In praise of Hard Centrism

“Bringing centrists together is like driving a wheelbarrow full of frogs: they jump all over the place.”
François Bayrou

Half goat cheese half cabbage

Peggy Sastre praises the half-goat half-cabbage in Le Point of March 16, 2023. She praises the courage of not taking sides and “making it known to slow the progression of extremes, of those who give the impression of defend our causes but only devour them”. She is magnificently right, but this poise of centrism does not only apply to individuals. It should be a cardinal principle in politics, yet most voters are still trying to figure out who represents it properly.

The centrist politician is readily depicted as a weather vane, bearer of fragile convictions, capable of joining the adversary at the slightest gust of wind. This is the description of the undecided, peddled by the radical to discredit those who would like to moderate their ideal. The true centrist has a different and difficult task. She must begin by acknowledging her loneliness in the face of the radicals. From her point of view, radicals on all sides are united in a paradoxical alliance. On the one hand each of them seeks to rally her to their extremism. The centrist is the coveted target of everyone else. But on the other hand the centrist who must be seduced is also despised and hated.

A firm line engages between well-camped extremes

For a radical indeed it is preferable that the opposite extremist take power, rather than the centrist. Due to entrenched politics, the failure of one extremist propels their opponent to center stage. While the failure of the centrist creates uncertainty: will power go right or left?

Fortunately for the centrist, this alliance of extremes is purely political. Too paradoxical, it easily disintegrates in the management of social affairs, where the radicals cannot agree. The center line is thus easy: it is politics that destroys any possibility of agreement between the radicals. How to implement this tactic? We must move forward on issues where the radicals have competing projects. Be careful not to venture into too virgin territory: here the sacred union of extremes becomes possible.

Effective feedback does not have to be imperative

The shrewd centrist will make sure that the radicals have presented projects before proposing her own. For example, the error of the french pension reform stands there. It is necessary to demonstrate the futility of the opposing projects to make one’s own inevitable. Sequence: outline the problem, bring opponents together, get them to work on their solutions, dismantle unacceptable proposals, unveil and consolidate your own project.

The hard center is not an imperial centrism, which promulgates its ordinances and enforces them by force. That is the mode of the radicals. Centrism, on the contrary, is to give free rein to the expression of extremes, to even bring them forward. Without favoring any. Without trying to hold back any of them. To censor it is to give it more publicity, to arouse even stronger emotions about it. “We are being lied to! “They want to shut us up!” We do not overcome emotions with a damper of soothing words but with other equally strong emotions, supporting a contrary discourse.

Keeping the fire of the social forge alive

The fundamental principle of our social reality is conflict. The vain and somewhat cowardly hope of the undecided is to see the conflicts lessen. This is what earned her the scorn of radical idealists. The true centrist, on the other hand, does not seek in any way to attenuate conflicts. Only to make them less destructive, less sterile, to quickly make constructive progress. But above all, move forward! Do not bury yourself in frightened conservatism, frozen like a mouse in its hole with the cat waiting for it at the exit.

The hard centrist appreciates and maintains the conflict, fire of the social forge. She takes it to where it will manufacture effective management tools, more universal rules, more soaked in the furnace of the most burning disputes. She brings the conflict to the representatives to prevent it from taking to the streets. Why blotter those who can only make it more destructive, not solve it? How many conflicts are so vital that they have to be forced upon those who do not care? Since when is democracy grabbing one’s neighbors by the hair and plunging their nose into our personal throes?

A centrism neither goat nor cabbage, hardened in the flame

A hard center is respected by the radicals and founds a united society, while the soft center that has marked the last half-century of French politics has created a permanent split between two halves of the population, forced to declare themselves right or left even when they weren’t interested in it. Their selflessness has been misrepresented. By an image that is too soft, too malleable, too vulnerable, perpetually attracting predators from the extremes.

The extremists succeeded in making the purity of their ideals more estimable than the Machiavellianism of centrism. Gross subterfuge. The worst sufferings of humanity are all related to pure ideals, insufficiently challenged.

Only a finally hardened centrism will prevent us from plunging back into it.


Praise of the half-goat half-cabbage (in french), Peggy Sastre in Le Point n°2641

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