On the tautologies of “centrism”

A recurring feature of the words I’ve written about here is tautology: some executives are resilient because they bounce back from hardship; the Harvard Business Review essays on the innovation of innovation; excellence is the pursuit of excellence (you’ll have to wait for the book for that one). This problem, I think, derives from the ideological function of business literature, which I have not found to be very self-reflective as a genre. Consequently, it is given much more strongly to jargon than something like literary studies, which is more famous for that problem.

As a result of this tendency towards self-affirming jargon, many such terms often have no independent meaning outside of the approving circles of their own circulation. Centrism doesn’t come from the business world, but it exhibits the same sort of tautological self-affirmation that derives from circulating, without much self-examination, in the airless intellectual basement that is most newspapers’ opinion pages.

The tautological structure of centrism comes from the fact that, in American politics at least, it is regularly presented as a coherent, stable position, even a brave one; and yet its meaning is completely subject to the things it is in the center of. The center is where “most voters are,” in the common phrase; the center is wherever the center is, in other words. But just because centrism is a politics of tautology doesn’t mean it can’t succeed, of course; vapidness is not disqualifying in U.S. political rhetoric. But as socialists make gains in U.S. electoral politics and President Trump upsets what used to be considered the decorum of US government, centrism is now being called to account for itself.

Read the whole thing here at Jacobin: “The Third Way is a Death Trap.”

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