By: Billy Rojas
Radical Centrism is many things and from that fact arises the need to
redefine RC philosophy, indeed, to reconceptualize it. Here is a new way
to think about Radical Centrism, to spell out its implications, and to
talk about it coherently.
This new approach both simplifies RC but also makes its complexities
clear to all. The following verbal road map deserves in-depth discussion,
taking ideas wherever they may lead, but first we need the map.
This is that map.
What is Radical Centrism like?
RC resembles the following viewpoints, not necessarily closely, but enough
to say that there are obvious similarities. The list is as all-encompassing as
was possible at this time; it may be expanded in greater detail in the future.
In traditionalist American terms, RC is a combination of the ideas of
Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison.
In real life it once took form in the first term of the presidency of
George Washington when both Jefferson and Hamilton served in
the general’s cabinet. The ideas of Ben Franklin were very much part of how
people thought in that era and, needless to say, the Constitution itself was the
creation of James Madison more than anyone else even though there was
considerable influence from others.
To this we may add the pioneering work of Hannah Adams, the founder
of Comparative Religion in the United States in the early 1800s. Although
I have not studied him in any depth so far, what I know about
John Quincy Adams suggests that he was a prototype for RC also.
In the real world of the 19th century two European enemies help define
Radical Centrism, Louis Napoleon III and Otto von Bismarck. This primarily
refers to Louis Napoleon’s first ten years in office, not his final years when he
became an adventurist who made a number of reckless decisions that
were costly to France. But in those first years Louis Napoleon lived up to his
nickname, “Saint-Simon on horseback,” and the crux of RC in many ways
is Saint-Simonian philosophy that ultimately gave the world the social sciences
and such things as city planning and government sponsored scientific
research and development. The internet, anyone?
Bismarck was not a Radical Centrist in any modern American sense except one,
and it is crucially important: Do whatever it takes to make things happen for
the good of the nation; let nothing stand in the way. Bismarck’s Realpolitik
was nothing if not flexible and opportunistic, but underwritten with the view
that about everything it is essential to be realistic and let “ideology” follow
from successes and from learning from out mistakes and failures. RC is based
on principles, of course, and Bismarck’s disregard of most principles whenever
it suited his policies was a huge weakness in his system and led to his downfall,
but he nonetheless taught the extreme virtue of effectiveness.
In some respects you can consider Abraham Lincoln as “America’s Bismarck”
-but with morals. In fact someone who sought diligently to do
what is morally right/
RC is also, in a sense, the direct descendent of the Pragmatism of C.S. Peirce,
William James, John Dewey, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Radical Centrists
are naturally selective in what they borrow from our pragmatist forebears,
but their view that practical considerations are central to any viable politics
is indispensable. Keep in mind that Pragmatism was not a “liberal” or
“conservative” philosophy. Peirce was a conservative, Dewey was a liberal,
James was an eclectic, and Holmes was liberal OR conservative,
depending on circumstances.
RC is also related to Populism and Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressivism. As a
matter of fact, TR must be regarded as the greatest exemplar of Radical Centrism
in American history. He was liberal and conservative, forward looking and someone
who had the deepest respect for American traditions. He was pro-industry and
commerce yet was committed to conservation and necessary regulation of
business. And he had no use at all for cronyism, corruption in politics, nor
for limited horizons. He thought globally.
There are criticisms which can be made of Teddy Roosevelt but he was a man
of his times and we should not forget that most Americans of that era were
racialist to some extent, including William Jennings Bryan. What makes TR great,
for that matter which brings respect to Bryan, was that they made exceptions
that paved the way for expanded views of civil rights in later years.
The Populist element in Radical Centrism is associated with its 19th century
democratic ethos, unwillingness to be deferential to monied elites, yet at the
same time focused on the future, on the best available ways to govern the
nation, to run the economy, and make sure that American education serves
people’s needs. The Populists also understood the importance of Socialist
ideas -speaking of Democratic Socialism and the Social Gospel- and sought
alliances with America’s working class. About this they were selective,
as are today’s Radical Centrists.
The presidents who best exemplify something of Radical Centrism in the
second half of the 20th century are Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.
It should be said that some presidents simply cannot be considered Radical
Centrist in any meaningful way yet were great leaders in their time to whom
we all owe a debt of gratitude, such as James K. Polk
and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Two presidents whom many people would like to forget also deserve mention,
LBJ and Richard Nixon. Each, to some extent, maybe more than generally
acknowledged, had some Radical Centrist values, in Nixon’s case some
that might have become important in future years. However, this does not
stop me from enduring hatred of Nixon for his despicable conduct while in office,
nor from disrespecting Lyndon Johnson’s war policies. Radical Centrist ideas
offer no guarantee that someone won’t make mistake, even horrible errors
of judgement. At least we can look at these two figures as object lessons
in what not to do and learn from their failings.
The social leader who is closest in spirit to RC in modern times was
Martin Luther King, Jr.
American thinkers no longer with us who come the closest to Radical Centrism
include Marylin Ferguson, Michael Kelly, Claire Booth Luce, and (sometimes)
Daniel Bell. We should also mention H.L. Mencken, who, although
he was a self-professed libertarian, was also a champion of American
writers from all over the political spectrum based on the merits of
their work -which is as much of a Radical Centrist outlook as anyone
can have. Mencken was also unclassifiable in some respects. He certainly
ridiculed creationists during the Scopes trial, but at the same time he
attended Pentecostal camp meeting services nearby and took a
genuine interest in the people there and in what they had to say.
Also Mencken could be funny as hell.
Thus we might add to the list of “honorary Radical Centrists” the names
of Mark Twain, Groucho Marx, and Johnny Carson.
Among non-Americans who deserve recognition for contributing at least
some ideas to Radical Centrist thought we should single out John Stuart Mill,
Hegel, Leopold Senghor, and possibly Friedrich Hayek -although I have
not studied Hayek sufficiently to be make a determination. These names
merely give an impression, there are still others who deserve recognition.
And any list of Radical Centrist forebears would be incomplete without
mention of Sri Aurobindo.
Radical Centrism is like all of this.
Elements of Radical Centrism
RC is based unabashedly on the principle of “cafeteria politics.” Picking and
choosing good ideas is the essence of Radical Centrism. The idea is to choose
the very best ideas and concepts and put them together in workable, coherent
ways to create a political program -or a philosophy of life.
This hardly overlooks the important role of criticism in RC, by which is meant
something along the lines of movie or theater criticism. A production is actually
looked at with care, it is studied, problems are identified and, when possible,
a critique is written that has helpful and productive purpose.
Radical Centrism is also market oriented. This means that we prefer market
solutions to problems. However, it is vital to be objective about market
limitations; some things markets do poorly or not at all. We regard the notion
that markets can solve all problems as false on the face of it.
Similarly the libertarian notion that freedom is the universal solvent for all
political questions we regard as ridiculous. What about responsibility?
What about compassion? What about right vs. wrong? Or is it a matter
or indifference when some people advocate values that undermine the
foundations of American culture? Part of what Radical Centrism is all about
is, to the best of our ability, identifying what is morally right based on
objective criteria, identifying what is morally wrong, then fighting like hell
to see the right prevail and the wrong rejected and totally repudiated.
In effect, to use analogy, Radical Centrism is a ‘missionary religion.’
Actually it isn’t a religion at all, it is a philosophy, but to make a point…
The philosophies as such that have some views in common with RC include:
Existentialism, the idea that there is no substitute for experience.
Existentialists whom Radical Centrists think the most of are Soren Kierkegaard
and Nietzsche, both, however, very selectively. Nietzsche veered far too close
to nihilism and Kierkegaard was often pre-scientific. This has little to do
with Sartre or Heidegger. To the extent that he can be considered
an Existentialist this definitely includes Dostoevsky. In a sense you can
call Radical Centrism “neo-Existentialism” because of RC stress
on adventure and experience. Some things you cannot learn unless
you experience them.
Selectively, with Radical Centrist interpretations, are:
- Empiricism -the need to rely on concrete evidence and objective logic
- Realism -an honest outlook on life, including honesty about our perceptions
- Surrealism -acknowledgement that the unconscious matters in human creativity
- Scientism -reliance on science to provide reliable answers to questions
- Historicism -the view that there are patterns in history that have meaning
- Cosmopolitanism -the attitude that human diversity is generally for the good
- Ecumenism -in the interfaith sense primarily
Not really philosophies per se, but very important are:
- Reformism -strong preference for political change through constitutional processes
- Originalism -interpretation of Amendments by reference to their original intentions
- Futurism -social forecasting as crucial to viable -testable- political ideas
- Functionalism -the view that the place of religion in the public square should be evaluated on the merits of what faith groups actually do, the social functions they provide the community, and other objective criteria
- Transformationism -considerations about major changes such as enhanced human intelligence, extended life span, biocomputers as human prostheses, and other developments sometime associated with the “singularity” effect, are also worth serious thought. Maybe not for any near term future, but certainly in the coming decades.
It is essential the Radical Centrists take some interest in all of these possibilities
because eventually there will be no choice but to take them very seriously,
indeed, they will be part of our future.
The science of Sociobiology is indispensable to Radical Centrism at least
as I see RC and understand sociobiology itself. This says that human beings
are the product of evolution, and that there is no real question that
evolution is scientifically valid theory -that is, an explanation for what
happened in the archaic past from about 5 million BC to the present
during the rise of Cro Magnon people to world dominance.
Since we are descendents of primates, and still very much are primates,
many human characteristics reflect this past and are intrinsic to human nature.
There are Alpha males, there are characteristic ways of doing things in
social groups that invariably work in favor of survival, such as the drive
to co-operate, “friendly” competition within groups to sort out the most
capable and identify the weaker members, fierce opposition to encroachments
on territory, female reticence vs male assertiveness in sexual relationships,
and much else.
In opposition to philosophies that say we are just about infinitely plastic
(or elastic) in terms of what we can make our lives, sociobiology tells us
that there are good ways to do things, bad ways to operate, and a variety
of inclinations and imperatives that are for our good and that basically
are necessary for the survival of the species. This says, in turn, that
philosophies of total elasticity -such as gender feminism- are based
on false premises and should be discredited. This also says that anti-evolution
religious dogmas are unacceptable and should be overtly rejected.
On that subject, while not all Church Fathers made an issue out of Creation,
of those that did, like Origin and Augustine, their view was that the story
in Genesis was allegory and not intended to be taken literally. Moreover,
the Bible itself describes evolution in Wisdom of Solomon in the Apocrypha,
a collection of books that the translators of the original KJV insisted belong
in the holy book. Chapter 19 puts things this way:
“…as the notes of a lute can make various tunes with different names
though each retains its own pitch, so the elements combined among
themselves in different ways, as can be accurately inferred from the
observation of what happened Land animals took to the water and
things that swim migrated to dry land…” New English Bible translation.
The RSV has it that “land animals were transformed into water creatures,
and creatures that swim moved over to the land.
and creatures that swim moved over to the land.
We cannot reasonably expect that a writer alive when this was written,
about a century before Christ, could have phrased things the way that
a scientist like Darwin was able to do in the 19th century. However,
it is no problem at all to see this passage as prefiguring the theory of
evolution. If most Bible commentators seem ignorant of this material
and habitually restrict their opinions to Genesis, that is too bad for them,
for “Wisdom” offers us directly relevant observations that are consistent
Are we “children of God?” That may be a figure of speech but to the extent
that it presupposes purpose in nature, teleology at work in the on-going
processes of evolution, it can be taken as a statement of truth. That is,
creation, no matter what else may be the case, comes with built-in potential
for the rise of intelligent life and the development of scientific civilization.
Potential, when actualized, is purpose.
This can be conceptualized in many different ways. My preference is based
on the model found in Tantra, a Creator God and Creatrix Goddess who
work in tandem to bring about the world as we know it in the universe
that we are aware of. But Wisdom of Solomon says approximately the same
thing since its subject matter, for the most part, concerns the action of Wisdom
-the Shekhina, aka Holy Spirit in feminine form- as co-creator along with God,
Together they establish the natural order. And this order has evolved
to get us where we are today -through natural selection that, as random
as it appears, has had the effect of generating intelligent life and civilization.
as it appears, has had the effect of generating intelligent life and civilization.
Radical Centrism, in other words, presupposes a world view that is consistent
with intelligent religious faith.
At the same time it presupposes a worldview that tells us to be students
of human prehistory and that we need to have basic knowledge of primatology
so that we are better able to identify what we are as “rational animals”
(how Aristotle characterized us) or intelligent mammals. Some things
simply do not work, and gender feminism heads the list.
In other words if you are looking for an affirmation of traditional Christian faith
or traditional Atheism, you will not find it in Radical Centrism. To put it in such
words with, I think, real justification, RC is all about affirming truth, not doctrine.
But this said, Radical Centrism stands for all those American traditions that
have served us well throughout our nation’s history. Mostly this means the
kind of spirit infused into out culture by way of sincere Christians -who gave
us universities, hospitals, and an ethos of fairness toward all people. But there
also were the contributions of people who were not especially religious or who
held beliefs that were out of the ‘mainstream.’ Hence an entire literature
with figures like Thoreau, Edgar Allan Poe, Jack London, Eugene O’Neill,
Margaret Mitchell, Ralph Ellison, Robert Frost, and Ray Bradbury
Radical Centrism, as much as feasible, rests on a foundation of scientific method.
For a comprehensive discussion of what this means, and believe me the subject
is vast, see O.E. Wilson’s 1998 book, Consilience. There are a good number
of details in the text to take issue with, and some things Wilson simply did
not see, but this comes as close to a Radical Centrist textbook as currently
is available in print in the modern world.
Briefly, scientific method means formulating an hypothesis based on verifiable
observations, then testing that hypothesis to determine if it is true. The system
of logic employed is induction -although in arriving at a testable hypothesis
deduction is perfectly legitimate. Pragmatism adds that we may also get to
the truth through the process of abduction, working with fragmentary information
and making sense of it through devising alternative scenarios and eliminating
those that prove untenable.
Also important, Radical Centrism is a form of “systems thinking.” Just about
everything in the real world comes to us via systems, whether in nature or
in society. The fundamental question to ask in determining truth of almost
any kind is: How does the system work? If you don’t know that, you
don’t understand much of anything by definition. And once you do know
how a system operates you can test ideas (values, principles, etc.) in terms
of how they function to get results.
Hence Radical Centrism might be called “evaluationism” because a major part
of its task is to evaluate truth claims and decide which are right
and which are not.
Radical Centrists are free to make borrowings from a number of disciplines,
Psychoanalysis -especially the use it makes of ancient myths to conceptualize
and understand contemporary psychological realities,
Social Psychology -which has given us another RC textbook, Jonathan Haidt’s
2012 opus, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided
by Politics and Religion, and
Intellectual History, viz., History of Ideas. This refers to collective memory,
the deep pool of ideas that have made us who we are and that can be
drawn upon -endlessly- to learn how human beings think, which ideas
are most successful in the real world, how people learn, and much else.
Radical Centrism is also based on mediation, upon the need we all have
to resolve disputes in win / win fashion as much as possible. This also
means that the skills of negotiation are important, skills in detecting lies,
and skills in identifying unacknowledged psychological “hang-ups” that may
otherwise make conflict resolution impossible.
Radical Centrism also means something like military thinking inasmuch as
our species has engaged in war since the dawn of history. However, “war”
should be taken in a broad sense to include political campaigning, business
strategies intended to win market share against competitors, and so forth.
Not a bad idea to read Machiavelli, at least for self-protection, and the
classic, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.
Radical Centrism is also -in the historical sense- a form of utopianism.
It is vital to imagine possible (relatively) ideal forms of society and work
toward understanding both why we have not achieved such utopias
and what it might take to do so. Utopias give us a vision of what
society could become if we were able to function at our best
in the future.
Radical Centrism is also, perhaps most importantly, a philosophy of education.
Everything that matters, it can almost be said, depends on education, whether
formal schooling or “lifelong learning” based mostly on “independent study.”
Radical Centrism is the opposite of:
- Ayn Rand’s Objectivism
- Moral Relativism
- Totalitarianism in all forms, Nazi, Communist, or anything else.
Some neologisms that carry a sense of what Radical Centrism is all about:
- Social Innovationism
- Self Actualism
This has been a start toward creation of a comprehensive philosophy
of Radical Centrism. To say the same thing, RC is a philosophy
of comprehensiveness. Nothing important should be left out.
Radical Centrism is based on a comprehensive view of the world.
It is related to complexity theory and interactionism, as well as to
a variety of complimentary forms of thought.
It is not a form of “centrism” as usually understood. It is not a process
of triangulation toward the political middle. It is not a system of ideas
based on compromise even if we sometimes need to compromise
for pragmatic reasons.
But some things we will never compromise about in any way whatsoever,
most notably homosexual psychopathology, Islam, a religion based on values
that are antithetical to any kind of decent life for individuals or for society, and environmental despoilation, especially strip mining of coal in mountainous terrain
as found in Appalachia.
The Radical Centrist vision for economics is that of a society in which
the bottom line is “what is best for Americans and other people,” not
what the powerful can get away with while amassing fortunes that
primarily serve only self-centered interests. Concepts like that in
Kelso’s Capitalist Manifesto -employee stock ownership- should be
part of how we normally do business in the future. As should ideas like
that of “Kingdom economics,” morality-centered economics that asks
what is the best for everyone in an economy based on Christian
ethical principles. The objective is fairness and rewards for everyone
based on true merit, not money manipulation, which should be outlawed,
nor upon the kind of economic leverage only available to the rich or
well connected. It means the end of everything once epitomized in the
movie, “Wall Street.” This is our goal, the creation of a new kind
of economics, something that needs to be developed that can
actually work and work effectively.
RC is about sharing, about caring about what happens to our fellow Americans
and others. It is about everything that promotes a sense of community,
starting in America as the beacon to the world.
RC is an entirely new political and personal philosophy that is being developed
in the here and now, it is an “adventure of ideas,” a “work in progress”
and a call for high order creative thought. All of this is Radical Centrism,
nothing else and nothing less. Radical Centrism is intended to lead us
to a new political order for the future.
So, do you want to become part of the creation of a new political philosophy,
or not? It is your choice.
January 2, 2016