Blast From The Past: Jonah Goldberg Lashes Out At Political Centrists

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 Bland, woolly, resigned pro-Europeanism – the centrist belief that Britain is hopeless, the nation state is outdated and that security and prosperity can only come by surrendering sovereignty to an unaccountable supranational body – was the watchword among every single one of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At present, we tend to think of this last group of people as “centrists” or “swing voters”, simply because they do not quote direct from either the Labour or Conservative Party manifesto when asked to offer a political opinion.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.

 

Political centrism

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BBC Daily Politics: If Students Need Safe Spaces, They Have No Business Voting

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Today I will be a guest on the BBC’s flagship Daily Politics show, discussing the worrying and accelerating infantilisation of today’s university students and asking whether young people who need the protection of trigger warnings and safe spaces can possibly be trusted to responsibly exercise their democratic right to vote.

Last year, in response to a brilliantly provocative column by American law professor and political blogger Glenn Reynolds – in which he argued that today’s generation of coddled, micro-aggression fearing students have utterly failed to earn the right to vote – I went along for the ride, agreeing:

It is ironic that at the same time there is a push to lower the voting age in the UK – the Lords recently voted to allow sixteen and seventeen-year-olds to vote in the coming Brexit referendum – people only slightly older and now at university, who already have the vote, are busy regressing back into emotional childhood.

[..]  Given the increasing number of campus incidents of precious snowflake students demanding that the authorities curtail their liberties for their own “safety” – and the fact that increasing age is the last, best hope of gaining wisdom – the idea of raising the voting age does start to feel awfully tempting.

Response written, I then didn’t think much more of it. That is, until the other week when I was contacted by the BBC and asked whether I wanted to state the same case on their flagship political programme, the Daily Politics.

The context of the issue is known well enough, and I have blogged extensively about the worrying and absurd rise of calls to outlaw clapping and booing, tearful temper tantrums about dress codes, stifling ideas by labelling them ‘problematic’, the tedious insistence on “safe spaces” and mandatory sexual consent workshops, all of which are flourishing on British and American university campuses.

Now, do I really want to stomp around like a little authoritarian, summarily revoking the franchise from every group of people who happen to rile me up? Well, as readers of this blog already know, I would generally rather leave the screeching, sanctimonious authoritarianism to those who do it best – the student activists busy cocooning their young minds in an ideologically homogeneous bubble, and purging any dissenting viewpoints which threaten their “mental safety”.

But I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make the urgent case that if things continue on their current course – with children being raised to believe that “sticks and stones may break their bones, but words will kill them stone dead”, and growing up to become intolerant students intent on purging anybody who fails to fawn deferentially over their delicate sensibilities – then before long, none of us will possess the intellectual and social robustness required of an engaged citizenry. And none of us will make good voters.

I want to stop the rot before it gets that far. But doing so will require confronting some difficult truths. And among these truths are the fact that the world of academia (particularly in the US – but where America goes, Britain already follows) has become infected with a virus which produces legions of what can only be described as adult babies – people who are physically mature, but with the emotional and psychological resiliency of a toddler.

The extent of the rot was laid bare in Spiked’s 2016 university free speech rankings, which forensically detail the extent to which free speech is curtailed at every university campus and students union in the country.

To give just a few examples, at present there are 30 students union which have banned newspapers (no prizes for guessing which publications), 25 which have banned mainstream hit songs for being “offensive” and 20 which have banned clubs or societies. But they only take their cue from the universities themselves, nearly half of which enforce “No Platform” policies against controversial speakers and a fifth of which have already moved to import American-style “safe space” policy onto their campuses.

I’m due to debate with Conservative MP and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, as well as Labour MP Kate Green. It will be very interesting to see whether I am able even to extract any acknowledgement that there is a problem which needs to be tackled. However, with the Conservative government leaning hard on universities to protect the fragile minds of their students by banning extremist speakers and Labour poised to benefit disproportionately from the authoritarian student vote, I’m not expecting a tremendously sympathetic hearing.

Watch this space!

Watch me debate on Wednesday’s edition of the Daily Politics, broadcast on BBC Two at 11:30 for the start of the programme (and PMQs), and at 12:20 onwards for my segment.

Alternatively, watch live or catch-up on BBC iPlayer.

Safe Space Cartoon - 1

Bottom image: Honey Badger Brigade

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Time To Raise The Voting Age?

Safe Space Crybabies

Young people who cannot hear dissenting ideas without running to the authorities have no business voting at the ballot box

Since the generation of coddled students now going through university expect and demand to feel “comfortable” at all times, insisting that trigger warnings be slapped on anything which may challenge them – and retreating into strictly enforced “safe spaces” if that doesn’t work – perhaps the time has come to stop treating people in their late teens and early twenties like real adults.

After all, if today’s wobbly-lipped generation of Stepford Students need the authorities to ban controversial speakers, punish dissenting opinions and treat everybody as though they are either current or recovering victims of severe trauma, they are essentially already asking to be treated like children.

At least that’s the point made by Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, in USA Today:

In 1971, the United States ratified the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake.

The idea, in those Vietnam War years, was that 18-year-olds, being old enough to be drafted, to marry and to serve on juries, deserved a vote. It seemed plausible at the time, and I myself have argued that we should set the drinking age at 18 for the same reasons.

But now I’m starting to reconsider. To be a voter, one must be able to participate in adult political discussions. It’s necessary to be able to listen to opposing arguments and even — as I’m doing right here in this column — to change your mind in response to new evidence.

This evidence suggests that, whatever one might say about the 18-year-olds of 1971, the 18-year-olds of today aren’t up to that task. And even the 21-year-olds aren’t looking so good.

Reynolds goes on to cite the various examples of student and young adult infantilisation with which we have become depressingly familiar over the past year – calls to outlaw clapping and booing, tearful temper tantrums about dress codes, stifling ideas by labelling them ‘problematic’, the insistence on safe spaces and mandatory sexual consent workshops.

If people still look to external authorities to help them navigate daily life, mediate normal encounters and resolve commonplace disputes, we should probably keep them as far away from the ballot box as possible, argues Reynolds:

This isn’t the behavior of people who are capable of weighing opposing ideas, or of changing their minds when they are confronted with evidence that suggests that they are wrong. It’s the behavior of spoiled children.

[..] But children don’t vote. Those too fragile to handle different opinions are too fragile to participate in politics. So maybe we should raise the voting age to 25, an age at which, one fervently hopes, some degree of maturity will have set in. It’s bad enough to have to treat college students like children. But it’s intolerable to begoverned by spoiled children. People who can’t discuss Halloween costumes rationally don’t deserve to play a role in running a great nation.

It is ironic that at the same time there is a push to lower the voting age in the UK – the Lords recently voted to allow sixteen and seventeen-year-olds to vote in the coming Brexit referendum – people only slightly older and now at university, who already have the vote, are busy regressing back into emotional childhood.

This blog believes firmly in universal suffrage and a single, defined threshold of legal adulthood at the age of eighteen. But given the increasing number of campus incidents of precious snowflake students demanding that the authorities curtail their liberties for their own “safety” – and the fact that increasing age is the last, best hope of gaining wisdom – the idea of raising the voting age does start to feel awfully tempting.

Top Image: grrrgraphics.com

h/t Patrick West in Spiked

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