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A Centrist Thought

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U.S. philosopher Sidney Hook (1902-89) is one of the spiritual ancestors of the neo-Conservative movement (in a class with Lionel Trilling and Reinhold Niebuhr). He was a lifelong Marxist, yet a democratic socialist, who resented the Stalin-embrace of the radical Left; he came to see the fundamental division in the world as one of totalitarian and democratic forces.

In a 1976 address titled ‘A Critique of Conservatism’ (reprinted in his collection, “Marxism and Beyond”), Hook concluded his critique this way:

The differences between conservatives and liberals [in the American sense], when the terms are reasonably construed, are family differences among adherents of a free society, defined as one whose institutions ultimately rest on the consent of those affected by their operations. When the security of a free society is threatened by aggressive totalitarianism, these differences must be temporarily subordinated to the common interest in its survival. There is always the danger that in the ever-present and sometimes heated struggles between liberals and conservatives, each group may come to fear the other more than their common enemy. If and when that happens, the darkness of what Marx called ‘Asiatic despotism,’ in modern dress to be sure, will descend upon the world.