Centrist politics is characterized by an effort to adopt a middle position between left and right on the political spectrum. It typically involves mixing what are viewed as the more attractive elements of left and right politics, while avoiding what are seen as the more extreme elements.

There are two basic historical roots of centrist politics.

First were the center parties that emerged initially in Europe, and subsequently spread alongside the adoption of democratic government in countries around the world.

Center parties arose in multi-party parliamentary democracies as an effort to find a middle position between parties to the left and right. Typically, they adopt some views from parties to the left and some from parties to the right, while actively opposing what they see as the more extreme views of each side.

Some center parties associate themselves with the tradition of classical liberalism, which emphasizes personal and economic liberty. Many adopt a mix of views drawn from the right on economic matters and the left on social or cultural matters. Thus, some adopt a mixed politics combining market economics, on the one hand, with a focus on social tolerance, inclusion, and protecting the environment.

Center parties emerged worldwide with the spread of democracy through Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Most parliamentary democracies have a party that positions itself between left and right.

The second centrist tradition emerged more recently in the United States.

Its early roots were in a reform movement within the Democratic party. Centrist Democrats established the Democratic Leadership Council and attempted to change certain traditional party views.

They achieved the most dramatic early electoral success when former DLC chairman Bill Clinton became president in 1992.

As president, Clinton implemented two policies that dramatically illustrated a change in direction. He embraced economic globalization through free trade policies, and he signed a welfare reform bill that dramatically rolled back a major entitlement program.

Centrism subsequently became a bipartisan phenomenon as moderate Republicans began to gather in groups like the Republican Main Street Partnership, and to advocate an emerging centrist politics of fiscal responsibility combined with social tolerance.

The popularity of Clinton's centrist style and easy reelection in 1996 became an inspiration and catalyst for center-left parties in Europe, presaging the rise in 1997 of Tony Blair and the New Labor party in Britain, and in 1998 of Gerhard Shroeder in Germany.

Centrist Democrats in the U.S. and center-left parties in Europe have shared ideas and adopted a new basic philosophy that emphasizes competitive enterprise, fiscal discipline, and individual empowerment rather than a reliance on redistributive entitlement programs.

Meanwhile, centrist Republicans in the U.S. have embraced traditionally left cultural policies, while maintaining their conservative tradition on economic and fiscal issues.

In essence, centrism has emerged as a political movement with two prominent features. First, an effort to adopt a middle position on the traditional left-right spectrum. And second, a tendency to combine some of the traditional economic and fiscal views of the right with the social or cultural views of the left.

Subcategories 2

Battle Line with Alan Nathan
Homepage of the "Battle Line" radio show. Discussion of current events and public policy hosted by self-described "militant moderate" Alan Nathan. The homepage provides scheduling information and some audio files.
Weblog of centrist political commentary by Paul W. Helgesen.
Columbus Day Riot
Webzine of politics and culture featuring independent, centrist political commentary with a humorous twist. Seeks to inform, challenge, and entertain the vast American political center.
Hyde Park Declaration
Statement issued at Hyde Park, N.Y. in May 2000 following a gathering of Democratic Leadership Council officials. Affirms principles and guiding philosophy adopted by the New Democrats.
New Democrat Network
The political action arm of the New Democrat movement. Focuses on organizing centrist Democrats, exploring policy options, lobbying, and electing candidates.
Radical Middle Newsletter
Explores ideas and proposals from the "radical middle" movement. Promotes a holistic, sustainable, practical, and compassionate brand of politics.
Reith Lectures 1999
Series of lectures on globalization from London School of Economics Professor Anthony Giddens, a leading intellectual figure of center-left politics.
Republican Main Street Partnership
An organization started by Republicans in the U.S. Congress for the purpose of providing a voice for centrists in their party. Commentary, policy analysis, press releases, a legislative agenda, and a Political Action Committee that funds centrist candidates.
Republican Mainstream Committee
An organization of moderate and centrist Republicans dedicated to building grassroots support and broadening the appeal of the Republican party.
Republican Youth Majority
A nationwide network of Republican students and young professionals dedicated to developing a new generation of Republican leaders who are pro-choice and pro-environment, while maintaining traditional conservative views on fiscal and economic policy.
The Third Way: The Radical Center
Essay by Alberto Assad on the emergence of centrist, Third Way politics in Europe.
Last update:
November 5, 2011 at 2:35:05 UTC
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