair or David Cameron.
That’s one of many reasons why this blog campaigned tirelessly for Brexit and a vote to leave the European Union. Bland, woolly, resigned pro-Europeanism – the centrist belief that Britain is hopeless, the nation state is outdated and that security and prosperity can only come by surrendering sovereignty to an unaccountable supranational body – was the watchword among every single one of Britain’s main political parties, save UKIP. Brexit slapped that smug consensus off the face of Britain’s politicians, and their pampered cheeks will be smarting for years to come as a result.
All of this is an unnecessarily long way of labouring the point – again – that I really, really, don’t like centrists. I may have written about this already, once or twice before:
Bring up the subject of taxation, to pick a random example, and you’ll get a group of people who strongly feel that taxes should be cut in order to stimulate the economy and allow taxpayers to keep more of what they earn, and you’ll get another group of people who think that it’s morally obscene that some people are enjoying themselves, so we should make the tax code more punitively progressive to help bring about social ‘equality’. But you’ll also get a third group of rather bovine people who look up from Britain’s Strictly Come Bake-Off On Ice, wipe the pizza grease from their mouths and just say “what?”
At present, we tend to think of this last group of people as “centrists” or “swing voters”, simply because they do not quote direct from either the Labour or Conservative Party manifesto when asked to offer a political opinion. But are they really centrists? There’s a world of difference between someone who carefully studies the competing policies of different parties to arrive at a considered position half way between two extremes, and someone who mutters something about politicians being “all the same” before their eyes glaze back over.
[..] And can we also please disenthrall ourselves of the unsupported and misleading notion that these “centrist” voters will immediately startle like shy fauns if they encounter a strong political opinion once in awhile, when most of them probably could not run for the bus in the morning, let alone into the arms of another political party?
Which seems as good a time as any to revisit this Jonah Goldberg video taken from an interview with Glenn Reynolds, in which Goldberg is promoting his (then) new book, “The Tyranny of Cliches”.
Here is Goldberg on how centrists are overrated:
We all see the centre as this incredibly privileged and wonderful place, right? The mainstream media constantly talks about the centre as if it’s just the greatest place in the world, and centrists are somehow wiser and more noble than the rest of us — “Shh! David Gergen’s about to talk!” And it’s all nonsense.
First of all, the whole idea of the centre as being this privileged place is actually one of these enlightenment myths. There’s this whole slew of argumentation about how Galileo and Copernicus “dethroned mankind” by getting rid of geocentrism, that the theory of heliocentrism, that we revolve around the sun rather than the Earth being the centre of the world [sic] was an elevation or promotion for mankind, and in our arrogance we couldn’t handle it and the Catholic church beat up on it. And it’s not a real left-right thing, except in the regard that it explains how we understand the whole geographic political landscape.
The reason why the Catholic church and pretty much everybody else opposed geocentrism was one, they weren’t sure the science was right because it was a novel theory at the time, but two, because they considered it a promotion. In medieval understanding, in ancient Greek understanding, Jewish medieval understanding and Catholic, Thomas Aquinas understanding, the centre of the world, the centre of the universe is literally the asshole of the universe. The centre of the universe is considered the lowest and most disgusting and turgid place in the whole cosmos. In Dante’s Inferno, the lowest pit of hell is the centre of the universe. Maimonides talks about this, Aquinas talks about this and it is this myth of the modern mind that somehow geocentrism, getting rid of geocentrism somehow elevated mankind. It completely misunderstands where the medieval mind was, and we carry it forward to today.
There are a lot of huge arguments we have with the Left, or are between the Left and the Right. The Left says we have to build this bridge over a canyon, it’s a stimulus thing, it’s infrastructure, we need this bridge. The Right says are you frigging crazy? We can’t afford it, we don’t need the bridge, it’s a bridge to nowhere, it makes no sense, blah blah blah. That’s an honest argument – one side says let’s build the bridge, the other side says let’s not build the bridge. The friggin’ pinky-extending centrists parachute in and says no no, let there be peace among you. We’ll compromise – we’ll build half a bridge that goes halfway across the canyon.
It is these difference splitters who drive me absolutely batty, and we treat them as if they hold this privileged place when we don’t even understand that the centre is a geographic metaphor, it’s not an actual place in politics. All the serious ideas in politics have always come from where they were considered to be the extreme at one point or another.
Brexit and the reclaiming of our nation state democracy from the failing euro-federalist experiment in Brussels was considered a niche and even extremist idea for most of the past 40 years. And look at us now – with the only remaining resistance consisting of Owen Smith’s pitiful, petulant bleating and a few pathetic europhiles with the EU flag painted on their faces, Brexit is happening.
All the serious ideas in politics have once been described as extreme and unmentionable, says Jonah Goldberg. Darn straight.
And nobody has ever built a monument to a centrist.
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It follows that nobody who sincerely holds to whatever is currently the “centrist” view will ever describe themselves in those terms. If the centre of gravity of public opinion is currently liberal then the people who occupy that position will describe themselves as “liberal”. If it is conservative then the people in the centre will call themselves “conservative”, and so on. The faction that is currently winning shouts its name with pride and doesn’t have any time for euphemisms. The only people who actually describe themselves as “centrists” or “moderates” are the ones who don’t really believe in anything except self-advancement. They define themselves as close to what is most popular – or at least, what is widely perceived to be popular amongst the political class – rather than in terms of any particular system of belief. Therefore “centrist” should always be seen as a euphemism for “opportunist”, not least by whichever group is genuinely in the centre at the time.
In theory it is perfectly possible to be a principled centrist. It is possible to have a set of sincerely-held political beliefs that happen to correspond to where the current “centre” of political opinion is perceived to be. But there are two problems with this. The first is that the people who have always been committed to whatever is currently seen as the “centre” get swamped by the opportunists who rush to that position whenever they see it as advantageous to their careers. The second is that many of the opportunists don’t really understand public opinion outside of the Westminster Bubble so they are often looking for an imaginary centre that doesn’t really exist. They split the difference between continents and plant their flag in the middle of an ocean, then wonder why it sinks.
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Fair point – you make an important distinction here between those people who at some point happen to find their own sincerely-held views falling slap bang in the middle of the continually-moving Overton window of mainstream political thought, and those who brazenly triangulate their way to the same position. The latter deserve much more opprobrium than the former. As you suggest, it is the opportunists who are the real cancer on our politics.