Tracing the Lineage of a Radical Center


I’ve been interested for a while in a political Center which would be far more radical and removed from the ‘centrism’ claimed by moderate politicians of the establishment. The position I envisioned would be radical, not in its fusing of radical elements from both the Left and the Right, but in its reading and interpretation of history through the lense of an attitude of ‘apoliteia,’ along with emphasizing a theory of sovereignty designed for the projection of a configuration of society in which people could be ‘freed from the political;’ a phrase Marxists might suppose could only happen through a form of bureaucratic socialism as Zizek contends, Traditionalist conservatives might suppose  could only happen through tribal culture and the family unit, and anarchists will resolve themselves to experience in some Fleeting Autonomous Zone.

   Now, granted, each of these apolitical-political schemes might work for specific covenant communities, but the question remains, how do we get to this panarchial Garden of Eden in which radically different neighbors can share the same countryside without butchering and bombing one another? You’ve already gotten the question wrong if you suppose that your own favored form of sovereignty would be the best for every group. The point is to create a standard by which the mechanism of sovereignty itself, no matter how fixed or inconsistent it might be, might flourish in its true nature and never at the expense of other sovereignties.

   The Radical Center is largely defined by this very question; not by finding commonalities between enormous differentiations, but by locating the narrative axis by which one can, in each possible case, extract the clearest manifestation of power recognizing power. In other words, it is a position that is, above all, concerned with honor.

   Honor, however, is a slippery category. It’s hard to say exactly just what honor is, and yet, most people seem to know what they mean when they say it. Honor is embedded into the fabric of a set of situations and transactions, rather than being something which adheres to a strict formula. In that sense, honor is esoteric.

   If one wanted to nail a feature down, one could say that one’s ability to keep one’s word constitutes honor, but then, it couldn’t be said that one’s ability to boldly face the consequences of not keeping one’s word is dishonerable either.

   Despite the mystery involved in this concept, this is precisely the territory in which a true Center should be comfortable wading; in not trivializing honor through the stratification of principles which, while pleasant sounding, are only eternal idols made from wholly contingent and temporary, all too temporary phenomena.

Many major thinkers and actors in history are often connected to some sort of canonical Center, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, John Dewy, Mark Twain and William James. While these names certainly belong, I think the case for their inclusion has been made many times over already and more diligently than I would care to. I’d like to add people who are often overlooked in this regard.

   One could draw up a lineage of brilliant Left/Right synthesizers all day long, and while these people may be interesting and imaginative, I would rather suggest/inaugurate a series of thinkers, artists and social figures to a Radical Center based more on the metaphysical criteria I vaguely outlined above. Keep in mind that many of them would not necessarily identify explicitly in their works and correspondences as ‘Center,’ or ‘Left’ or ‘Right,’ while there are a number of them who had, on many occasions identified one way or the other quite strictly. I’m not interested in their self descriptions, but rather, in the execution of their ideas, from which one might be able to extract examples of a theoretical Radical Center. Unavoidably, one will recognize figures whom the establishment has either claimed for the Left or cast into the outer darkness of the Right only before changing their minds and deciding that one did in fact belong on the Left after all through a series of clever dialectical games (and don’t pretend this isn’t how the establishment has treated it for the past century), though here, one will see them appear yet again, not by way of some clever argument, but by way of conscious, ironic exegesis. One cannot snatch them up undoubtedly into the Center due to any outer discursive mechanism of consensus, but one can only activate them as symbols by utilizing certain of their theories, writings and general attitudes, which admittedly, are hardly definitive or exclusive from other simultaneous categorical placements. This lineage, in other words, represents a constellation of interpretation. It is not at all exhaustive and will certainly grow as time goes on.

Karl Kraus

The Viennese satirist, though steeped in the media’s relationship with politics, frequently returned to what appeared to be a mission to resacralize privacy and free social transactions from the public and political domain. He was not in bed with any one political party or organization, but rather, single-handedly became a cultural movement of one, letting no injustice escape his lambast. His political views changed dramatically over the years but he always remained true to his own vision, buried though it was under a veil of pessimism and contempt for the violence bred inevitably by the press and its insatiable thirst for intrigue and prestige.

Gore Vidal

Vidal sits in an interesting generational place, for while no one would argue against the fact that he was unmistakably a Leftist, he most certainly survived long enough and had enough politicians in his family tree to see views which, though at one time were associated with the Left, slide over to the Right; for instance, isolationism and eugenics. He referred to himself as a socialist, but it hardly seemed that this meant much more than a highly localized form of social organization which was entirely in keeping with his isolationism. He once ran for office as a democrat, though he was quick to criticize both democracy along with the west, seeing no apparent destiny manifested in its cold, stilted wagers for property throughout its awkward maturation.

Pierre Joseph Proudhon

The first thinker, to anyone’s knowledge, to refer to himself as an ‘anarchist,’ Proudhon proclaimed that ‘property is theft’ but then later proclaimed that ‘property is freedom.’ He understood the paradoxical nature of civilization in this regard, and devoted much of his theory to developing his own brand of federalism, in which the constituent pieces of social organization would not have the power to control one another whilst remaining in alliance.

Alain de Benoist

Benoist was considered a major player in the European New Right. According to many of his contemporaries in the movement, ‘New Right’ was a derogatory, media term they came to accept, when in fact, they had from the beginning not subscribed to being Right or Left at all. Benoist largely left political discourse and, to this day, contends that Right and Left are inadequate terms, in that there are, not only many Rights and Lefts, but that these Rights often resemble other Lefts and Lefts resemble other Rights.

Alexander Dugin

Dugin actually referred to his political project explicitly as being of a Radical Center, as he proposed both a Right Wing reading of Communism and a Left Wing reading of Traditionalism.

Elias Canetti

The writer of Crowds and Power, Canetti was, much like Nietzsche or La Rochefoucauld, much more interested in the psychological and emotional motivations behind social interactions than he was specific ways of doing things.

Paul Emile de Puydt

Puydt coined the term ‘panarchy,’ which saw government as being something one could choose, like a religion. It would subordinate the state to market demands.

Gilles Deleuze

Deleuze, (paired often with Guattari, with whom he wrote some books) posited that the main psychological friction in modern society would be between Marx’s economic concerns paired with the euphoria of Nietzsche’s prophetic madness. He envisions an ‘anti-Oedipal society’ in which humans are not just pieces in a constantly reconfiguring machine, but in tune with their environment.

Georges Bataille

Bataille, first running around in Leftist circles as a young man after leaving seminary and abandoning his christianity, later, for all intents and purposes, seemed to leave behind Leftism too. He was never a great Leftist anyway: he was far too close to its psychological underpinnings and its fundamentally destructive nature. While his peers raved on about delivering the factories over to the workers, Bataille was eager to tell them that he thought Revolution was good because it freed up inner societal tensions. Bataille ultimately discovered Nietzsche and developed an economic theory which was inspired by Nietzsche’s Will To Power, Marcel Mauss’s study of tribal Potlatch, De Sade’s ideas about nature, waste and human utility, along with those psychological tensions underpinning Marx’s theories which made Bataille unpopular with more orthodox Marxists. Bataille was ultimately an anarchist, but greatly valued the community. He envisioned societies in which people would be joined together by their affirmation of the tragic sense of life, more than likely through a violent event, whether a human sacrifice, a potlatch, or some other Dionysian destruction. He started both a magazine and a secret society called Acéphale, which was a spiritual manifestation of his ideas. Rumor has it that the society dissolved when their plans to perform a human sacrifice fell through: they got volunteers among the group to be the sacrifice but no one wanted to perform the act of sacrifice itself.

   In some of his correspondence late in life, Bataille told peers that he didn’t think any two people were equal, and that people could only join together in their difference.

Friedrich Nietzsche

I couldn’t resist including Nietzsche on this list, as he was often dismissed to the Right, stolen by the establishment Left where he entertained their prejudices, only to be adopted by the Right again and on and on and on.

   The Leftist, university establishment typically focused on his nihilistic prophecies about the coming centuries, whilst butchering his critique of values. This half-assed reading was arguably partially responsible for the deconstruction school of thought, which employed precisely the same philosophy of resentment to favor the destructive nihilism Nietzsche warned against; their strongest conviction seeming to be that embracing any of the visionary/romantic aspects of Nietzsche’s work would lead to the gas-chambers, just as the Nazis misread a wholly different message in Nietzsche’s work.

   Though it is, admittedly, a bit dubious to assign a political category to someone who considered himself ‘the first apolitical philosopher,’ we will nevertheless do so here with the conviction that a Radical Center is the only truely apolitical wager with politics on the market.

   Just as the Left was eager to exorcize Nietzsche of all the parts of his thought they considered most dangerous to their ideology, the Right which embraces him now, and especially the Alt-Right, would wish to forget about those features of his work which would certainly align him with most common progressives today. For instance, Nietzsche was against the death penalty, seemed to be pro-abortion under special circumstances and more or less suggested at times that the idea of ‘race’ was fictional (except for when he didn’t). Also, he thought nationalism was idiotic, and tended to criticize the state and capitalism as strongly as he criticized socialism and democracy. Nietzsche reserved some of his greatest vituperation for anti-Semites. As a matter of fact, anti-Semitism holds a special place in his philosophy, as it represents the most clear manifestation of the very resentment on which all of the west’s most destructive morality is based.

   Eugenics seems to have a rather misunderstood place in Nietzsche’s thought. The Nazis and their misuse of his ideas in this regard is rather well documented. They wanted to breed pure German Übermeschen. Nietzsche, however, posited that eugenics would more or less have to be dictated in secret, and that many bloodlines would have to be mixed, almost alchemically, for the sake of bringing about chance and rare genetic aberrations who would be able to rule a pan-European nation (he thought European aristocracies would, perhaps, need a dash of Jewish blood to add cleverness and adaptability to their families).

   He often romanticized ancient Greece, which seemed to him the pinnacle of western achievement and the ideal society.

Max Stirner

Stirner’s most provocative thought, in my mind, is not his ‘unique one,’ but his idea of the Union. It is basically an affinity group or a group which uses its joined self interest to maximize the self enjoyment and interest of all. It’s members salute no flag, as each member is the ultimate measure of that union’s use for them. Stirner offers the possibility of a society freed from the sacred cows, or what he calls the ‘spooks’ of modern life.

Roberto Calasso

Calasso’s work is rigorous in its propensity to both question everything as well as read different schools of thought through one another. He is often just as critical of secular ideas as sacred ideas, displaying that they are often the same, but that that they also hide elements of one another. Largely thinking outside of politics, he also thinks outside of philosophy and literature, often considering thought itself through a spatial, constantly reconfigured understanding; a whole esoteric acoustic which uses different methods of interpretation to discover new forms within the old.

Hans Herman Hoppe

A self-described socially conservative libertarian posited that monarchy was superior to democracy because a monarchy took better care of assets it actually owned where as democracy was based on manipulating assets in order to gain ideological influence. He made pains to say that, while he wasn’t a monarchist he thought a monarch-governed society had more to teach people about free association than did democracy. He even devised the idea of covenant communities, in which people would make a formal agreement with an owner of property that they would follow a certain way of life. Ironically, this meant that freedom of speech was not an absolute right, in that people wishing to vote against the covenant, or people wishing to perform a socialist coup detat would have to be exiled.

Charles Fourier

Fourier’s socialism was a far cry from that of Marx or Engels. In a way, the phalanstery almost seemed to be an idea which would function best as an entity which acted as a parasite within a community in a capitalistic country. One could even expand the phalanstery beyond the commune and into the whole village. The various guilds, assigned to specific tasks could trade, as the outskirts would be where artists would provide entertainment for visitors. Society itself turns into a strange parlor of joint desires and moves organically, in a rhythm the free market couldn’t even imagine.

Robert LeFevre

LeFevre was one of the first real theorists of autarchy, which he distinguished from anarchy. Autarchy means ‘self rule,’ thus leaving room for social accountability concerning order, while anarchy means ‘no rule,’ which would have to be implimented, ironically, through the use of force.

Napoleon Bonaparte

It’s probably a bit disingenuous to say the real Radical Center is not merely a synthesis between Left and Right and then put the first and greatest of Left/Right synthesizers on the list, but nevertheless. Napoleon is probably a good example of what not to do if one wants a true Center, or perhaps, he is precisely what one wants if one wishes to center a disparity in grand style before splitting the world in two. For all of the Alt-Right’s talk about the origins of the Left and Neoreaction’s desire for monarchy, it is strange that few of them ever mention that history dividing line that was Bonapartism. The Left/Right divide might have been birthed out of the French Revolution, but so was Napoleon’s unprecedented and never to really occur again secular (at least in spirit) Left Wing monarchy. Napoleon represents a cleaving of two worlds which entered and exited the world with equal apocalyptic bombast; a cleaving the world was not quite ready for. It is quite puzzling just how many men throughout history could reject the precepts of the French Revolution and yet endorse the potenizing of all its energy in the symbol of that one man, Napoleon. He sacralized the ceremony of tradition with the wine of the new.

In Conclusion

As I said, this is hardly meant to be an exhaustive list, though I felt it was necessary to inaugurate the narratives of a few figures to the ranks of a Radical Center, if only because it was only inevitable that establishment types would quickly start applying the category to themselves as they have been. This list was compiled, not only as a measure against the establishment, but in solidarity with a whole way of thinking which is altogether concerned with integrity in a dying and all too political age, and against the sacred dictum of any one particular country’s destiny. The Radical Center may comprise nations or even nations within nations, but it is ultimately a network of pragmatists whose ultimate trajectory is honor.

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