Toward a Radical Concept of Centrism

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The very word ‘centrism’ is likely to incite guffaws from both the left and the right, as it is seen fit only on the tongues of politicians determined to pave some would be Nader-esque path in word whilst perpetuating business-as-usual social capitalism under the guiding hand of the neoliberal and neoconservative establishment.

The sentiment that both sides are wrong can be the most odious one to hear in a war, just as it is in democracy. It is too easy to praise escape in a room without exits, yet when the challenge comes to forge a new path, the contrarian naysayer is left with few options save abstention or pessimism. The attitude that says, ‘Why can’t we have some of both?’ is almost as cringe-inducing and probably loses points in the long run for being slight on the kind of hip, young militancy which makes politics sexy (in other words, something in which people who will come after you will be interested in). After all, just what the hell could possibly be edgy or irreverent about moderation?

To radicalize ‘centrism’ may seem like an arbitrary task to ideologues married to their positions or to empiricists insistent on an absolutely correct conclusion and its coextensive political methodology. That is, until we take inventory of the stakes in question.

First of all, there is a fundamental error which is often made concerning definitions of right and left. People in America (and the west, largely) consider center-right to be comprised of those who more or less endorse some version of the establishment right. The center left is then seen to be comprised of people who endorse some version of the establishment left.

When you get to the ‘far’ end of both winged spectrums, suddenly socialism seems to have crept in. Body counts rise. Racism, demotism and genocide abound. All kinds of pejorative names and historical criminal charges are hurled by one wing at the other. Every tyrant seems to have a mustache and no one seems to have a sense of humor.

How did we get here? Just what is being labeled by ‘far’ or by ‘radical?’

It’s hard to say just what the word ‘far’ in relation to politics even denotes aside from sheer pejorative. ‘Radical’ is even less clear of a designation, though one might often assume that it will more than likely be said of or used by youthful, vigorous, perhaps violent political movements which operate outside of establishment norms.

Now, this is hardly to say that politicians steeped in the establishment don’t use the word ‘radical’ to describe themselves. On the contrary, if a politician’s taste for cultural trends is on point or if his sense of historical timing is  reasonably astute, he may have just what it takes to swiftly co-opt a ‘radical’ designation for the sake of swaying populist masses to the tune of his democratic music - as has already been the case with the designation ‘radical centrist’ in recent enough history.

Nevertheless, leaving aside all of the Machiavellian intersections of establishment and anti-establishment forces, it then becomes important to extract and define that very element of radicalism from politics that is particularly centrist, if possible, in order to discover just what makes it different from a form of centrism that is not radical. What one may be tempted to dismiss as mere semantics will here prove to have wider-reaching implications than simply what one should call oneself in terms of a position or what one should register as.

The fundamental key to understanding any real concept of ‘radical’ politics is the degree to which a said political feeling or movement is heterogeneous in relation to its establishment counterpart.

In a representative democracy, this gets tricky. We are supposed to believe that democracy is the politics of the people, by the people, for the people, but upon closer inspection, we see that democracy is merely a way of consolidating group interests and playing them against one another in favor of the establishment, to which all constituent blocs are beholden. One only has a ‘voice’ in democracy if the establishment will allow it. The mechanisms by which it allows one to have a voice are vast, deceptive and incredibly efficient in guiding people into an ever stronger belief in their own agency where it concerns the flow of events. If one can accept the fact that democracy is no more than a mass form of social engineering in which the people are made to believe that they themselves are doing the engineering, it is then not hard to see just how feeble is the illusion of representation.

Representation is itself a simulacra; a golem created by state forces in order to direct human desire en masse. It maintains order this way. Order, however, has its limits. Only so much desire can be directed within the limited space of the state, the various networks of which it is comprised and the ideological currents which perpetuate it before convulsions of anxiety and unrest threaten to overtake the political narrative monopoly. Rather than a surplus of order, there is a surplus of chaos. In this case, the state ultimately fails to appropriate those cultural elements  it once depended on in order to perpetuate its own power (it fails to ‘give them a voice,’ as their demands operate in exclusion to the needs of the state as it exists).

You could call this a tension between the hegemonic center (the establishment) and the heterogeneous outside (radical movements). This is a Gramscian framing of the issue, but rather than focusing on capitalism, we wish here to identify a problem which concerns the very locus of modern politics as such.

As stated, there are establishment right and lefts and non-establishment right and lefts. Though they are sometimes in collusion - the establishment is always trying to soften the incompatibility of society’s heterogeneous elements by partially meeting their demands whilst the heterogeneous elements are naturally competing through political expression which taxes the limits of hegemonic society’s soft power - they are categorically at odds; this is precisely how we are finally able to distinguish them.

This being said, there are heterogeneous rights and lefts which, though they may ultimately be at odds on a localized level, are common in their antagonism to hegemonic society - the network of establishment rights and lefts.

 Trying to account for the power of hegemonic society is, perhaps, a task which calls all of history into question. The irony is that it requires the very Logos-centric view of reality which hegemonic society as it stands today threatens to overtake. We will return to this later.

We here turn back to Gramsci, who thought of hegemonic society in terms of capitalism and the bourgeois values that reassert its stronghold. The recent history of metapolitical theory, however, has furnished the innovation of other thinkers who utilized Gramsci’s methodology and opened up possibilities to discuss the heterogenic element opposed to hegemonic society in more ways than the strictly economic. It is important to note, in particular, thinkers in Europe who refused to identify as either left or right wing but who were pejoratively referred to as the ‘New Right,’ such as Alain de Benoist and others associated with GRECE.

It was in the political theory surrounding this school of thought that Gramscianism provided the framework for, at once, a multi-dimensional critique of the western empire and a means of identifying a sense of solidarity between the varied struggles of different nations, cultures, ethnic groups, radical political movements and popular movements which had been eclipsed, victimized and plundered by the hegemonic center, not simply on a class level, but on an existential level. The existential nature of this struggle is something which also inspired Russian thinker Aleksandr Dugin, who incidentally referred to his political activity and ideas in the last century as ‘radical centrism,’ - though one may come away from his work suspecting that by this he meant some variation of National Bolshevism.

What is the nature of this existential threat? It is a common enemy threatening to all heterogeneous elements in relation to the hegemonic center, but how is it that they can all be its victims at once? Here is where it must be noted that we are dealing with a negative view of commonality, as is first necessary if one hopes to concretely define just how far the hegemonic center’s reach may go to undermine anything which does not propel its power. However, this negative view of commonality is only a first stage, a necessary act of passive nihilism tantamount to a recognition of injustice which must be then turned into an act of affirmation if anything is to be done to correct the injustice.

The injustice is as multi-headed as the multi-polar world often spoken of by thinkers who embrace heterogeneity in relation to the hegemonic center. But it is only multi-headed because it is a complex problem which only announces itself at the shrillest of moments, in the most extreme circumstances; when our very cultural consensus is taxed by its own excesses.

One can look at it as different heterogeneous realms of discourse interpreting the problem with a different grammar and language. To reach back into the pagan consciousness of the west, it would have been associated with ennui. Christian consciousness will frame it as antichrist. On into the economic and the political, the left will call it capitalism and the right will call it bureaucracy. The philosophers will call it nihilism. On into the cultural, the Guenonian Traditionalists will call it modernity while Feminists will call it patriarchy. Its lower tentacles at the ground level of everyday conflict will want to be called systemic racism by some or a war on the middle class by others.

None of these groups are totally right nor are they totally wrong. Each possesses an imperfect picture of a greater whole which speaks of a much deeper threat than that which might be posed to one particular political, cultural, ethnic or identity group. We speak here of a hydra that is so pernicious precisely because there is not one master head, but rather, a whole swaying movement of heads that are all powerful in themselves but, nevertheless, interdependent.

That provincial interests do not satisfy global demands is only part of the problem, but it is nevertheless an incredibly enduring part of the problem. The right and the left rule out pragmatic solutions to be found on what they perceive to be the opposing side simply because of who the message is coming from. Likewise, the perceived obnoxiousness of modern feminism will make certain men unreceptive to the possibility that the gender role assigned to men in the west today is actually as terrible for them as it is for women - i.e.: men drafted to war, expected to work 40+ hours a week at jobs that cannot be transferred trans-generationally, etc.

In terms of racial tension, where tried and true racism certainly exists, the bigger threat to the cultural self determination of minorities is the driving ideology of the neoliberal and neoconservative establishment - itself an indirect child of the enlightenment which has the net effect of recognizing people, paradoxically, on an individual basis at the expense of culture on the one hand and as part of bigger economic entities at the expense of individual agency on the other.

If the only option for groups of people in this world - whether they be artistic movements, ethnic groups or generational affinities - is a monoculture fed by consumerism and perpetuated through ever tighter state coercion and social policing, racial tension will come as a byproduct, as will class struggle and culture wars of all kinds. Those who are left to fight over scraps will start drawing lines in the sand.

The existential threat of the hydra remains unrecognized for the most part, as it has found its ideologically convenient mask in a series of descriptive epithets like ‘freedom’ and ‘equality.’ It is always assumed by the constituent elements of society that the real roadblocks to true freedom and equality are racism, patriarchy, anti-family sentiments or liberalism/conservatism, and never that it is precisely the way in which this hydra establishes its own version of ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’ that is causing the various other tensions.

The hydra remains a hidden enemy, perhaps even hiding under the rough waters of our turbulent times, itself quiet and waiting patiently for the moment it can strike. When it asserts itself on the common man, seeking to come against or devour him, it often only reveals one head, thus whatever group is being attacked sees only the one head and conflates it with the entirety of the problem.

A truly radical notion of centrism would, perhaps, not amount to a simple stylized marriage of some leftist and some rightist ideas - as you find in Third Position movements - but rather, would find its most poignant cultivation in the realization of that unmentioned, inevitable night-side of egalitarian commonality: mutual exclusivity.

The Logos-centric view of the world, itself a philosophical technology which manifested politically in the notion of ‘empire,’ is no longer tenable if it is considered as a technology which can be monopolized by one particular top-down power structure. Nevertheless, the Logos-centric view may be retained from the bottom up as self-determining political bodies discover their measure for counter identity precisely against this hydra we speak of which it is important to note is not strictly political or economic or spiritual, yet contains an element of all of these. One could just as soon think of it as a parasitic entity, a system perpetuated by a series of different ideologies - what in occult language would be called an ‘egregore’ - with a deep-rooted sovereignty borrowed precisely from a maladaptive version of the Logos-centric view.

One battles this particular sovereignty by reigniting the concept of sovereignty as such, itself an ultimate mystery, but which may find its expression in varied ways across the globe in those heterogeneous elements of society on the periphery. In other words, we speak of a radical center not as a specific ideology, but rather, a structural approach for placing the needs of various political entities on the periphery of the hegemonic center at the front of their own struggle to establish sovereignty. We speak here not of one center but ‘centers’ - ultimately a polycentric network which shares in common a periphery to the central hegemony.

Over the past century, on up to very recently, many people and many groups have expressed their own variation of this peripheral polycentrism, each one with its own ideological accent. Whether we’re talking about post-left anarchists, autonomists, separatist movements, the panarchism of Paul Emile De Puydt, the neuro-tribalism of Giovanni Dannatto, neo-confederacy and countless others, all of them share the common sentiment that varied expressions of provincial identity and ways of life are preferable to a center which feeds itself on the incompatibilities of different social bodies within its sphere only to exploit their energy and needs for survival at the cost of positive identity.

While none of these varied ideologies which arose in response to the hegemonic center are perfect, all-encompassing or representative of everyone’s place in the world, they serve as mere examples of the political territory we must give our attention if we hope to have a conversation outside of the series of false sentiments which ultimately assures us that we are ‘free’ to serve the establishment’s needs and ‘equal’ only in our impotence.

The need to refer to all of these movements as forms of ‘radical centrism’ is only a strategic move, in order to re-diagnose the ultimate problem which has transcended the language of the right and the left, and has put mankind into a confrontation with titanic forces in history which ultimately accumulated to a point of maximum tension. It is in that tension that a radical notion of centrism is born and epitomized by that very struggle, just as the division between the right and the left was determined by its very specific set of historically determined variables.

Whatever it is called after that, or however else these varied groups currently on the periphery choose to identify themselves later doesn’t matter so much, or rather, will matter in contexts which leave the sphere of this conversation, which is ultimately a global one. For the sake of recognizing a problem that has been, until now, so large that it went unnoticed or noticed only in part, we can assert that a radical notion of centrism concerns one’s position in relation to two new opposing definitions of sovereignty: a destructive one that seeks unconditional sacrifice, and the other an active, potential space for a common idea or goal for which one is willing to sacrifice.