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Give Centrism a Chance

Progressives certainly should never be satisfied with the status quo. But with voters increasingly exhausted by years of political polarization, progressive parties that are serious about gaining and retaining power would be well advised to reconsider their opposition to centrism.

NEW YORK – Europe’s progressive intelligentsia have come to scorn political “centrism.” A misguided focus on the middle ground, critics argue, precludes the formulation of political alternatives, leading to the rise of extremist parties on the left and right. Seen through this lens, the corollaries of centrism are populism, polarization, and ultimately growing distrust of democratic principles.

This analysis is not without merit. Democracy requires candid and controversial conversations about the best way forward. Closing the door to political alternatives by blindly embracing the status quo is a recipe for disaster. “Debate is never finished,” wrote the late Polish-born sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. “It can’t be, lest democracy be no longer democratic.”

But this does not mean that left-of-center political parties should turn their backs on pragmatism and moderation. In fact, evidence from some of the world’s current electoral hotspots suggests they should do the opposite. Despite increasing political polarization in many countries, large numbers of voters seem considerably more comfortable with centrist positions than is often assumed.