Two Kinds of Centrist

“Centrist” is a cynical political position but a valuable relational position.

Political centrists only find their place relative to those on either side. These kinds of centrists may be better described as relativists. The “center” that they occupy has no meaning without others’ positions. And, presumably, when those others’ positions shift, so will the centrists’.

Centrist political positioning can be good for coalition building, winning a vote, political advancement, and power. But we shouldn’t count on that kind of “centrist” to have others’ best interests in mind. So long as they identify as centrists, they identify as people whose actual positions are fluid, keyed to what others are doing not to conviction.

Relational centrists also find their place relative to those on either side, but in an entirely different manner. They put themselves at the center of various factions so they can understand them, give them a fair hearing, and help create understanding across those factions. When people who hold other positions shift, so will these centrists––not in their policy positions, but in their relational placement. They move so they can continue hearing people from wherever they are.

Centrist relational positioning is intended for peacemaking and understanding. It may not win a majority or consolidate power. Those aren’t its goals.

The political centrist may be quick to dismiss and demean people whose convictions are too far outside the center. Those people won’t be part of a “centrist” voting bloc, so they don’t serve the political centrist’s purposes.

The relational centrist, on the other hand, may be found with those people whose convictions are outside the center, not necessarily to win them to a voting bloc, but to seek peace and understanding with them and for them.

Some political centrists have firm positions and convictions. They only happen to be in the center now. If others shift, they might find themselves lumped in with one partisan group. For these folks, it would probably be better to define them by their actual, firm convictions, not by a relative and fragile “center.”

Some relational centrists have firm positions and convictions. And those positions may even align them with one partisan camp. Their “centrism” isn’t an ambivalence to the issues, it’s a desire to listen and work across divisions.

You can identify the political centrist by his focus on building voting blocs and winning strategies. His desire is to achieve the biggest possible win for his 50.1%.

You can identify the relational centrist by her focus on preventing misunderstanding and aspersions across voting blocs. Her desire is to achieve something that can be considered a “win” for the biggest possible number of people.

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2 thoughts on “Two Kinds of Centrist

  1. Centrists are Biblically featured at Revelations 3.16.
    This article strikes me as a difference without a distinction.
    Or maybe not, as I strive to be a Centrist, where straddling the fence is a balancing act for the uncommitted. (See Catholic Centre Party, 1933 Germany)

    1. Hi Lee,

      I think you’re meaning to suggest this is a “distinction without a difference.” That’s a logical fallacy that tries to distinguish two things where there’s no discernible difference between them. I think you’d be hard-pressed to show that there is no discernible difference between the two kinds of “centrist” I’ve described here. Especially since I’ve laid out some clear and important differences. And, of course, if they are different, then they are obviously distinct from each other.

      You might have to say more if you disagree or if you meant something else.


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