Thursday, September 07, 2006

I Agree with Atrios

Yeah, I never thought that I would say that, either. Brad Delong has recently attempted to define his politics, which he labels "reality-based center-left technocrat." He says that he is non-ideological, to which Duncan Black responds:

Second, it's a useful conceit to imagine you're above ideology, to plant your feet in a place and call it the center, imagining you have the facts on your side and everyone else is an ideologue, but that's hogwash. Certainly some people are more informed by the facts than others, but that doesn't free them from ideology.

Our ideological worldviews are inescapable. Delong's, for example, presuppose that government is capable of benefiting the lives of its subjects, or even that it should. His usage of "reality-based" presupposes a certain epistemology.

I always find the "centrist" label amusing. Centrist (not synonymous with 'moderate') is, by definition, pro-status quo. To be in center one must be opposed to change. My brother has defined himself this way for at least a decade, but always votes Democratic. I've never met a centrist who really was centrist.

I now resume my routine disagreement with Atrios. I will not have a Wanker of the Day post, but I have considered awarding Worst of the Methodist Blogosphere! from time to time when creating the MBWR.


Richard H said...

I'm not sure "pro-status quo" is an accurate wya to describe a "centrist." There sure are a lot of people who describe themselves as centrists who attack GWB (who is the status quo) as an extremist.

The picture I have in mind when I hear the word is of someone standing in the middle of the road being hit by traffic in both directions. So if I see someone putting themselves in a place to get hit from both directions - assuming the accuracy of the common way of thinking that there are TWO ways of thinking, "conservative" and "liberal" - THEN I'll figure, "Hey! This person might be a real centrist!" But if they're just using the claim as the counter to the "Extremist!" ad hominem, I will continue to disbelieve.

Joel Thomas said...

I didn't understand him to mean that he isn't ideological, only that he isn't an ideologue. I see a huge difference there. An ideologue will support a position of the left or right regardless of the consequences. Such a result can lead to the right being indifferent to torture or the left to defend NAMBLA. An ideologue will support absolute free economic policies even if it results in 1/4 of 1% of the people owning 99.99% of all wealth. A leftist ideologue will support rights for special ed students even if were to mean that 99% of all education funding went to special ed students and 1% to non-special ed. An ideologue would shut down a historical theater or hotel that is too expensive to make accessible for the disabled.

Jeff the Baptist said...

I guess I don't understand Centrist = Status Quo definition, John. I suppose if you see liberal as go forward and conservative as go back, then centrist would take that definition.

But generally conservatism and liberalism are not defined that ways. Liberalism largely defines itself as moving towards a cleaner, safer, "more equal" future (usually through government intervention). Conservatism is best defined as moving forward without sacrificing important principle of the past and present. In this case a centrist or moderate would be someone who agrees with both camps to one degree or another. But I don't see status quo there.

That said I do think "centrist" and "moderate" are most often applied to people who are not centrists or moderates. It seems that half the Democratic party is made up of "moderates." If you vote party line with either party, then by definition you aren't a centrist or a moderate.

John said...

Joel, I can accept your distinction between having an ideology and being an ideologue. A wise person realizes when his ideology begins to break down when it comes in contact with reality. That's why I'm not as severe a libertarian as I once was.

Richard, in terms of political rhetoric, then yes, people do define themselves as centrist. But as Jeff points out in the third comment, rarely are such people actually centrist.

I will differentiate between centrist and moderate. A moderate is a person who is less trusting of the effectiveness of his ideology than, well, an immoderate person. Or as Joel might define this person: a ideologue.

A centrist believes that there is an ideology (say, political) which informs the public debate which is neither liberal nor conservative, libertarian nor authoritarian.

If a political ideology is a view which calls for certain changes for, then those changes are going to fit into the four possibilities listed above. Change will involve movement in one of those four directions.

Brett said...

I hear many people lay out arguments where they lay out two extreme positions on an issue, and then explain how both are right and wrong, and how they meet in the middle.
This type of tactic is often used to make the person seem very reasonable, but many times their own argument is weak. I have never liked that type of argument.