Search for a political centre became a new challenge for commentators of Australian politics who are trying to describe Malcolm Turnbull’s approach to the economy.
One commentator in the course of a debate desperately used Arthur Shlessinger’s, American political scientist, review of Cold War’s scene (Modern centrism was “inspired in part by Arthur Schlesinger’s 1949 classic defence of postwar social consensus, The Vital Centre, centrism was devised as an alternative to communism and fascism.”) to emphasise what she thinks, is an urgent need, a centrist view of economy.
Yes, Schlessinger’s book is titled The Vital Centre but as the author himself said in the introduction to post-Cold War edition, it does not refer to the middle of the democratic political views as the Australian commentator suggested.
Schlessinger wrote in 1998:
“‘Vital center’ refers to the contest between democracy and totalitarianism, not to contests within democracy between liberalism and conservatism, not at all to the so-called ‘middle of the road’ preferred by cautious politicians of our own time.
A political centre is an utopia since in the contemporary pluralism it is impossible to indicate where are right and left. Is economic policy based on the idea of global climate changed a left or right? If left, then one may ask whether all of its aspects? What about the defence policies? Is the increased spending on army only an initiative supported by right? (As we know facing grave danger politicians unite as during vote on the US intervention in Afghanistan after 9/11 attacks.)
To offer one view on strategy for economy, foreign affairs, counter-terrorism or even issue of privacy in public domain is impossible. These complex subjects have their different aspects of opinion which may be shared, contested or even still being discussed by un-labeled groups beginning from two persons dialogue. This debate may or may not lead to formulation of one coherent view. It is doubtful whether there will be any major group that would gather participants of debate sharing the same opinions.
In a contemporary world a social reality is more complex, there are many groups and individuals whose views can overlap but they will probably be never shared. For example some policy makers are convinced that future of jobs is in production and installation of solar panels (the fastest growing job in the last four years in USA). Understandably their governments are interested in increase of demand which can subtly be propped up as ideological issue, which is global warming. It is more belief or conviction rather any scientific or existential evidence. Some participants of the debate may agree that it would be reasonable to produce jobs so the state subsidies into solar panels may be accepted. But these people in the same time may strongly disagreed with ideological base of the global warming argument. And question any expenditures from public funds on the global warming “education” programs. There is no right or left position on this matter thus there will not be any centre. There is only the degree of limitation of personal freedom by subsidies (requirements of state bureaucracy to be eligible) and obligatory or intrusive “education” which as a result negatively affects free speech.
The more complex decisions require abandonment of conventional political theories which are being invalidated almost every day. This fact does not discourages armies of professional polarisers, who are benefiting from deep divisions in democracy.
Political system must be assessed against its ability to protect fundamental liberties and freedom of human person.
The delusion of the political centre might have fogged minds of the political observers during Cold War but even then it was… a delusion. Communists and totalitarian left stole notion of social justice from Catholic social philosophy, redefined it and claimed to represent the popular will of people on this issue. Liberals boxed themselves into a corner accepting the understanding of social justice as presented by totalitarians. They would argue for real and imperfect world of democracy against the goal of perfect world represented by Lenin’s notion of social justice. It is astonishing fact that generations of political scientists fell for this thoroughly artificial and abstract way of putting issue.
It is worthy to remember that although democracy is imperfect, socialism has proven track record of total failure. There was no middle or centre in ruined socialist countries but only popular will of people to escape abroad. Westerners did not flood borders willing to live in post-communist countries. There was no middle but only right or wrong.
This intellectual trap laid in Cold War enslaves minds of many intellectuals. French philosopher Jean-François Revel in Democracy Against Itself observed:
“We must learn to rethink the realities of society, the ways in which liberties are required, maintained and evolved. We have wasted nearly a century during which the totalitarian phenomenon, the communist phenomenon in particular, queered the essential political issues, the issues of how liberty relates to democracy. We must take up where we left off, with an honest and realistic reconsideration of what these terms mean.”
Liberties are being maintained, as classicists say, through keeping political and economic democracy in balance.
There is no doubt also that disbelief in democracy motivates political commentators and scientist for search for political centre like an adventure for mythical Golden Fleece. Political scientists and their pupils – politicians like are thinking like mythical Jason that “they have got what it takes to rule a kingdom.” Like Jason who planned to get rid of anyone who would give him difficulties to get a Golden Fleece these politicians and political scientists are “full of hot air” initiating debate on non-existent “political centrism”.
The centre is neither measure nor any other criteria of democracy strength, political system that unlike socialism or any other totalitarian system addresses internal threats.
Perhaps economy is one of the instruments its uses to secure liberties. As in a political discourse also in economy there is no room for experiments with a central position. Like in politics a measure of economic system is its capacity to protect liberties but also the degree of participation of human person in production and consumption.
In such terms not Friedrich August von Hayek but Louis Kelso can offer economic solution – a non-inflationary growth based on widespread ownership of productive capital that will increase participation of every child, woman and man in production and consumption.