The term Radical Middle refers to a type of third way philosophy as well as an associated political movement, which defines itself by simultaneously affirming both sides of an apparently contradictory issue, whether that be Left-Right politics or a false dilemma. Both the movement and the philosophy are sometimes called the Radical Center, and are often associated with politicians such as Tony Blair in the U.K. and John McCain in the U.S.
Radical Middle Philosophy
Various groups have recently adopted the radical middle as a term to describe a form of third way thinking that paradoxically affirms the core principles of two apparently opposing extremes. Radical middle thought can thus be considered as emphasizing epistemic virtue in the pursuit of truth, as opposed to blind adherence to dogma.
Historical examples of what might be considered radical middle thinking are the wave-particle duality of physics, the Christian doctrine of Jesus as both God and Man, and the federalist balance between national and state authority in the United States Constitution. The terms radical center and radical middle are often used interchangeably, though it is sometimes useful to distinguish between the specific political movement and the general philosophical approach.
Radical Middle Politics
The political application of radical middle philosophy is represented by a cluster of loosely related terms and movements: radical middle, radical centrist, responsive communitarian, third-way, etc. As a relatively grass-roots movement, especially in the United States, there is no definitive statement of radical middle politics. A primary recurring theme, however, is the idea of "sustainably improving choices." This is reflected in the goals of various radical middle groups, such as:
History of the terms
The term radical middle appears to have been spontaneously invented by several different communities around the turn of the millennium, apparently in response to frustration with the violence of extremism and tepidness of temperance. An early use appears to be from Gordon Fee's kingdom theology course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the 1970s, which helped inspire the Vineyard Movement. He used the term radical middle to contrast the evangelical focus on the future kingdom of God with the Pentecostal emphasis on the present kingdom of God.
The first known use of the term was by Jules Feiffer in a comic strip that appears in Hold Me!, a collection published by Random House in 1962.
While the term radical center has been used in various ways since at least the 1970s, it first had a major influence in the 1990s due to the Reform Party and Ross Perot, who were frequently described as representing the radical middle due to their attempts to partisanize those portions of the American electorate. Despite a strong showing in the 1996 U.S. Presidential Election, the Reform Party is nowadays not generally perceived as a major player in national politics, though they have impacted state elections -- notably with their Jesse Ventura becoming governor of Minnesota.
Today, the term radical middle is most commonly associated with a movement that does not explicitly claim descent from the Reform Party or its ideas, but rather draws its inspiration from the book The Third Way by Anthony Giddens (1998) and Giddens's highly-regarded follow-up book The Third Way and Its Critics (2000). In the U.S. third way politics is most actively represented by the New America Foundation and its book by Ted Halstead and Michael Lind, The Radical Center (2001). Subsequent introductions to radical centrist politics include, most notably, Matthew Miller's book The Two Percent Solution (2003) and Mark Satin's book Radical Middle: The Politics We Need Now (2004). (Interestingly, Lind was once a promising young conservative, Miller was once an aide in President Clinton's White House, and Satin was a co-author of the U.S. Green Party's founding document from the 1980s, "Ten Key Values.")
Radical centrists are related to what is sometimes called the Vital Center in American politics, and similarly claim to be drawing on the best of both sides. However, they differ significantly from traditional centrism, which prides itself on moderation and seeking political consensus amongst the parties; radical centrists, for example, are quite radical and populist in their stated policies. Radical centrists also can be divisive, as opposed to the non-partisan approach of traditional centrism. This leads to many moderates questioning whether radical centrism deserves to be called centrist at all (perhaps analogous to how the Left and Right often distance themselves from their respective radical wings). For their part, radical centrists are quick to dissociate themselves from traditional moderates, whom they often contrast as the "sensible center", or deride as the "squishy center."
Radical centrists can be found in both left-wing and right-wing political parties, but (like other centrists and independents) are usually penalized for being out of step with that party's dominant ideology. This leads to tension between what might be called separatist factions, who want to shed an unhelpful party label in order to run as independents, and puritans who want to reform (or take over) the party from within. This tension is particularly acute in countries with strong two-party traditions, since it is difficult for third-party candidates to win office or create governable coalitions absent significant electoral reform.
Radical centrists see themselves as building majority consensus for radical reforms by sidestepping (or confronting) what they consider the obsolete, polarized and non-productive ideologies of (social Conservatism/economic Liberalism) and (social Liberalism/economic Conservatism). Radical centrists assert that their principles represent the fusion of the best aspects of Conservatism and Liberalism, and thus interpolate at the level of philosophy rather than policy. They claim these ideological moorings (the 'root' behind their sociological use of the term 'radical') provide the basis for their critique of society, government and other political movements.
Radical Centrist Organizations
- Centrist Coalition (http://centristcoalition.com), an active online group with a blog and forum.
- Radical Center American Party (http://www.radicalcenter.org), not quite a political party, for now it is just a website with some political thoughts and some links to other Radical Center sites and thought. It even has its own Wiki (http://www.radicalcenter.org/radicalcenterwiki/) for you to contribute to American Radical Center thought and political-party evolution.
- Reform Party USA, founded by Ross Perot, was said to have appealed to the radical center, because it found that both the Democrats and Republicans were unable to address real issues because of both left-right partisanship and corruption. The platform compromised on traditional issues of the parties, ignores social issues, pushes an agenda of government reform, and calls for some referendums. Some people feel this centrist position had been compromised since Pat Buchanan entered the party for his 2000 presidential bid, and a harder stance on immigration has been added.
Howard Dean alleged to be of the Radical Center
In late 2003, several people* made the claim that Howard Dean, then the front-runner for the United States Democratic Party presidential nomination, represented the radical center. While this may well have been a defensible description of his policies as Vermont Governor, his loss of the nomination to John Kerry was commonly attributed to his being perceived, even by Democrats, as excessively liberal (in the U.S. sense of the word), rather than any form of centrist.
- Media Literary for a New Millennium: Finding the "radical center" (http://www.acmecoalition.org/radicalcenter.html)
- Choosing The Radical Middle (http://www.languagemagazine.com/internetedition/so2000/glen.html) (minority-language schooling)
- Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard (http://www.vineyardusa.org/about/history/quest.htm)
- The Centrist Moment (http://anglicansonline.org/resources/essays/whalon/centrist.html) in the Anglican Church
- Yahoo! Radical Middle discussion group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/radical-middle/), a spin-off of PoMoXian (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/pomoxian)
- The Quivira Coalition for harmony between humans and nature at the Radical Center (http://www.quiviracoalition.org/documents/Invitation.asp)
Media coverage of the 'radical middle' phenomena in (mostly American) politics:
- Richard D. Kahlenberg's analysis of "The Radical Center" (http://www.prospect.org/print/V12/21/kahlenberg-r.html)
- Leif Utne's article The Radical Middle (http://www.utne.com/pub/2004_125/promo/11350-1.html) in The Utne Reader
- The Aquarian Conspiracy (http://home.iae.nl/users/lightnet/world/awaken/thirdway.htm) - New Age vision of a "common ground/consensus" model of transformational politics
- Smarter Leadership: Managing Change from the Radical Center (http://www.public-cio.com/story.php?id=2004.05.12-90221) (mentions Roger Douglas, a radical centrist leader in New Zealand).
Information from self-described Radical Middle/Radical Centrist organizations:
- The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy (http://www.lse.ac.uk/Giddens/ThirdWayCriticsPR.htm)
- The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics (http://www.newamerica.net/index.cfm?pg=book_Rev&pubID=1011)
- Hans Masing (http://masing2004.com/platform.php), Radical Middle candidate for U.S. Congress, Michigan
Howard Dean links
- Michael Cudahy on Dean (http://www.greaterdemocracy.org/2003_08_01_gd.html) as representing the Radical Center
- David Ellis, self-proclaimed part the radical center (http://www.salonmag.com/opinion/letters/2003/09/19/clark_right/) responding to Salon's article on Howard Dean and Wesley Clark.
- CalPundit blog on Dean (http://www.calpundit.com/archives/001555.html) as more radical centrist than liberal.
- Article quoting Mark Wiener on Dean being an "exemplar of the radical middle" (http://deandefense.org/archives/000877.html)