Sunday, 28 November 2021
‘The Centre Cannot Hold’

 . . claimed W. B. Yeats in “The Second Coming.” 

by James Como

As a young man (born with the Cold War) I was puzzled.  There was much Hitler-talk, hardly any about Stalin; no Mao.  And because of the Holocaust I understood that, and that Stalin was an ally, sort of, though I intuited very early on – was it the Korean War that did it? – that no Commie could be trusted, ever.  I finally realized that what really puzzled me was the implicit assumption, in public and social discourse, that Hitler and Stalin were somehow fundamentally different.

As for discourse, I could profit from ‘conversation’, argument in particular, no matter the mix (from e.g. the liberal Max Lerner), and there was a mix, often marked by sharpness, certainly, but with mutual respect.  Each side – of the many sides – policed its own.  Liberals were dominant, as Lionel Trilling aptly described the culture in 1950 (The Liberal Imagination), but, if smug, not unbridled, and though its opposite was often marginalized it was too cogent to ignore.

Eventually the allure of ideas and arguments to support them coming from the Right were irresistible. I became a Conservative. The single big idea is, simply, Freedom.  It trumps every other civic value.  I knew limits of course, but these were recognized by all, part of an unwritten social contract. 

But always there were extremes of all stripes, and they were seen as such, saw themselves as such.  Their objective was not to establish a new Center but to defeat it, to make the culture eccentric, thus making more space for this or that extreme. 

Now both extremes are gargantuan, taking up so much oxygen that the Center is no more than a sliver, and for the worst of reasons: very few people want to be there.  We have backslidden to a monopolizing binary-think.  Watching this I’ve come to realize that what I discerned as a child is true  There really is no Fascist-Communist divide; in fact, no divide between the extremists of all ilks. 

Hitler is Stalin is Mao is Fidel is Mussolini is Pol Pot is the Oath Keepers is Proud Boys is the Klan is Black Lives Matter is Antifa (with Q-Anon either a parody or a psychopathology).  So now we have neo-Fascists and neo-Stalinists (and crypto-versions of both, in the media, in academia, in Congress). 

In fact all adhere to the ideology of neo-Totalitarianism: no nuance, tolerance, curiosity, listening, attempts to persuade.  It is a religion, with its dogmas and cults and heresies and retributions.  True Believers all, as Eric Hoffer described them so long ago in his book by that name (1951).  And still we talk as though there were a difference between the extremes. 

But something must come between them, something wide and solid; no, not a third way but a genuine alternative to the twin siblings. No fan of isms, I nevertheless recommend a new one: Centrism.  I do not mean a Relative Centrism but a needle, tilting sometimes this way, sometimes that, but fixed on shared values and allegiances.  Unembarrassed Patriotism, for example; a cultural stance that does not seek to annihilate the opposition.  Is that retro?  Call it conservate if you must call it something.

A word on ‘moderate’. One’s stance usually has three vectors: direction (content), intensity (strength), and salience (relevance), and one can be moderate or immoderate in each.  For example, I am pro-life (though with some nuance). I hold that strongly.  And, yes, it matters greatly, though not enough to turn me into a single-issue voter.  But I am moderate in tone.  Center-Right.

Case in point: Amy Klobuchar speaks thoughtfully, and we can agree on much.  But as a pro-choicer she is a neo-Totalitarian. Still, she remains a Centrist in the mold I have in mind. For example, at his confirmation hearing Justice Kavanaugh thanked her for her courtesy. Center-Left.

Finally, extremes are meretricious, the word deriving from ‘prostitute’, as such intellectually offensive.  And these days, alas, an absence of meretriciousness is itself counter-cultural.  A true Centrist will not be sucked into the vortex of invective. 

Could that Center hold, even if not until the Second Coming?

Posted on 11/28/2021 11:38 AM by James Como
28 Nov 2021
Ner reader
I am surprised at the word salad rant-like self indulgent things I see lately in New English review. It would be good if the author explained how it can be that a pro life view can have "nuance." I'd like to see the author explain this nuance. I think there is none. You are ok with leftists killing their children or you're not-- how can there be nuance? Killing innocent people is either wrong or it is right there is no nuance at all. This is a confusing, word salad, failed post. Take a position and defend it. Nuance is for Facebook fools wanting "likes." Thumb: down.

28 Nov 2021
Jim Birdman
This is a problematic article and the author doesn't seem to understand the issue TODAY. To the Left, someone who adheres to the Constitution IS an extremist. Many leaders of the Left have said as much-- the Constitution is outdated, needs to be rewritten, was written by white men when slavery still existed, etc., etc. The left's goal is to overthrow the Constitution. Those on the right who defend the Constitution and the culture are called extremists. We're not. We are centrists because a Constitutionalist is a centrist position. Or was. Who is extreme on the right? Would the author be implying Trump, Bannon, and DeSantis, etc. are extreme? Why? Because they love America, defend it, defend the Constitution and aren't willing to compromise when it comes to defending our freedom? When it comes to defending American jobs and American citizens over foreign workers, massive immigration, and our economy? _______******________ I have no doubt the author would consider me extreme. I love Trump, I love America, i love our Constitution. I support free speech, abhor the policing of microaggressions and speech codes, the evaluation of individuals by skin color over merit. I think women and men are of equal value but know men and women are different in many ways. _______******________ This is considered extreme thinking by the Left. These are issues, though, that I can't compromise on. And, since I won't compromise, it seems I am a far right extremist according to the author. I am a Centrist who is categorized as an extremist by the left and by many in the GOP who want to compromise on these positions. _______******________ To be clear, in my view, anyone who wants to push Critical Race theory over merit and character is someone to avoid any compromise with. I would vote for politicians who understand this and who understand that massive immigration of people who do not appreciate western civilization should be avoided. For this I am called a xenophobic extremist by the Left. _______******________ The author is about 10 years behind in this culture war.

29 Nov 2021
Tone over content makes a centrist? How confusing. Moral conviction is great as long as we have nuance and don't speak too loudly? How does Como think we reached the point we've reached? I agree he is at least 10 years behind on this. Unfortunately I can't give him the lessons he apparently missed in a short comment section. Very much a shame, though.

29 Nov 2021
Send an emailHoward Nelson
@Ner Reader: Re nuances — Essentially, basically, fundamentally nuances exist due to absence of agreement of when the fetus becomes a human being and what it’s rights are. Among nuances for those judging continuing life of the fetus are: is the fetus the result of a rape, is the fetus severely brain damaged, is the fetus in its development a threat to the life of the ‘mother’ ...? Secondarily, whose resources, for how long and at what cost will be expended to support the non aborted child. Some call these judgments nuances, others call them annoyances. The fetus relies on our definition and depth of humanity and it’s priorities. @James Como: Your blanket rejection of extremes is illogical. Suppose the truth upon which action is to be taken is at an extreme of the proposed actions? Where is your recognition of the dictum that the test of truth is whether it remains true at all extremes as well as all in-betweens to which it’s applied? I’m thinking of that other JC who exemplifies unconditional love to all.

2 Dec 2021
Edward L. May
Proud boys and Oath keepers? These 2 don't belong on your distinction without a difference list, otherwise it's a fine list. I am not sure what Qanon is.

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