We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Understanding the Radical Centre

Guy Herber’s excellent article The public mood (while the public moo-ed) got me thinking about the nature of the ‘Radical Centre’.

The Radical Centre seem to have the same obsession with control that the fascists and communists had but unlike them, it is control for control’s sake rather than in the service of some clear ideology: there is no Blairite or Clintonite (or even ‘Bushite’) ‘The Communist Manifesto’ or ‘Mein Kampf’. They do not seek the triumph of Volk or the dictatorship of the proletariat, they just seek to replace all social interactions with politically mediated interactions. They seek to regulate everything via a total state that does not organise mass rallies or collectivise farms, it just wants a world in which nothing whatsoever is private, everything is political. Their symbol is not the Hammer and Sickle or the Swastika, it is the CCTV camera.

Perhaps this also explains the radical centre’s transcendent hatred of the USA’s system of checks and balances: the US Bill of Rights takes whole sections of civil society and tries to place them outside politics (free speech, the right to have the means to defend yourself etc.). Sure, it fails miserably as often as it succeeds but at least the notion that not absolutely everything is subject to politics is part of the American cultural DNA and that, rather than the US government’s policy towards, well, anything, is what makes the US anathema to the Radical Centre (including the US Radical Centre).

The Radical Centre has also been called ‘Authoritarian Populism’ because it seeks to impose the popular will by force and it does not much care what that will is. Just as liberty for liberty’s own sake is the objective of the Classical Liberal/Libertarian rather than some ‘overarching narrative’ as was the case with the radical statist left and statist right in the corpse filled 20th century, the Radical Centre seek control for control’s own sake with no particular grand reason in mind other than to perpetuate a political class whose reason for existence is to make decisions about other people’s lives.

The reason they dislike us so much is that to attack regulatory statism is to attack these people’s very reason to exist and we challange them on a profound psychological level. They need to control other people just as we need to control our own lives.

The Radical Centre is our demonic reflection.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

42 comments to Understanding the Radical Centre

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Absolutely. One thing that struck me a few weeks ago when that person called Tomahawk foamed at us ideologues is how aggressive these “radical centrists” are in defending their amoral interpretation of politics. For them, it is all about the pursuit of power for its own sake. When we bashed David Cameron for aping Blair, they just could not believe that we were actually concerned about values and ideas rather than smart-alec tactics.

    In a way, it is the amorality of the “radical centre” that is so chilling.

  • David

    Throughout human history there has always been individuals or groups of individuals who simply hunger for power and control over others. Many of them have actually achieved such positions.
    Look back over time and you will see it repeated over and over again: Tribal chiefs, Holy men in ancient societies, Mediaeval Kings, the Church, Islam and in more modern times Totalitarian rulers like the Communist dictatorships and Fascist regimes.
    Each of these evolved as a mechanism to elevate their “leaders” to positions of power and control over their fellow man.

    The modern Extreme centre is merely the descendent of all these elites. Possibly more closely aligned to the Communist and fascist dictatorships of the 20th century than to the others but probably only because it is a first generation descendent.
    These modern extreme centrists are simply following an age old pattern of seeking to inflict their world view onto everyone else in order to elevate themselves to positions of power and control over the rest of the population.

  • gravid

    ‘kin scary innit?
    What to do?

  • Simon

    This is spot on. Last night at the Nottingham University student council there was a nice hour long debate over whether smoking nshould be banned in people’s individual rooms. Banning it passed something like 40-4 in favour. It’s a sad reflection on the future of our government. The usual rationalisations were offered, things like smoke molecules creeping out under doors and one pub-wokring asthmatic who calimed that if someone has smoked in his room 3 months previously it’ll give him asthma attacks or something. One person tried to define people’s bedroom as public areas, and the typicl earnest but plain-faced girl stood up and said ‘we have the chance to do so much good, to really change people’s lives’. I felt like throwing up.

    Still it wasn’t much of an improvement on the meeting before when 1 hour was spent passing the motion that the general secretary should change her title to ‘democracy and communications manager’ in order to better describe her role! These are the future Jack Straw’s and Claire Short’s – god help us.

  • Young Fogey

    Thank you Perry. An timely and perceptive piece. This is why I read Samizdata.

  • One person tried to define people’s bedroom as public areas, and the typicl earnest but plain-faced girl stood up and said ‘we have the chance to do so much good, to really change people’s lives’.

    The reason for this is clear: she was getting a buzz from imposing her ‘benevolent’ will. “Changing people’s lives” by force of your imposed will, be it from smashing them in the face with your fist or using laws and other forms of proxy force, is something that appeals deeply to a great many people, filling a need to control others. “Plain-faced girl” is just a typical manifestation of this oh so common derangement. It just feels so good that she will HATE (not too strong a word) anyone who tries to suggest it is actually wrong to interfere with the consensual acts of others or let them make their own minds up over something.

  • Bernie

    Excellent piece, even if a bit tame :-), Perry as was Guy’s last posting.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Bernie, “a bit tame?”.

  • simon

    I thought I was pretty clever by outlining some of the more worrying implications of classifying people’s bedrooms public places, not that it made any difference.

  • Captain Coma

    Time to read Euripides’ “The Bacchae” again – Pentheus is building his civilised walls ever higher to keep the chaos out, thus daring Dionysus to do his stuff.

  • Pete_London

    Simon

    A little suggestion – go and park yourself in the room of whoever suggested they’re public spaces. Be rude and obnoxious about it. Tell him/her that you’re not doing anything you can’t do in a public place.

    Anyway, did you sign a lease or licence for the room? If so, does it prohibit smoking in the rooms? If not then tell the Nottingham University Idiot Society to get stuffed. Then light a fag.

    ………….

    Hang on, I just scrolled up – what authority does the student council have to ban smoking in private rooms? This is why we have 10 million ill-drafted, contradictory and unworkable laws. As someone said, these are the Clare Shorts and Jack Straws of the future, idiots who believe they only have to will it and it shall be done. I doubt if one idiot on that student council gave a thought to the concept of private property. No, “we will it so it must be done” is all they can conjure in those dull, tedious minds.

  • Simon

    The problem is that Nottingham Hospitality, who control the main university provided accommodation, effectively agve the decision to the student council. The contracts change every year, and only really first years inhabit the halls of residence – I’m off to a private house shared with some friends before the ban comes into place.

    The tragic thing is that they really don’t represent the average student. I came to the role (voting on the council) by strange circumstance as opposed to actually trying for it. It’s not like it’s the most exhiliarating thing in the world listening to these people ‘make the student voice heard’ ever couple of weeks. I can see the same thing in the general population with the actual politicians.

    They were thoughtful in their prohibition, though, I mean they did request that secure well-lit outside areas be made available for those who ‘insist’ on smoking. I’ve read about the old ideological, and leftist student unions and to be fair – all is forgiven – at least they only wanted to ban me from doing things that I don’t yet do (like making lot’s of money). Also they had no say on the way in which the economy was run.

  • I think there is a more serious problem than the extreme centre. This is the extreme apathy of the educated middle classes, which Guy also alluded to.

    I attended a typical London mid-30s dinner party last weekend, where the ten of us sat down for five hours and discussed, well nothing of any consequence – mortgages, how little Johnny is doing at school, traffic, holidays etc etc.

    On trying to steer the conversation onto more interesting subjects, i appeared as an unwanted extremist, a fanatic – shoes were inspected, the conversation steered away.

    It is apathy that is allowing the state to gain control. I don’t know how you shock these (largely well meaning) folk out of their complacency.

  • Pete_London

    The problem is that Nottingham Hospitality, who control the main university provided accommodation, effectively agve the decision to the student council.

    But some kind of tenancy agreement must have been signed. Unless it explicitly states that the superior party may retrospectively change the terms I’d tell them to shove it. Alternatively, you could say that such a ban restricts your right to enjoy your privacy and that you’ll go along with a rent rebate in compensation.

  • Johnathan

    pommy, I know exactly what you mean sir. I tend these days either to immediately confine my speech to non-controversial topics if I am surrounded by obvious dolts or not mix with them in the first place. Fortunately most of my buddies are fairly interested in life beyond mortages/kids/blather so that is not normally a problem. I find if I meet folk for the first time that it pays to keep my libertarian fire under wraps unless the guy/woman speaking is obviously intelligent or in need of a good verbal blasting. (I have found some women in the past are surprisingly attracted to guys with an interesting alternative point of view……)

    Most people, even those holding down jobs requiring high intelligence, are not interested in the stuff as we are. Many of them think that we are either utopians, loonies or worse. I guess I can live with that.

  • rosignol

    A little suggestion – go and park yourself in the room of whoever suggested they’re public spaces. Be rude and obnoxious about it. Tell him/her that you’re not doing anything you can’t do in a public place.

    …like install CCTV cameras?

  • innocent bystander

    I would have thought providing a place to smoke outside was in, er, a public place. Or isn’t the outdoors a public place anymore?

    BTW, Perry’s opener said “Mine Kampf.” Not to be confused with the seaside resort of “Meinhead”

  • The radical centre is not so radical. Rather, as has been said, it’s merely a continuation of older authoritarian traditions with new technology. The real radicals are, yep, us, that is, libertarian and objectivist individualists. And ’tis true there aren’t too many of us out there. But blogs like Samizdata do have an effect. I’m sure that pathetic tyrant of a “plain girl” would be shocked if she knew what a traditionalist oppressor we thought she was.

  • guy herbert

    This is the extreme apathy of the educated middle classes, which Guy also alluded to.

    Or the pseudo-educated middle classes. (Though my own educational carreer was enough of a disaster that I ought not scoff.)

  • Karl Rove

    PdH – I am always baffled when you talk about freedom.
    On sept 13th you wrote “How does having the vote make you free”?
    The Bill of Rights assumes regular (white, male) elections.
    What wd you replace elections with?

  • PdH – I am always baffled when you talk about freedom.

    Let me try and un-baffle you.

    On sept 13th you wrote “How does having the vote make you free”? The Bill of Rights assumes regular (white, male) elections. What wd you replace elections with?

    I have no problem with democracy just so long as it is bound hand and foot. Politics is only kept from tyranny by limiting what it can do, and the idea behind the US Bill of Rights that make it quite remarkable is not the democratic aspects (plently of places have democracy without a US style Bill of Rights getting in the way), but the way some things are (in theory) placed outside politics entirely.

    The wonder is in the first five words of it. The phrase “Congress shall make no law…” is a truly revolutionary concept. It is an anti-political statement within a political document and that is what makes the US Bill of Rights so unlike the constitutions of other countries.

    So I have no problem with elections just so long as you do not get to vote at all on abridging my most impportant liberties.

  • Karl Rove

    PdH
    Thanks for your prompt reply.
    WHO will bind democracy hand & foot?

    Or as Lenin asked “Who whom”.

  • RobtE

    Politics is only kept from tyranny by limiting what it can do

    Quite. The proper purpose of a constitution is not to empower the citizenry but to hobble the state. Majority rule is only a part of a properly constituted democracy – necessary but not sufficient. The purpose of a constitution is to put limits around the power of the government beyond which the majority may not exercise its will.

    Can’t remember offhand where I learnt that. Probably Ayn Rand. Sounds like her, anyway.

  • lucklucky

    Like others have said is that one thing i wouldnt have called them is “Radical”.

    They beaurocrats as such want control and means to determine a predicted evolution path.
    You can call them Social or Political Eugenists.
    In their mind, everything can be micromanaged and predicted from a bureau.
    They fell a sting when one newspaper finds some fault true or imaginary in their domain. To achieve zero faults it is needed absolut control…

  • Julian Morrison

    Big-government pragmatism seems to me to be the third obvious but wrong political philosophy. Like the other two, it’ll probably have to be played out to the bitter end.

    It’s probably not a bad thing, though. At last, we’re actually fighting on unskewed ground. Leftism drives attention to conservatism and fascism drives it to leftism. Libertarian arguments have always seemed a bit tangential. Blairism now drives attention right to us. Be certain that our political fortunes will improve!

    The core point we need to make, the vulnerability of their system: you can’t not have ideas. “Common sense” amounts to the unchallenged world-views you picked up in childhood. Pragmatism just reflects them right back at you amplified by the force of government, such that their flaws chafe. The thing people have to get is, maybe some of their most basic assumptions are broken?

    It will take them a time yet to learn that, but they will, I think.

  • I think ‘radical’ is entirely correct, though ‘extreme’ works just as well as the way I see it. Just because they are ‘in the centre’ does not mean they cannot be radical/extreme… and it is nothing less that a total state (populist totalitarianism, if you like) that they want, with every aspect of life regulated in ways never before tried in the west.

    The mass murderous totalitarianisms of the 20th century killed millions and imposed their ways but generally did not bother with the minutiae of daily life: they killed whole races and collectivised vast tracts of land but rarely cared if people smoked or did not wear seat belts or spanked their child or had wheelchair ramps on their private property or make ‘sexist’ jokes… they were ghastly in so many ways but they generally just killed you or sent you to a gulag if your face did not fit, they did not try to micromanage your daily interactions and quirks.

    It is wrong to directly equate modern 21st century regulatory statism with fascism or communism but it IS never the less a totalitarian view of the world and thus very radical indeed. A view of the world which has no room for the social and private is nothing if not radical.

  • Julian Morrison

    Perry, are you kidding? Take a second look at Mao’s China – They had a bloody uniform, fercrissake! The thing with the denim and the peaked floppy hat: not “optional”! Even fascism was into compulsory mass aerobics etc. No totalitarian system leaves the little stuff untouched during its ideological phase. That only happens during the oligarchic phase, of which contemporary China is an extreme example.

  • David

    Sorry I disagree with you Perry, once these control freaks are done with regulating us all into their own image they will move on to eliminating all those who digress from their “true” path.

    Witness their modern attempts at “regulating” the education system – they seek to destroy any budding individualists as they begin to flower. Any individualism or attempt at individual enquiry is ruthlessly crushed and discredited.

    Furthermore in our general society look at the way anyone who publicly digresses is dealt with, they are never argued with on the basis of ideas, rather they are viciously attacked personally and are effectively excluded from society. In the modern idiom the centrist extremist always “Plays the man, not the ball”.
    This is of course little different from being sent to the Soviet gulag. Here is is a virtual gulag but a gulag nonetheless – the “de-emphasis of the dissenter is complete with little hope of return to mainstream society.

  • Sorry I disagree with you Perry, once these control freaks are done with regulating us all into their own image they will move on to eliminating all those who digress from their “true” path.

    Sorry but you don’t disagree with me 🙂 Clearly the current state of regulatory statism is just the early days and I fully expect it to eventually follow in the footsteps of all totalitarian world views, with secret police and re-education camps and classifying people who disagree as mentally unbalanced (in effect classifying sanity as insanity). My whole point is that ‘the radical centre’ IS a totalitarian world view even though it lacks the ‘hard’ ideology of previous totalitarianisms. Radical utilitarianism is eventually going to be just as repressive as fascism and communism, it will just come in a different package, throwing your arse in jail and taking away your children based on slogans featuring the words ‘respect’ and ‘multiculturalism’ rather than ‘racial hygene’ or ‘class enemy’.

  • Jerry

    Perry
    Those of us on the ‘west’ side of ‘the pond’ do not live in a democracy – it is a ‘constitutional republic’ and always has been despite decades of propaganda from MSM/’public’ schools/etc. saying it is a democracy ( even out president doesn’t use the correct term ! )
    The founding fathers despised the the concept of a democracy and came up with our Constitution which, despite what is heard from all corners, does NOT grant rights but instead is limits government actions regardless of the ‘majority’s’ opinion/wishes.
    This is the ‘bound hand and foot’ to which you allude.
    Unfortunately, given time, a seemingly limitless supply of lawyers, growing apathy/indifference and a sense of more and more entitlements for government (read – taxpayers) what we have now is ‘legislation from the bench’, disregard, at the local level, of ‘the supreme law of the land’ and a ‘we know what’s best for you’ attitude from so called authorities’.
    Sadly, most ‘sheep’ just go along without ever standing up and saying – ‘don’t give a D**M about your good intentions, YOU’RE NOT GOING TO RUN/CONTROL MY LIFE !!’
    Sad, but I see no end to it without something happening that I do not expect.

  • veryretired

    One of the most reliable characteristics of organizations is the irresistable tendency to begin to operate, and then exist, solely for the internal benefit of the organization itself, regardless of the alleged mission it was established to carry out.

    Given that most ongoing governmental organizations, or departments, were established over the course of the last century to fulfill the prime directive—serve the common, public, social good—it is no surprize that they now desparately seek new permutations of that mission so as to continually expand their power and influence.

    The fundamental error, derived from the collectivist philosophies which permeated the latter 19th century, and formed the foundation for the statist political ideologies of the 20th, is the subduction of the individual into the fluid magma of the “common good.”

    Endlessly elastic, the undefinable “public interest”, or “common good”, is whatever the activists for any specific proposal can convince the now unfettered regulators and rule makers will be served by their pet law, rule, or entitlement. And, since there are now activists, or lobbyists, for politicizing every conceivable aspect of human life, the power, and expansive reach, of the regulators is approaching the absolute.

    I don’t think I have to point out the effect of absolute power on those who wield it, and those upon whom it is wielded, to the the readers of this site.

    This is not some evil, Ming the Merciless scheme, brought about by a conspiracy between the Illuminati and the Freemasons, or some such tinfoil nonsense. Very ordinary, well meaning people, at least for the most part, try diligently to make the world a better place for “the children” or “the vulnerable” or “fill in the blank”.

    The reason it will be so very, very difficult, for those who can see the danger of an unrestricted state, to convince ordinary people of their peril, and further, to pursuade them to begin scaling back the scope and power of the government, is the good intentions of all involved.

    It is the mirage of benign compassion, and morally well intentioned concern, that hampers any attempt to describe the problem, and urge action towards a remedial program of dismantling and devolution. But, in fact, the choice in the long term is either devolution or revolution.

    As a radical Jeffersonian individualist, I’m okay with either, although the parent in me urges the former to avoid the violence and anguish of the latter. In any event, the liberty of individuals to live a lawful life without continuous state interference is a non-negotiable end result which must be pursued without respite, regardless of the obstacles in our path.

  • WHO will bind democracy hand & foot?

    That requires a culture of liberty, otherwise even the finest and most liberal (in the correct sence of the word) constitution will be subverted. To the extent that the USA has managed to retain some liberty, there is still a culture of liberty which has enabled that to happen and held on to the more liberal aspects of the political order. So who, you ask… people who want to be free, is the answer. If there are enough of them, a measure of liberty can be maintained. If not, then democracy just leads to people voting themselves other people’s money and and Republic just decays into majoritarian tyranny which in turn decays into else (a process quite advanced in my neck of the woods).

  • guy herbert

    To the extent that the USA has managed to retain some liberty, there is still a culture of liberty which has enabled that to happen and held on to the more liberal aspects of the political order.

    I think that’s a partial explanation, but not a complete one. There is also the question of the special status of the constitution and the culture of legalism in the US, which serve to restrain authoritarians. Authoritarians are more likely to internalise a law with which they do not agree – obeying and respecting it merely because it is the law – than libertarians.

    US liberty is, I submit, as much maintained by the coincidence of a religiose tendency to worship the letter of holy text with a finely written legal text to be venerated, as it is by putting value on liberty per se. Natural fundamentalists can be made to value liberty provided they are told to do so by those in authority, and thus paradoxically bolster liberty by their urge to obey.

    (That is what is so dangerous about legalistic approaches to the destruction of legal protections of the individual against state power by the Bush II administration (and over here, New Labour): by cloaking lawlessness in the forms of law, the mob can be pried loose from the institutions that preserve fair process and equal treatment of the unpopular.)

    There was a very interesting Canadian study in the early 80s, of which unfortunately I have lost the citation and which I have never seen repeated, which appeared to show that the law can alter people’s beliefs. People with authoritarian personalities were more likely to hold racist views – in accordance with the standard model – but told that the expression of racist views was contrary to law, their personal racism, subtly measured, actually diminished. Conformity is more important than personality or conceptual structures to some people.

    (This insight may also explain the fondness of the Blair administration for legislating ‘to send a signal’ on this or that subject. It is a jurisprudential model of pure authority, without regard for logical coherence, natural justice or utility, aimed at comforting and controlling the authoritarian segment of the population.)

  • mike

    “Time to read Euripides’ “The Bacchae” again – Pentheus is building his civilised walls ever higher to keep the chaos out, thus daring Dionysus to do his stuff.”

    Captain Coma: ah yes, all those crazed, over-sexed women on the loose fornicating and beheading random strangers! Now if only they weren’t random strangers but targeted individuals in power. That’d sharp bring the government down!!!

  • and the culture of legalism

    To some extent that is true but I think that is a double edged sword which does as much damage as good. No, I think the biggest factor really is that there are more Americans who actually think liberty matters (even though they tend to greatly over-estimate how free they really are).

    I think the point at last more of them are actually willing to think about the subject at all, unlike in ovine Britain…in my experience in the USA it is not at all hard to have a semi-rational discussion about liberty around a dinner table with Joe Average (i.e. not activist fellow travellers) and not be regarded as a wild eyed loony. Try that in the UK and see how people tend to react.

  • Karl rove

    The US Constitootion & amendments were passed by majority votes.
    The slogan of the revolutionaries was
    No taxation without REPRESENTATION.
    The idea that if you blow up the Govt good will triumph is nonsense.

  • The idea that if you blow up the Govt good will triumph is nonsense

    But I never said that. All I am saying is that good does not come from governments, it comes from an underlying culture that values liberty.

    And whilst you may be hung up on the ‘representation’ aspect, that is what prevails in every democracy, nothing special about the USA in that. I am ‘represented’ to the point of nausia by the many tiers of democratic government I am told I should vote for in Britain. In the USA, you have a constitutional republic which takes key areas out of the political sphere… THAT is the only thing that makes your system any different to any old democracy elsewhere. And the extent to which that system is allowed to work is because enough people value what it provides (i.e. liberty trumping representation). Without a culture that values liberty, liberty simply goes away regardless of what it says on the bits of paper (those are just tools to give those who value liberty something to fight with so that it hopefully does not have to get to the car bombs and rifles stage).

  • Verity

    It is astounding to watch all this in action. Tony Blair has just announced that his government “hasn’t done enough for the poor”. It absolutely beggars belief. He is creating a “social inclusion” minister in the person of Heather Bleah. This is beyond Labour. It’s even beyond New Labour, and it’s certainly beyond parody.

  • Verity

    PS – This announcement was at the Scottish conference and Blair was “seeking to dispell the notion that his government had run out of ideas”. No bloody fear of that!

  • Paul Marks

    A good posting.

  • Paul

    But I never said that. All I am saying is that good does not come from governments, it comes from an underlying culture that values liberty.

    Mr. DeHavilland has hit upon the crux of the matter. If a culture doesn’t value it’s rights and liberties, the politicians will free them from the burden of those rights and liberties. I’m an American, myself, and I believe the only thing that has saved us so far is that some of the people we elect really do see unrestrained government as the problem, not the solution.

    Not that the situation isn’t smelly. It’s in that awkward, in-between stage. Too late to work within the system, but too soon to just shoot the bastards.

  • I like to use quotes from people more eloquent than myself to assist in making my points.

    “If people are free to do as they wish, they are almost certain not to do as we wish. That is why Utopian planners end up as despots, whether at the national level or at the level of the local “redevelopment” agency.”
    –Thomas Sowell