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What the Heck IS a Centrist?

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In a moment when centrism is all the rage, Callimachus declares he’s not a centrist. He explains why:

If you’re a “centrist” all you have to do is say, “you’re both partially right,” and without even necessarily knowing whether that’s true, you’re probably one step up the evolutionary ladder from both of the sides. Because chances are they’re both partly right.

But you still haven’t really broken out of the dualism just because you’ve connected two points and made a line…

The position I’m looking for is one that considers what both sides say, but then goes down to the cellars of their arguments and swings a sledgehammer at the foundation to see if it holds up. Follow the references, check the footnotes, and go gather some research on your own. Put everything to the baloney test: Does it fit the known facts? Is it internally consistent? Ideally, ignore the stated positions and come to a conclusion entirely on your own. Definitely ignore the personalities on either side.

Callimachus acknowledges the high-level of difficulty in his approach but clearly views it as superior to the usual centrist thinking. Without question, independent thought is preferable to simply measuring out the middle on any given position. But is Callimachus right in thinking his mode of thought is not part of centrism?

Yes and no. And maybe. As I have noted, there is no centrist ideology to which the so-called vital center subscribes. The center is vital not because it has policies or even a political methodology but because it has numbers. A significant number of us voters hold fast to our independence, suspicious of party orthodoxy and critical of partisan games. We cannot be easily organized but we can be powerful, serving as the ultimate check against political excess and ineffectiveness.

Fundamentally, centrism is the absence of party loyalty. For some, that means rejecting the positions of both parties and looking for the answer somewhere in between the two dominant views. But for others, being centrist is about finding an entirely new axis. “Centrist� is the label because it represents the willingness to look both left and right for answers. But it’s not quite accurate because it fails to convey the willingness to look up and down as well.

Those with Callimachus’ level of curiosity and independence look up and down and side-to-side and under rocks and on top of cupboards too. Their opinions are not a balancing act but the result of intellectual investigation and discovery. That type of person is not what the big boy pundits mean when they say centrist (they tend to use the word as a euphemism for swing-voter and moderate). But that type can still be a part of centrism.

If centrists are never more than just a moderating force, we’ll still perform an invaluable service. But if at least some centrists can embrace the level of critical thinking Callimachus describes (as some of those who write here and elsewhere already have), then centrism could mature and begin advancing not just balanced positions but whole new ideas devoid of the old assumptions. At that point we might have to call it something other than “centrism,� but the centrist label works for now.

Cross-posted at Maverick Views.