On Liberal Centrism Thomas D. Howes, 3/15/24, Vital Center)

Liberal centrism, as I defend it here, is not so much an ideology as an approach. It is “liberal” in the old sense that connotates both liberty and generosity. This was how it was used by Adam Smith when he wrote of a “liberal plan” for the economy, and by George Washington when he referred to America’s “liberal policy” of religious liberty. Centrism, moreover, is inseparable from liberalism. Among other things, it is an attitude in the context of disagreement that looks for solutions that everyone can at least live with. Thus, according to this conception of liberal centrism, “liberal” and “centrist” are mutually reenforcing terms. To be centrist is to be liberal, and to be liberal is to be centrist. And there have been plenty of self-described liberals and centrists who see themselves in this way.

The United States is a model context for what I call liberal centrism because it was founded with an emphasis on the basic equality of people, and governance by consent. Moreover, its form of governance, with its separation of powers, checks and balances, and rule of law, provides time-tested tools for resolving conflict peacefully and fairly, and in a way that everyone can live with.

Liberal centrism, in sum, is an approach to politics that is attentive to the health of a political community comprised of equals, and thus it is attentive to respect for the implicit and explicit rules that govern our political relationships.