What is Progressive Centrism?
Defining Progressive Centrism and Radical Centrism
Progressive Centrism, often known as “Radical Centrism“, is center-wing centrism (a balanced left-right ideology) that is progressive (wants change quickly).
Below we discuss a modernized version of “Radical Centrism” I call “Progressive Centrism” (i.e. this is my own theory, which is very much like the already defined and established “Radical Centrism”). This page will then both help the reader understand Radical Centrism as it is, and to introduce them to my opinions on what a modern form of this should look like.
The Attributes of Progressive Centrism
To know the attributes of progressive centrism is to know progressive centrism. Here are some, but not all of the properties of progressive centrism (see also the groundwork and an overview of radical centrism):
TIP: I’m trying to illustrate a concept here, and I doubt it is perfect. Comments are welcome below. This is a living work that will probably get translated to a simpler and more consumable document at some point.
- Progressive centrism is the ideology of balance (justice, fairness, moderation, temperance, etc). There is no perfect term for this quality of the Highest Order.
- Its political color is purple.
- Its first principles are truth (wisdom, and knowledge), balance (justice, ethics, and law), and happiness (physical, logical, ethical, and moral).
- It seeks only the Common Good (AKA an enlightened version of the General Will in its highest form).
- Its second principles are maximized liberty, reasonable social equality, reasonable tolerance, reasonable sensitivity, moderate authority, just law, and sensible order (the principles of both liberalism and conservatism) in support of its enlightened ideals. In other words it is moderately liberal, moderately, republican, moderately federalist, and moderately conservative. Moderate here doesn’t mean “compromise”, it means “correct balanced mean” (Golden Mean), it is the ends of checking all things against the first principles of truth, balance, and happiness.
- It is individualist and collectivist, it is empirical and rational, it is ethical and moral, it is tolerant and sensitive, and it is realist and idealist.
- It is Republican and Democrat (classically speaking). It also respects aristocracy, timocracy, and oligarchy. Plato already pointed out how these meld together these regimes in his Republic where he described the Polity (to be clear, the noble lie should be rejected, as it is not “TRUTH”, but the order in which the regimes should restrain each other in a mixed-system, as described in the chariot metaphor, is accurate). The Republic is a great metaphor for balance, but it is not gospel.
- It rejects the idea that half our countrymen or X% of the citizens of the globe are “wrong”, it rejects that policies should favor rural areas, suburbs, or cities, that policies should favor just the rich or just the poor or just the middle class, and it generally rejects the idea that life is an either/or choice (the reality is life is sometimes a “mix of both” choice or a “neither” choice). It embraces the simplicity of the parts and the complexity of the whole. It is deductive and inductive, it seeks analysis and synthesis.
- It is not a compromise position, and the ends don’t always justify the means. It is instead just the natural ends of reason.
- It is the golden mean theory in political form. It is the theory of forms in their truest forms. It is the pursuit of wisdom. It is non-aggression. It is utilitarian.
- It is the rejection of extremes.
- It is the ideology that answers the question “what is justice?”.
- It is a rejection of tyranny in all forms and generally rejects pure systems.
- It votes for whatever party is best representing progressive centrist values in a given election (although other considerations, like winning elections in a two-party system, have to be considered).
- It cares about ends more than means, but doesn’t think means can be considered without considering morality (Mill explains this well enough in his theory of Utilitarianism).
- If something is causing misery, pain, and suffering… progressive centrism likely rejects it. It seeks the ends of the true philosophers like Aristotle and Mill, so it could hardly be expected to support any sort of extremes of inequality or authority. We don’t care what others call a thing, we care about effects.
Progressive Centrism is an ideology, not a party: Progressive Centrism is an ideology held by voters, but it is not a party. It is fluid and votes for whomever best represents progressive centrist views. In a two-party system, an interest with no interest by the common interest is a force of the highest order. It is not a special interest, it is not a specific or corporate will, it is an attempt to represent the General Will.
All people are created equal, but not all positions are equal and not everyone should have an equality of luxury items: Equality is a complex concept (and so is liberty for that matter). We can say this though, everyone is born with an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, people have a right to private property, and people have a right to their views. However, not every position a person takes is equal, not everyone is equal in skill, and there is no good reason to try to force an equality of luxury items. Being fair and balanced doesn’t mean treating unequal things as the same, it means considering all positions. Being fair in terms of economics doesn’t mean everyone gets the same stuff, it means equality of opportunity.
Second Bill of Rights: A Second bill of rights covers things like healthcare and education, these are things that “should be” human rights, but have economic considerations. The progressive centrist’s stance on these is telling of its overarching ideology. It would seek to ensure these, but would do so in a way that doesn’t ignore economic factors. Too often the left tries to force these and the right rejects these, but the answer is in the middle.
Progressive Centrism rejects extremes, especially despotism, tyranny, and extremes of authority: It is better to get 90% of what you want and use tolerance than it is to force others to do what they don’t want. Forcing people to do things is pretty far from an ideal, in fact “forcing” people to do things that are “unjust” is a fairly good definition of tyranny. It is important to note that this ideology, by its nature, necessarily rejects despotism and tyranny, as it rejects extremes in principle. It cannot embrace despotic fascism, it cannot embrace despotic Communism, because it cannot embrace extremes. Likewise, it can’t embrace pure anarchy, because it cannot embrace extremes (and the same goes for pure oligarchy, or pure democracy, or pure timocracy). Pure systems may work as subsystems (in the spirit of federalism), but generally extremes are rejected. It doesn’t react based on pure emotion or pure reason, it reacts based on enlightened mixes. Marx and Mises laid out slippery slopes alongside their good ideas, but a overarching principle of centrism is the avoidance of extremes and slippery slopes. Thus, progressive centrism’s own ideology should, by its nature, necessarily, avoid tyrants. It doesn’t seek to dominate, coerce, or force people, it seeks to maximize its virtues of truth, balance, happiness, liberty, equality, etc. Because it seeks to avoid extremes, it would tend to err toward classical liberalism, classical republicanism, classical economics, classical federalism, and classical conservatism, and then it would seek social justice, social economics, and social equality from that solid footing. Because it respects the classical forms in its journey to seek the social forms, it should be able to find common ground with the moderate right and left, and even some less moderate idealists. The idea is to create a system that works for the most people.
It rejects extremes, but is humanist and economically sensible: It isn’t only extremes of authority and liberty that are rejected, it is also social extremes. Extreme poverty, suffering, indignity, and such are just as toxic as other extremes. If an idea works only in the economic sphere, but diminishes the social sphere too greatly, then it isn’t a good policy. If a policy works in the political sphere, but hurts the economic sphere, then it isn’t a good policy. Smart policies are humanist and rational, they consider economics and the human factor, they consider individual tastes and fancies (luxuries) and the necessary (like eating). It rejects pure oligarchy and pure free-markets, because it wants to maximize economic prosperity, the wealth of citizens, and the wealth of nations. A truly healthy market is a market that the maximum number of people can participate in to some degree, and in which both employers and employees have a voice. If a single Baron monopolizes everything, that is flirting with being an extreme equivalent to a tyrant King. Both cronyism and monopolies are rejected, but ideally, cronyism and monopolies are tempered by wise rules accepted willingly by would-be cronies and barons. We want Rockefellers and Hank Reardens, we just don’t want them in extremes. We want philanthropy and rock stars, but we don’t want the domination of special interest factions.
Fair rule-sets and balances of power: The idea of being enlightened is being fair (as what is justice if not fairness?) Thus, whatever wasn’t clear above about barons and tyrants (or, if we ever head back that way, about forcing a state religion or giving the church too much power) should be able to be reasoned. The separation of powers principle is a good idea and it can stand as a general metaphor for centrism, it describes balancing the “spheres of human understanding” and “the left and right” and the “liberal and conservative“. Enlightened mixes aren’t perfect centers, they are smart mash-ups that maximize virtues and ward off vices.
Green Economics and Nationalism vs. Globalism: Some issues are more complex than others. Progressive centrism is pro environment and pro globalist, but it is also pro nationalism and pro economics. It respects national identities, but doesn’t support anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-globalist sentiment. It supports the idea that we are charged with protecting our earth and its resources, but it respects free-enterprise, markets, economics, and business. It doesn’t want to use climate science as a way to squeeze tax dollars out of businesses, but it (being enlightened) would respect science. Centrism finds it absurd that one could consider science and not economics, or economics and not science. Technology must progress, but we have to be realists about where we are at now.
Non-aggression: In case it doesn’t go without saying, the non-aggression principle (and others like it) are important principles. Aggression is a type of tyranny, the sagely warrior isn’t aggressive, but they are willing to fight when duty calls.
True Consent and Forms of Slavery: True consent is king. Consent can override some principles, if it is true consent (not forced consent). The idea of slavery is rejected, and the idea of wage slavery is looked down on, and oppressive social programs are also looked down on, however, if someone truly desires to spend their life doing hard labour, that is their right.
The law should never be corrupted: The law is not just because it is the law, the law is just when it is just. All laws should be derived from the natural laws and meet moral and ethical standards. Our current republican governments in the west have fairly good about this, but there are some notable issues (like the for-profit prison system and war on drugs). Obviously caging up young people for drug crimes and profiting off them is not “centered”, ethical, moral, or ideal.
Education is of the Highest Order: Dealing with all positions from an enlightened perspective requires a good head, because intelligence is required to be an effective progressive centrist, education is of the highest order. With liberty and education, much of the rest will follow.
Progressive Centrism is reformist (but looks first to federalism and “bound” systems): Where a current ideology is “backwards”, in that they desire an extreme outside the sphere of correctness, the goal would be to gently help that ideology reform or fit within the bounds of acceptability. In many cases federalism is a simple answer, if a group wants to practice some taboo that isn’t aggressive, and if there is consent, then it should be allowed. Reform should be accomplished gently over time via culture by acting correct and showing that correctness is ideal. As long as an ideology operates within reasonable bounds, we should err towards liberty and not force. Not everyone needs to fit in the same box, but they need to be able to co-exist.
Since truth is a first principle, anything other than pure information is an insult: Progressive centrism is centered on most things, but truth isn’t one of them. Facts, truth, justice, and the pursuit of happiness aren’t things to compromise on. We find propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, and all information designed to misinform to be of the highest insult. A primary goal of the progressive centrist is to educate and debunk half-truths and lies. If both the left and the right are being dishonest, the centrists job is to debunk both sides and reframe the argument.
Individualism and individual liberty: Collectives are stronger than individuals as a matter of physics, and a king stronger than a baron, etc. Just like we err toward classical liberalism, we must err toward individualism and individual liberty. This is true for two reasons 1. It avoids slippery slopes where groups use group power to push extremes, and 2. it promotes that thing that makes people free and the west great, individualism. People want to be free once their hierarchy of needs are met, when people are free they are free to do great things. Although socialism in extremes is rejected, we can take good ideas from socialists too. One good idea was Oscar Wilde’s idea of replacing demeaning labor with machines and using the resources produced to fund the safety net (thus freeing individuals to pursue other things). That idea isn’t perfect, but it is a sort of pro-individual non-authoritative push toward social idealism that could make sense to think about.
The Value of Principles: By checking all actions against a set of principles, the progressive centrist rarely reacts blindly. Not only does the centrist quote Locke, Mill, Aristotle, or any of the classical philosophers, using their value to lend their arguments support, they check their wants and actions against enlightened versions of the principles laid down by those great philosophers. The adherence to principles helps ensure correct and on-topic debates. If a political conversation can’t withstand being checked against core principles, it is a sign that everyone needs to take a step back. If a good principle is producing bad results, it is likely it is being misunderstood. The Communists made their followers read Marx and Lenin, but a Centrist has a duty to study all the past philosophers. A simple guide to the best concepts and principles of past philosophers should be created. This would explain Plato and Aristotle, Montesquieu, Locke, Rousseau, and Mill, and Hume and Kant. It would know Confucius and the Tao, and it would know Mises, Mussolini, and Marx, and it would know Sartre, Kierkegaard, and Aquinas (it also knows the maths, arts, religions, and sciences of these same qualities, and it knows its history). It isn’t that every idea is pulled, it is that, like with the left and right, or liberal and conservative, it simply pulls out all the good ideas and knows the rest so it is ready to argue logic. One can mediate without knowing both sides, and one can’t reason properly without a set of principles. This should be continually distilled into a “cheat sheet” of sorts that would be collectively worked on like a party platform (but show trails of discussion like a wikipedia).
Safeguards: Every civil religion needs safeguards. Communism was built to be virtuous, and was immediately used for despotism. Preventing an ideology from being tyrannical should be automatic, as the core principles should avoid despots, but perhaps by looking at past despots one could spot corrupting factors and turn their rejection into principle. For example, a rule of “not taking dark money” could be a core principles (in other words only transparent money could be taken and only transparent deals made).
Balance should not be confused with weakness or for representing the lack of principles: The Judo master is not weak or without principle, the sages calmness should not be mistaken for passivity, and the Philosopher King’s flexibility should not be mistaken for a lack of principles. Progressive centrism is not “independent” or a milquetoast watered down version of left and right positions. It isn’t a result of not understanding the positions of the left and right. It isn’t a result of rejecting the left and right. It is a result of understanding the left, right and center the best one can and synthesizing a variety of positions using enlightened forms like reasoning and empirical testing. It would seek a balanced answer even when that was what neither the left or right wanted one. It is willing to fight and is not passive, in fact it takes pride in being able to debunk the talking points of any ideology. It simply seeks correct positions, and this is the reason it is balanced.
Why Progressive Centrism and Not the Longstanding Radical Centrism?
Although the longstanding name for this ideology is “Radical centrism” (with “Third Way” being a closely related ideology), I prefer the term “Progressive Centrism”. This is because, although the terms mean almost literally the same thing:
- The term progressive is more friendly and more “balanced” than radical (and for an ideology whose greatest virtue is balance, AKA “moderation, temperance, arete, fairness, or justice”, well it just seems a little silly to use the term radical). TIP: Progressive doesn’t imply “left” here as much as it implies the speed at which balanced positions are to be sought (which is ASAP).
- Radical Centrism is already anchored to past figures and wishy-washy third parties. That is unfortunate, as most people are at their core Centrists. Progressive centrism should not be a minority movement, rather it is the only reasonable ends of of most enlightened reasoning, so it would be projected to be a global majority movement in all advanced enlightened society (at some point in the future).
Rodney Sochocki, Using the Natural Ends of Reason to Define the Term in 2005
One interesting thing to note is that a person named Rodney Sochocki from Lake Orion Michigan defined progressive centrism in his 2005 blogpost in much the same way that Aristotle eludes in his theories, Plato in his, and radical centrists did in theres.
Rodney, just like the other thinkers, got the definition correct… because they all used reason to define natural ends.
The Natural Definition of Progressive Centrism
The concept of justice has not changed from 380 BC, it didn’t change for Mill, it did not change for Rodney, and it has not changed for me.
Our ideas where not corrupted by special interests, so our love of wisdom (in all its forms), paired with our moderation, led us to the same natural ends.
The idea is simple, progressive centrism is the ideology of the balanced mean between all the left-right virtues AKA the liberal and conservative virtues (sometimes it is left-of-center and sometimes right-of-center, but always existing in a Golden Mean between extremes).
Literally, I literally mean it is the Golden Mean (it is dialectics abstracted using the wisdom you find in the Tao or in Aristotle):
|Sphere of political action||Conservative Right-Wing||The Left-Right Balance||Liberal Left-Wing|
|Liberty||Favors Authority (Classical Conservatism)||Balanced Liberty||Favors Freedom (Classical Liberalism)|
|Equality||Favors Individuals (Social Conservatism)||Balanced Equality||Favors Collectives (Social Liberalism)|
Or, to show the conservative perspective (both these charts say the same thing from different “frames of reference”):
|SPHERE OF ACTION||Not Conservative Enough / Too Liberal||The Liberal-Conservative Mean||Overly Conservative / Not Liberal Enough|
|Authority||Overly Liberal||Correct Authority||Overly Authoritative|
|Hierarchy, Order, and Tradition||Extreme equality||Correct Hierarchy, Order, and Tradition||Extreme Inequality|
It is the natural ends of reason, the natural balance of liberal and conservative, it is the balance of authority and anti-authority (liberty), it is the mean of individual and collective, and it is the mean of social hierarchy and social egalitarian equality.
It is always fair, always just, always seeking truth. It is what ever the real thinker and moralist is at their core.
As Rodney says,
A Progressive Centrist is guided by the following forces:
- An unwavering belief in fairness, freedom and the utmost defense of personal liberty and a deep rooted respect for true democracy, the type of democracy where debate, dissension and compromise are both sought and valued.
- A strong desire to create a better world, a sustainable world, where the individual, government and business provide checks and balances to one another. A progressive centrist believes that all have a place in a sustainable world, but none can dominate and that the rights of the individual must never be unfairly suppressed at the hands of the more powerful forces.
A centrist like Rodney doesn’t seek domination, he seeks justice. To dominate without true consent is unjust, and thus a true centrist could never really get true pleasure from it.
Progressive centrism does not seek division, they seek moderation. They don’t seek oppression, they seek to maximize the virtues of state.
The values of the progressive centrist are the values of any moral or ethical being, a Christian doesn’t condone senseless violence, nor does a progressive centrist. A sagely solider doesn’t enjoy killing, but to defend the defenseless is the way of a true warrior and a progressive centrist. A progressive centrist knows the Yin and Yang, so they can draw power from either.
A progressive centrist will use any trick in the book, but would never trick someone. They will use social judo, but they replace underhanded tactics with wit. They will use political propaganda, but they will replace corruption with truth.
That isn’t a compromise position, in fact the idea of compromising true values is folly. True values exist in a sphere of possibilities where compromise can occur, but outside the sphere is pure incorrectness (and incorrectness is not something to be compromised on).
The correct position is always found in the means of extremes, that is the nature of correctness, not trivial compromise.
We are pro good things, and anti bad things. We are pro science, and pro industry. Pro progressive liberalism and free-enterprise. We don’t believe that men have masters, but one can see why egalitarian militaries don’t work. There is reason for everyone to have the same luxury items, but we don’t accept starving, suffering, and indignity (those aren’t natural ends, those aren’t balanced positions, those aren’t the answer to what is justice).
We are sensitive, but not overly sensitive, tolerant, but not overly tolerant, liberal, but not overly liberal, conservative, but not overly conservative. We seek correctness, we use our reason, we respect historic wisdom, and where we can’t find common ground we seek debate and understanding (not capitulation).
We don’t take corporate money, but we love corporations. We don’t steal, but we love wealth. We don’t cheat, but we love winning.
Just as correctness is the ends of natural, logical, ethical, and moral reasoning, progressive centrism is simply the natural, logical, ethical, and moral reasoning. It can’t have another definition, because it can only be what it naturally is.
It is male and female, and a thousands shades in between. It is binary, and it is complex.
It is progressive, in that it wants change ASAP (with “as possible” being the key), and it is centrist, in that it rejects the idea that correctness is found in a single position (it is not, it is found in a Golden Mean, which itself exists as a spherical range of options).
It is Progressive Centrism, and its name is its definition (it is just the art of “giving names to things“, anchoring meaning to symbols using logic). It is a convention constructed from what arises naturally.
Let’s end with another example of a Golden Mean table that uses the art of abstraction to better understand Centered positions. You’ll notice that “progressive” is not a mean, true… obviously Progressive Centrism tells us that what we really mean by “Progressive” is “steady progress” and what we really mean by “centrism” is “correctness”.
|SPHERE OF ACTION||MALE – RIGHT||TEMPERED LEFT-RIGHT MEAN||FEMALE – LEFT|
|In-Group / out-Group||Individuals||Both||Collectives|
|Sense and Sensibility||Logic and Reason (Realism, Sense)||Logic + Reason||Empathy and Morality (Idealism, Sensibility)|
|Strictness||Order||Principled and lawful||Freedom|
"What is Progressive Centrism?" is tagged with: Left–right Politics
I think you have a great start,
A graph with a large population poll on polic ies would help center your thesis .
Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll think more on how I can strengthen the page and add something like that.
Thomas, i like what you’ve done here.
If there’s a good book on this that you know about, i’m interested in your recommendation.
Thanks for the feedback. Probably the best place to look is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_centrism. It isn’t exactly the same as the concept I discussed (as it is really my own theory)… but it is a similar concept and on that page you’ll find a lot of resource for further reading.
Why radical instead of progressive?
Radical centrism is an existing idea. Progressive centrism is just my a similar idea I’m toying with on this page. So if you want historic context and other ideas, you want to look at radical centrism 🙂