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In praise of Centrism

So Jonathan’s off on his boring “centrism is stupid” high horse again.  But clearly, it’s not centrism, but Jonathan who is stupid.

Centrism is the opposite of stupid: it’s a smart and sophisticated reaction to the world as it is, and to political reality.

Centrism recognises there’s some middle ground between a flat tax and a top tax rate above 50%. Centrism understands that society has some responsibilities to its citizens, but that they also have some responsibilities of their own. Centrism doesn’t think the Government is the solution to all our problems, but it doesn’t think it’s the devil, either. Centrism doesn’t think markets are the solution to all our problems, but don’t think they’re the devil either.

Centrism is about finding a reasonable middle ground.  Centrism is about recognising the complexity of the situation, and of the solution.  Centrism is interested in solving problems, not in grandstanding.  Centrism is interested in reality, not ideological purity. Centrism lives in the real world.

Centrism starts with the problem, rather than the solution. Centrism is willing to look anywhere for the answer. Centrism doesn’t rule out information that doesn’t fit its predetermined narrative.

Centrism is rationalist’s approach to policy.

Centrism understand nuance. Centrism acknowledges the difference between saying “we must do something” and saying “we must do something and it must be this”. Centrism listens to both sides, and considers the merit of each.

Centrism is hard. Centrism is not for the lazy. Centrism never offers a ready-made solution, but requires constant engagement with issues.  Centrism is quiet and does its work behind the scenes.  Centrism doesn’t inspire rallies (well, ok, Jon Stewart’s is the notable exception). Centrism sits quietly in the background, thinking and considering.

Centrism sometimes absolutely takes a side on an issue. But centrism doesn’t do that by default.  Centrism doesn’t ask “what is the centrist’s take on this”, but asks “what is the problem, and what’s the best solution.”

Perhaps the term “centrism” is a misnomer for what I’ve described.  Maybe centrism needs to rebrand. But to suggest centrism is non-ideological is to define ideology too narrowly.  It is ideological in its approach, rather than its outcomes.

4 thoughts on “In praise of Centrism

  1. I think you summed up the problem with centrism. It is fundamentally about reaction. It does not seek to shape the parameters of debates but rather jump into the middle. Kevin Rudd’s statements that as the Left and the Right are both unhappy so it must be good sums up centrism.

    I would also distinguish between revisionism and centrism. They are two completely different things. Revisionism is about being pragmatic and understanding the current context but being informed by values. It seeks to reshape what the political centre is.

    Centrism as an ideology does seek to do that. It just promotes a technocratic approach to politics that seeks to depoliticise. Modernism centrism is the product of neoliberalism and is the cause for much disillusionment and in my opinion, gains made by the populist right.

  2. Seeking to depoliticise politics sounds good to me! As ridiculous as that might be in practice, in an Australian context where ideology initially took a back seat to — before being overwhelmed by — tribalism, I can’t think of anything better in theory though!

  3. It’s a bit naive to think that Australian politics is purely based on tribalism. Fundamentally, the key ideological divide is about industrial relations and workers rights. We’ve seen it federally and in state governments time and time again.

    Also by depoliticise, I meant that it mask that judgement is based on political values from decision making. If you want to take out the tribalism from it.

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