Radical middle

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(Redirected from Radical centrist)

The term Radical Middle refers to a type of third way philosophy as well as an associated political movement. Followers of this philosophy claim to improve understanding by simultaneously affirming both sides of apparently contradictory issues, whether that be disagreement amongst Left-Right politics or other disagreement or dilemmas. In politics, followers of this philosophy often call themselves the Radical Center or Radical Centrists, terms sometimes associated with politicians such as Tony Blair in the U.K. and John McCain in the U.S.


Radical Middle Philosophy

Various groups have adopted "radical middle" as a term to describe a third way philosophy which includes their belief that, in affirming the core principles involved on both sides of a dilemma, the dilemma or disagreement can be rendered moot. These groups argue that this reflects an emphasis on epistemic virtue, by resolving false dilemmas -- i.e., finding the excluded middle. Critics argue that this can easily result in the logical fallacy of false compromise.

Followers of the philosophy often consider the wave-particle duality of physics, the Christian doctrine of Jesus as both God and Man, and the federalist balance between national and state authority in the United States Constitution to be representative of the beliefs of the philosophy. The terms Radical Center and Radical Middle are often used interchangeably, though it is sometimes useful to distinguish between the specific political movement and the philosophy in general. Typically, "Radical Center" or "Radical Centrism" refers to the political movement.

Radical Middle Politics

The political application of radical middle philosophy is represented by a cluster of loosely related terms and movements: radical middle, radical centrist, responsive communitarian, third-way, etc. As a relatively grass-roots movement, especially in the United States, there is no definitive statement of radical middle politics. A primary recurring theme, however, might be the idea of "sustainably improving choices." This is reflected in the goals of various radical middle groups, which they describe using language such as:

History of the terms

The term radical middle appears to have been spontaneously invented by several different communities around the turn of the millennium, apparently in response to frustration with the violence of extremism and tepidness of temperance. An early use appears to be from Gordon Fee's kingdom theology course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the 1970s, which helped inspire the Vineyard Movement. He used the term radical middle to contrast the evangelical focus on the future kingdom of God with the Pentecostal emphasis on the present kingdom of God.

The first known use of the term was by Jules Feiffer in a comic strip that appears in Hold Me!, a collection published by Random House in 1962.

While the term radical center has been used in various ways since at least the 1970s, it first had a major influence in the 1990s due to the Reform Party and Ross Perot, who were frequently described as representing the radical middle due to their attempts to partisanize those portions of the American electorate. Despite a strong showing in the 1996 U.S. Presidential Election, the Reform Party is nowadays not generally perceived as a major player in national politics, though they have impacted state elections -- notably with their Jesse Ventura becoming governor of Minnesota.

Today, the term radical middle is most commonly associated with a movement that does not explicitly claim descent from the Reform Party or its ideas, but rather draws its inspiration from the book The Third Way by Anthony Giddens (1998) and Giddens's highly-regarded follow-up book The Third Way and Its Critics (2000). In the U.S. third way politics is most actively represented by the New America Foundation and its book by Ted Halstead and Michael Lind, The Radical Center (2001). Subsequent introductions to radical centrist politics include, most notably, Matthew Miller's book The Two Percent Solution (2003) and Mark Satin's book Radical Middle: The Politics We Need Now (2004). (Interestingly, Lind was once a promising young conservative, Miller was once an aide in President Clinton's White House, and Satin was a co-author of the U.S. Green Party's founding document from the 1980s, "Ten Key Values.") The definitive history of "Centrism" in America, and probably the best-selling radical centrist book to date, is John Avlon's Independent Nation (2004, pbk. 2005).


Radical centrists are related to what is sometimes called the Vital Center in American politics, and similarly claim to be drawing on the best of both sides. However, they differ significantly from traditional centrism, which prides itself on moderation and seeking political consensus amongst the parties; radical centrists, for example, are quite radical and populist in their stated policies. Radical centrists also can be divisive, as opposed to the non-partisan approach of traditional centrism. This leads to many moderates questioning whether radical centrism deserves to be called centrist at all (perhaps analogous to how the Left and Right often distance themselves from their respective radical wings). For their part, radical centrists are quick to dissociate themselves from traditional moderates, whom they often contrast as the "sensible center", or deride as the "squishy center."

Radical centrists can be found in both left-wing and right-wing political parties, but (like other centrists and independents) are usually penalized for being out of step with that party's dominant ideology. This leads to tension between what might be called separatist factions, who want to shed an unhelpful party label in order to run as independents, and puritans who want to reform (or take over) the party from within. This tension is particularly acute in countries with strong two-party traditions, since it is difficult for third-party candidates to win office or create governable coalitions absent significant electoral reform.

Radical centrists see themselves as building majority consensus for radical reforms by sidestepping (or confronting) what they consider the obsolete, polarized and non-productive ideologies of (social Conservatism/economic Liberalism) and (social Liberalism/economic Conservatism). Radical centrists assert that their principles represent the fusion of the best aspects of Conservatism and Liberalism, and thus interpolate at the level of philosophy rather than policy. They claim these ideological moorings (the 'root' behind their sociological use of the term 'radical') provide the basis for their critique of society, government and other political movements.

Radical Centrist Organizations

  • Centrist Coalition (http://centristcoalition.com), an active online group with a blog and forum
  • Centrists.org (http://www.centrists.org), public policy think tank
  • Independent Nation (http://www.independentnation.org), home base for John Avlon, author of the book Independent Nation: How the Vital Center Is Changing American Politics (2004)
  • New America Foundation, think tank founded by Ted Halstead and Michael Lind, authors of the book The Radical Center (2001)
  • Radical Center American Party (http://www.radicalcenter.org), not quite a political party, for now it is just a website with some political thoughts and some links to other Radical Center sites and thought. It even has its own Wiki (http://www.radicalcenter.org/radicalcenterwiki/) for you to contribute to American Radical Center thought and political-party evolution
  • Reform Party USA, founded by Ross Perot, was said to have appealed to the radical center, because it found that both the Democrats and Republicans were unable to address real issues because of both left-right partisanship and corruption. The platform compromised on traditional issues of the parties, ignores social issues, pushes an agenda of government reform, and calls for some referendums. Some people feel this centrist position had been compromised since Pat Buchanan entered the party for his 2000 presidential bid, and a harder stance on immigration has been added
  • Search for Common Ground (http://www.sfcg.org), works to help parties achieve "societal conflict transformation" in hotspots all over the world

Howard Dean alleged to be of the Radical Center

In late 2003, several people* made the claim that Howard Dean, then the front-runner for the United States Democratic Party presidential nomination, represented the radical center. While this may well have been a defensible description of his policies as Vermont Governor, his loss of the nomination to John Kerry was commonly attributed to his being perceived, even by Democrats, as excessively liberal (in the U.S. sense of the word), rather than any form of centrist.

See also

External links

General/Philosophical Uses

  • The Centrist Moment (http://anglicansonline.org/resources/essays/whalon/centrist.html) in the Anglican Church
  • The Quivira Coalition (http://www.quiviracoalition.org/documents/Invitation.asp) for harmony between humans and nature at the Radical Center

Political Organizations

Media coverage of the 'radical middle' phenomena in (mostly American) politics:

  • The Aquarian Conspiracy (http://home.iae.nl/users/lightnet/world/awaken/thirdway.htm) - New Age vision of a "common ground/consensus" model of transformational politics

Information from self-described radical middle/radical centrist sources:

  • Hans Masing (http://masing2004.com/platform.php), Radical Middle candidate for U.S. Congress, Michigan
  • The Radical Centrist (http://www.theradicalcentrist.com/) a political blogger based in California, co-founder of Bloginators (http://www.bloginators.com)

Howard Dean links


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