Thursday, January 29, 2015

The problem of centrism

Earlier this week, the people of Greece gave Syriza, formerly a far-left fringe party, a plurality of seats in their parliament. Syriza is now the leading partner in a coalition government, and its triumph is a testament to the dangers of centrism.

Centrism is an ideology that declares itself to be above ideology. It is an article of faith among centrists that partisanship skews the worldviews of all non-centrists. To a centrist, only centrists understand the true nature of reality, since only centrists are untainted by partisanship. Thus, to a centrist, the ideal type of government would be one where, after an election, the winning side and the losing side get together to negotiate a bipartisan compromise. That way, no matter which side won the election, the same centrist policies would be enacted. It would be the next best thing to not having any elections at all.

Which brings us to Greece. Since the restoration of democracy in 1974, Greece has been dominated by two major parties, the center-right New Democracy and the center-left PASOK. The two parties took turns ruling Greece until the financial meltdown of 2008 caused the country to enter a major recession. The recession meant that the enormous debts that the Greek government had run up during the boom years could not be repaid unless the country was bailed out by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission (the three of whom are collectively known as the Troika). The Troika insisted that the bailout be accompanied by harsh economic austerity: savage cuts in government spending, in pensions, and in healthcare.

Unfortunately for their country and themselves, New Democracy and PASOK decided that the austerity program ought to be beyond politics, so both parties pledged themselves to support it. Thus, no matter which party won power, the same austerity policies would be enacted. It was the next best thing to not having any elections at all. It was the platonic ideal of centrist government.

Needless to say, Greek voters soon grew tired of voting for two identical parties. The result was that support for both major parties plunged, and fringe parties that opposed austerity suddenly found themselves turning into major parties. The two main beneficiaries of the centrist collapse were Syriza and the fascist Golden Dawn party. The fascists, being fascists, had a tendency to commit political violence, and that cost them support. That allowed Syriza to win big in the last election, and form the next Greek government.

There's another country in Europe where all the major parties have decided to embrace austerity: the UK. And the same thing is happening in the UK that has happened in Greece. The pro-austerity centrist parties are seeing support collapse, and that support is moving to the fringe anti-austerity parties. In the UK's case, the fringe parties that are seeing the biggest gains are the nativist UKIP and the Green Party.

The next elections to the UK parliament are scheduled for May 7.

1 comment:

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

True centrism tends to be promulgated by plutocrats because a system which never challenges the status quo benefits them greatly, hence all of the mushy-middle "Third Way" movements of the Bloombergs and Huntsman's of the world.