Saturday, October 01, 2005

What I think Principled Centrism Means

I was talking to my mother this morning, as I do every Saturday. We were having a friendly argument about the causes and solutions of social problems, as we do every Saturday. I was not satisfied with the solutions proposed by some leaders of our party, but definitely disagreed with the opposite solutions. Mom wanted to know what was in between. This led me to a helpful, spontaneous clarification.

Let me put this in a too-strong way at first in order to be clear:

A centrist wants to promote what is best for society, tolerate what is good enough, and prevent what is harmful.

Conservatives want to promote what is best for society, and prevent everything else.

Liberals want to promote all options (except the truly dangerous ones) as equally good.

If your first reaction to this is, “Who is to say what is best?” you are a probably a liberal.

If your first reaction to this is, “Why settle for mediocrity?” you are probably a conservative.

If this bell-curve picture of the social options seems reasonable to you, and you have no principled objection to making discriminating judgments – welcome to the Gruntled Center.

(Feeling centrist, but not gruntled? I will take that up tomorrow).


SPorcupine said...

Centrists are people who treasure an entire community and enjoy the work of helping it hold together. People at the two extremes enjoy conflict and see compromise as watering down ideas. Centrists see dialogue and compromise as strenghtening relationships and commitments that are valuable in themselves.

I affirm that in politics: I enjoy trying to understand working out where we can agree, and teasing and being teased. If I woke up and there were no Republicans to debate, I'd miss the debate AND the people.

I also affirm it in the PC(USA). I'm weary of some of the perpetual debates, but I'd hate it if any of the debaters walked away from the church family. I think the loyalists in Gruntled's church history act from strong values and affirmative commitments, building up things worth building and protecting things worth cherishing.

I think of this instinct as echoing the left edge of the Reformation: the Quakers and Anabaptists who value community especially highly. In a Calvinist denomination or a government exercising power, it's hard to articulate that sense of value, but entirely possible to live by it even if you don't always explain.

Gruntled said...

Calvinist churches and democratic governments are formally ruled by majorities. Majority rule is polarizing. In fact, though, every institution creates a third constituency, the large group in the middle who are loyal to the institution itself.

Anonymous said...

What the? Just because you don't have the nuts to be a liberal in this "post-911" crap factory, don't pretend you're a "centrist".

Intentional Fallacy said...

A centrist is someone who realizes that we do not live in the United States of Conservatives nor in the United States of Liberals.

A centrist is someone who realizes that we all share a country (and world) with people who are not like us.

A centrist is someone who realizes we live in The Melting Pot.

Anonymous said...

I could be generally described as a liberal and I think your option is bad, thereby disproving your statement about liberals. As a liberal I am quite happy for you to voice it though (from your porch).

Gruntled said...

Why do you think my centrist option is bad? What alternative do you propose?

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your blog, but do you think its also true that principled centrism can also be about understanding the common ground between different points of view?

Rather than your prefer the good, tolerate the good enough; I would say there are a lot of different interests in every argument.

For instance, there are always a few ways to break down different arguments about gays in society.

Some people view marriage in terms of individual rights--that its a privilege given to individuals. Others view it in terms of social needs--that its an institution for a social purpose.

Some people view the whole issue about sexuality as about identity--that being gay is who you are--others as about behavior--being gay is what you do.

Some as about individual rights--that equal protection laws need to be applied to gays--others about relationship rights--that because its about types of relationships and not types individuals, equal protection doesn't apply.

Some people still debate biology vs psychology; nature vs nurture; and identity vs choice.

Some people view marriage as about steady romantic relationships, others about economic relationships, others as child-rearing relationships.

Some people think the state shouldn't be involved in marriage; other people think the state has an interest.

Some people think there's no difference in interest between heterosexual relationships and homosexual relationships; others disagree.

There is a whole gamut of issues to deal with; and I think centrism has to involve finding common ground and common truths. Not policy compromises---but something that speaks to the reasons of every side in the debate.

Sometimes that may mean favoring one side over another, sometimes it may not.

Anonymous said...

Actually I think common ground between different -interests-, is a better way of putting it, than common ground between different points of view.

Gruntled said...

I think it is always good policy to look for common ground among competing interests. As a practical matter, I think there will always be some common ground, if only because the statement of competing interests is not likely to be precise enough to prevent overlaps. Some of the competing interests, though, are sure to conflict too much for common ground. So I would expect that there would be common ground around the centrish options, another circle of the tolerable, and a few that are just out.

danny said...

Don't think you can brow beat me with your allegedly superior "centrist" ideals just because you seek for common ground, make considered and nuanced decisions in order to do what's best for society in your best judgment. It doesn't impress me.

Two words: Bush-Cheny!

DocWithHeart said...

I love how the person posting the comments about not having the "nuts" to be a liberal didn't have the "nuts" to reveal who they are. How ironic, lol! Love those who want to poop on everyone without identifying themselves.

Nate Kratzer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nate Kratzer said...

As the budget proposals are coming out today (2/14/10) and I'm in the middle of reading Reinhold Neibuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society it seems clear to me that the debate is not shaped by policy disagreement, but by a clear case of class interest. Most of the conservative economic theory was disproved years ago. In fact, Niebuhr writing in 1932 claims that the history of the last 100 years shows a failure of unregulated laissez-faire economics. He goes on to explain why the theory does not disappear and what makes it possible for Reagan to use it all these years later, "when power is robbed of the shining armor of political, moral, and philosophical theories, by which it defends itself, it will fight on without armor;"

To then conduct the argument as though a center could be reached between liberal and conservative political/moral theories seems to fail to adequately account for the motive of economic interests. Further, when the conservatives of today manifest clear Islamophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia and racism (I'd be happy to elaborate on any of those charges) seeking to find a position that will appease both sides seems to be a mistaken policy.

I agree with your basic premise in calling things good, tolerable, and bad and am certainly no relativist (I think we are morally obligated to judge injustices that we see). I don't think I could fairly say that makes a me a centrist (unless that truly is the way in which you have defined it) since I am on the far left of American politics.

Gruntled said...

Pursuing opposing economic interests in a way that destroyed the economy is in no one's interest. I think conflicts of economic interest are the easiest ones to find middle ground on. The deeper conflicts of worldview are harder to reconcile, but can still be done.