29 Comments

It's funny, Dan: I never even thought of you as a conservative, or a centrist. I just liked your work. Go figure, my friend.

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Your five principles seem simply sensible to me. It would be terrible, no, it is terrible, that right now "sensible" is not considered part of the political spectrum, although all nonsensible factions claim it.

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Even though I don’t 100% agree with you on Hanania, I find your presentation about him the strongest one I’ve seen. The gravitational pull of your position is going to be hard for me to resist.

(You don’t need to know this, but the thing that makes it hardest for me to dismiss Hanania is that I’m tired of leftists broadbrushing ideas as racist when I’m not convinced they are. But the thing that makes it hardest for me to accept Hanania is that I don’t see anyone like me among his fans. I think most of them like him for the wrong reasons.)

And your thoughts about the danger of using the term “centrism” also land with me. Thanks for posting this; it helps me a lot.

I’m a jaded leftist, I think. I’ve been considering “centrist” and your essay may be the final nail in that coffin.

Enjoy your torpor!

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Centrism has always just meant "non-ideological", and has only been applied in two ways: 1) by individuals to themselves because they either believe they are in fact non-ideological (a great many Cold War-era liberal intellectuals in the Isaiah Berlin/Arthur Schlesinger mode as well as many technocrats of the same era tried to self-label that way) or as an attempt by a former extremist/ideologue to rebrand. (Which is what we have in the instance of this particular figure of concern.) or 2) as a kind of label of contempt by ideologues for people who refuse to admit to having convictions or foundational beliefs. When you think about it, it's a nonsense descriptor except as a kind of political calculation--e.g., "I believe whatever places me exactly in the middle of whatever the current political spectrum happens to be".

Moderate, pragmatist, liberal (in the classical sense, not the American sense), conservative, radical, progressive, leftist, libertarian, etc., all have some kind of descriptive value even if they're more internally diverse and contradictory than some labellers might credit. "Centrist" really doesn't, and it's usually doing some kind of mischief.

I'm pretty damn annoyed that Substack's leadership team doesn't want to even slightly mea culpa on actively aiding and abetting this kind of ideological laundering, but I think that's a pretty clear sign that there is a lot of right-wing money buttering on their revenue-challenged bread.

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Centrism died because there is no viable center position between reality & a narcissist's fantasy.

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The desire of Substack to promote writers like Hanania is a reflection of exactly the kind of centrism you describe. The statement "no side (=view with widespread support in the US) has a monopoly on political wisdom, moral standing and so on" implies "no view with widespread support in the US is entirely lacking in political wisdom and moral standing". This is, sadly, untrue.

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I think an issue with the centrist position is that, especially with how polarized our politics have become, terms like “centrist” or “moderate” have effectively lost meaning as political labels and instead just become self-descriptors of the way one thinks about politics. “Moderates”, especially, are seemingly further apart from each other simply because of how polarized we are. Due to the rise of what Arendt called a “fictitious world of the movement” as a major divider in American politics, moderates are using their label to cling to the aesthetics of when compromise and cooperation felt possible in America. And neither are useful labels because, so long as a portion of the country lives in a fictional world (or at least a large enough one to be a major force in our politics), moderation and centrism are merely promises to oneself that “I am a rational person who can’t be swept up in all this hysteria”. At this point contained within the self-descriptors “moderate” and “centrist” is a wish to reconstitute American politics to a normalcy in which your positions are taken for granted, as just “common sense”.

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I wish to remind Hanania, and his fellow like-minded keyboard warriors, of the standard to which official right wing lawmakers held members of the Left - in which many lives were irretrievably ruined - by being asked, under oath (back in the days before it was morally fashionable to brazenly lie to Congress: "Are you now, OR HAVE YOU EVER BEEN, a member of the Communist Party?".

Goose, meet Gander, etc., etc.

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1. Your stated first principles are those of a left-neoliberal. It's not at all a shameful place.

2. What's wrong with doctorates in political philosophy? I've always thought it was a fancy law degree (a la Yale JD), less the responsibility that comes from engaging with the law-that-is. Practitioners spend all their time obsessing over power while gazing at their navel. That would be enough to turn anybody into a fascist.

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I wish my “scattered thoughts” were so coherent. RIP centrism.

Of note for Dan, Hanania has a Ph.D. in his own field - international relations.

He’s the author of “Public Choice Theory and the Illusion of Grand Strategy” (Routledge 2022)

It seems ambitious. I can find no reviews. I am wondering about the quality of his IR work. Are there signs here he’s going off the rails?

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It does appear that the center-left and the center-right are the new targets by the extremists. At some point the center will need to band together to make a stand. Who would have thought the day would come when some group would call Richard Dawkins a bigot. It’s uncharted territory.

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The idea that IQ has fallen into disrepute would certainly be a shock to the field of cognitive science, where it is foundational and widely used.

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No reason not to let that one go -- it's one of the least useful "-isms." Self identifying as a "centrist" is just inviting ideologues to claim that your "centrism" is just a cover for whatever they don't like.

For me, it's better to pull a Kolakowski and say I'm a "conservative socialist liberal."

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I'm a retired lawyer in California. My politics are way to the left, but in an unconventional way: I don't think any undemocratic "means" are ever justified if the goal is a society where individuals have power and agency. However, as a lawyer, I interacted with many other lawyers my age (I'm 80 now) and a few years older who were already uncomfortable in the Republican party, even before Trump, because they defined themselves as economic conservatives (e.g. with the classic meaning of conservative as someone who thought the present system was basically okay and that change should be slow and careful) but were social liberals, who rejected any form of discrimination and were prepared to meet every person as an individual. I had no problem getting alone with those folks--we had different solutions, maybe even different visions of what a fair and just society would look like, but, like me, they valued human beings. Even then, a one-word label didn't work, either for them or for me.

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