The term radical middle is a type of third way philosophy as well as an associated political movement. Followers of this philosophy claim to improve understanding by simultaneously affirming both sides of apparently contradictory issues, whether that be disagreement amongst Left-Right politics or other disagreement or dilemmas.
Radical middle philosophy
Various groups have adopted "radical middle" as a term to describe a third way philosophy which includes their belief that, in affirming the core principles involved on both sides of a dilemma, the dilemma or disagreement can be rendered moot. These groups argue that this reflects an emphasis on epistemic virtue, by resolving false dilemmas—i.e., finding the excluded middle. Critics argue that this can easily result in the logical fallacy of false compromise.
Followers of the philosophy often consider the wave-particle duality of physics, the Christian doctrine of Jesus as both God and Man, the federalist balance between national and state authority in the United States Constitution, and the Golden Mean of Aristotle to be representative of the beliefs of the philosophy. 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 philosophy in general. Typically, "Radical Center" or "Radical Centrism" refers to the political movement.
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, might be the idea of "sustainably improving choices." This is reflected in the goals of various radical middle groups, which they describe using language such as:
- Maximize citizen choice, individual empowerment, and overall human potential
- Facilitate greater involvement in the political process (e.g., through referendums)
- Being of concrete help to those in the developing world
- Emphasize epistemic virtue, so that politics are grounded in objective reality
- Build character by promoting conscious moral choices
- Expand community by people creating value for each other in reciprocal relationships
- Possess a foundation of traditional values and Common sense
- Enlibra, which presents itself as the productive middle approach to environmentalism
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.
It has been suggested by a minority of Political Sociologists and Historians like Seymour Martin Lipset and Nicholas Farrell that Fascism could be considered a doctrine of the Extreme or Radical center. It is even argued by Farrell that many entities and movements emphasizing radical centrism and the Third Way, like the People's Action Party of Singapore and the New Deal or Great Society Democrats, advocate social and economic platforms that strongly resemble those of the early Italian Fascists, and may legitimately be considered as examples of liberal Fascism. Fascism is based on the economic principle of Corporativism which advocates a large Governmental role in regulating investment into the economy and stimulating Keynsian demand. The economic basis of Fascism would therefore place it in the economic center of a political compass (ranging from Completely planned economy on the Left to completely Free economy on the Right), but on the 'extreme' or 'radical' North, where the North and South axes range from collectivisation or authoritarianism on the North 'wing' to libertarianism or individualism on the South 'wing'.