What It Takes to Be Centered - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
What It Takes to Be Centered
Ben Shapiro on June 24 (Ben Shapiro Show/YouTube)

Ben Shapiro reflected on the stunning rebuke French President Macron received in the recent parliamentary elections. Macron had won his presidential campaign not so long ago by running as the sane and reasonable centrist in a France increasingly plagued by extremism on the left and on the right. He fit the voters’ mood, and beat his thoroughly rightist run-off opponent with what seemed a sufficient mandate.

Media predicted fair winds and following seas for his term ahead. Yet in a short time, the winds have shifted and the current pulls in opposite directions. Macron’s party lost its majority, while the opposition parties on both left and right picked up many seats.

The world needs the center to hold more than ever. Ben Shapiro is right to point out the false center and how to no longer be deceived by its manipulations.

Shapiro attributes this to a growing disillusionment with centrism. He applauds the wisdom of the people to see through Macron’s pretense of wisdom to an ideological bankruptcy underneath. People want a choice. They want politicians who are courageous enough to identify their beliefs and risk their careers to give people a choice. They demand to be trusted, to have politicians believe in the people’s ability and desire to recognize that courage and to agree with worthy ideals. Increasingly, argues Shapiro, people see the balancing act of today’s centrists as lacking conviction and courage, and their politics as merely shrewd manipulation with no deeper goal than remaining in power.

In recent times, Bill Clinton kept his presidency afloat by sharply trimming his liberal ideology to accommodate the American voters who in November 1994 had slapped him down by turning the House Republican for the first time since January of 1955.

We might be excused for looking back wistfully at Clinton after enduring nearly two years of the shrieking ideologues so in vogue in the party that controls the House, the Senate, and the White House. Nonetheless, Rush Limbaugh’s daily criticism of Clinton as a shrewd and cynical triangulator was on target and helped to train a whole generation to see through the pretensions of a self-anointed American ruling class.

Shapiro alluded in his article to William Butler Yeats’ most famous poem, “The Second Coming,” in which Yeats prefaced a dreadful vision of civilizational collapse with the words:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

When Yeats’ poem first appeared, 1920, the world was in an uproar. The great empires which had defined the political picture of Europe — Austria, Russia, Germany — had collapsed. The slaughter of millions of men in World War I led to instability in the post-war world. Lenin and Trotsky were leading a vicious civil war that would result in the 70-year triumph of Communist totalitarianism that killed its own millions without the aid of an outside enemy. Communist uprisings flared out in Germany and Hungary, though less successfully. Bombers struck in America, where a stricken president was hidden away from the public while his Attorney General launched sweeping nationwide raids in response, with contemptuous disregard of civil liberties.

What was offered to a confused and battered world by way of solace? Author Herman Hesse, in his novel Demian, hoped for a new and perfected world that would arise from the destruction, but even to him, the hope seemed on the border of insanity. More vivid was the desolate inner landscape of the people who had suffered the stunning failure of their civilization and who all too soon would be caught up in an even greater failure in the next global war, where it seemed that Hell itself had taken the field and reached towards a permanent dominion.

In The Second Coming, Yeats’ ironic title proclaimed that the redemptive vision itself had been hijacked. What followed the center not holding was:

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

In this vision, conviction itself and its passionate intensity had been lost to the worst. The best lacked it. Thirteen years after this poem was published, passion and conviction were to be found in Fascist Italy, Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, and Imperial Japan — and not so evident in the democracies. Countless of millions of deaths later, it is not surprising that reasonable people should turn away from conviction and passionate intensity. And so they did, voting in faceless governments in Britain and France, eventually involving the bland and passionless EU bureaucracy, incoherent in its politics, inscrutable in their intentions, and jealous of their power, held at a long arm’s length from the people they supposedly serve.

But the world was not saved from the Nazis, Fascists, the militarists, and the Stalinists by passionless bureaucrats. Churchill’s soaring leadership worked by conveying conviction and principle and he had a grasp of the true center that bound people to the common cause of civilization. In words spoken from his lion’s heart, and which touched the hearts of the citizens wo gave their lives and their hearts to the struggle, Churchill spoke to the convictions which united and moved the citizens to give their all:

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

The broad and centered nature of his appeal is not due to lack of either conviction or intensity. He grasped the true center, and he brought to bear a moral coherence that inspired a nearly defeated West to endure and then to triumph.

There are not many Churchills. Not all — and perhaps not most — of those who take a position in the center are truly upholding the center of which Yeats wrote. Too often, those who occupy the center are mere trimmers, at best moderating the views of opposing sides to allow pragmatic though visionless compromise to maintain a temporary stability. At worst, and all too often, they lack principle and pursue no goal greater than their own political advantage.

To grasp the difference, consider not only the politics but the whole lives of of the two centrists we have named, Churchill and Clinton. Consider them, if you would, in their intimate personal relations. It is there that we might see if the centrism which they inhabited in their political life was part of a personal embrace of balance and stability that moderated their own human desire for power choosing to discipline it with principle.

The tawdry mess of Clinton’s personal life has been covered well in Ken Starr’s official report. There has been little enough evidence that Bill’s habits changed that much in the aftermath of his exposure in the impeachment proceedings. Though America chose to react to that as it did to Grover Cleveland’s illicit affair, and gave him a pass, his star lost much luster. Few were surprised when his name was publicly linked with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein and his Lolita Express,

Churchill, on the other hand, remained faithful to his wife Clementine, who in turn supported him through his many difficulties in a career which more than once brought Churchill into psychic distress, his “black dog.” Without being a tiresome moralist, he had nonetheless a personal sense of a center that embraced both moral discipline and a love of life and liberty. By living in that center, his voice was authentic when he spoke from it. His passion and his conviction overmatched the tyrants’. The center held.

We see with Shapiro that the trimmers who fancy themselves today’s elite are false centrists. They do not really occupy the point around which civilization coheres, but only those unstable points which give them an illusion of control.

In our American politics Lincoln and Martin Luther King stand out as counter examples. Like Churchill in Britain, both occupied a true center. Both took their stand for an intensely moral issue central to the entire enterprise of American democracy — actualizing the foundational declaration that all men are created equal. They both conceived of their absolute commitment to that principle in the broadest possible terms, including in their concern even those who they believed were only temporarily their enemies.

Lincoln was standing at that true center when he said:

With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds.

Lincoln called the country to go back to the center point that made liberty possible — the vision of those Bible texts that declare the human being to be created in the divine image and therefore possessed of dignity and power directly from God. He asked all to see the terrible wounds of the war as part of the immense working of a Divine Providence in which all things and all people would have their place. Lincoln tried to share the reconciliatory nature of that vision as the only possible antidote for the horrors of slavery and war.

Dr. King spoke in 1966 of the brutal arch-segregationist, Sheriff Jim Clark, and of power of the true center of civilization:

You look at Mr. Clark you know he’s that way because somebody taught him that. You know he’s that way because his culture has so patterned things that he’s grown up thinking that he’s superior and Negroes are inferior. You know that even his church didn’t help him out to clarify his views too much on that problem. And so he ended up being taught something that he grew up believing.

And so you, out of love, stand up because you want to redeem him and the object is never to annihilate your opponent but to convert him and bring him to that brighter day when he can stand up and see that all men are brothers.

The world needs the center to hold more than ever. Ben Shapiro is right to point out the false center and how to no longer be deceived by its manipulations.

But it was the people of France who just now made this more than a writer’s scribblings. Shapiro asks us to consider that perhaps the French voters are only the vanguard of many people around the world who are no longer willing to be fooled. May it only be true!

But committed, principled people don’t wait for others to move. The center around which all revolves is within us, where the unalienable liberty given by God dwells. By each of us inhabiting that center point, we will demonstrate with every movement of our lives the clarity, principle, vision, and passion we all need to make the world’s center hold again.

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