When I hear the word “radical center,” I reach for my gun

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if someone is trying to sell you a solution that purports to be “beyond Left and Right” and is anything other than plain old liberalism, what they’re trying to sell is fascism. Indeed, I eagerly await the Milbank article that will lament the fact that the laudable legacy of Italian fascism has been tarred through its unfortunate association with Nazism. (His dissociation of Schmitt from the authentic Catholic political tradition is a nice step down this path already, though.)

Another highlight of this article is its strange emphasis on Methodism. Excluded from the good kinds of Christianity, though not explicitly mentioned: Lutheran and Reformed traditions, presumably because of their voluntarist (i.e., nihilist) foundations. Weirdly, though, Islam, which is surely the ultimate in voluntarism in Milbank’s mind, gets a couple positive references — continuing the pattern of opportunism in his recent articles, where he’ll happily take up an alliance with, for example, Enlightenment values when it serves his immediate rhetorical purposes.

In addition, his desire to reform the House of Lords, presumably to make it more aristocratic, might help him to find an audience in Tea Party circles, where it’s become something of a trend to try to roll back the popular election of senators and go back to an appointment system. I could also definitely see the “Big Society” idea catching on among Tea Partiers, above all because it sounds really principled but doesn’t come anywhere close to representing an actual political program.

29 thoughts on “When I hear the word “radical center,” I reach for my gun

  1. I have no immediate love for Millbank, but I can’t help thinking that there is an option ‘beyond left or right’ that is not tired liberalism or fascism. Perhaps this possibility is not politically viable at this time, but I wouldn’t put limits on the possibility of changing the coordinates of the political spectrum in the future.

  2. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if someone is trying to sell you a solution that purports to be ‘beyond Left and Right’ and is anything other than plain old liberalism, what they’re trying to sell is fascism.”

    I think you may have jumped the shark with that one. The statement is just begging for either qualification or deconstruction.

    Pax Christi,


  3. Is it really the case that “the Nazis tried to disenchant the world by enthroning pure material force as the only reality”? What does this even mean? If he’s arguing that the Nazis and fascists were atheist, there seems to be a lot of, what’s the word, “evidence,” against that…

  4. Yeah, fascism sounds a bit right for Millers (I have decided to call him that, supported by approximately no-one), if a particularly wet kind of fascism at times. I’m looking forward to carrying flowers in the liturgy, myself.

    Also, the statements that the academic Left hates “religion” and Chesterton are quite amazing. If I only I could think some big name atheist theorist who talks about Chesterton a lot…

  5. Yeah, there is something distinctly odd there. As well as Zizek, the whole turn to religion, on which Milbank has done much work, seems to contradict the thesis that ‘the left’ is now aggressively secular – Badiou for one when asked said he didn’t think religion was at all pressing as something to be opposed and might be the source of comradely work.

    There seems to be a conflation here between the British left-liberals of a, yes, admittedly secularist bent (Johann Hari springs to mind and obviously Dawkins) who maybe support New Labour (? – seems they have been incredibly critical of it, and the market in Hari’s case) and the kind of radical philosophy and theory in academia that uses Nietzsche, Heidegger and Schmitt, which the Sokal shouting left-liberals in Britain despise as ‘postmodern claptrap’ and in its academic register write the kind of books defending liberalism against Schmitt. I think its kind of odd to think left-wingers tout court whole-heartedly embrace Heidegger, Nietzsche and Schmitt when things such as the De Man affair and Emmanuel Faye’s work happen. Indeed, the scholarship attacking Nietzsche which Milbank draws upon (see the new Introduction to the second edition of TST) to remind that he was very right-wing in his nineteenth century context was published as an overview in the New Left Review and was completed by a Marxists (Domenico Losurdo and Jan Rehmann).

    Ex Cathedra

    There is recent precedent for thinking beyond right and left is commonly co-terminus with fascism – The International Third Position amongst other stances.

  6. To jump off one of your asides, the historic relation of British Methodists to the Labor party seems to be as irrelevant to New Labor (and the younger Milliband) as Bush fils and Hillary Clinton’s Methodism has been to their own politics (though Hillary has had a few nice things to say about the influence of Wesleyanism on her thought).

    The odd thing, though, about Milbank’s mention of Methodism has to do with American Methodists existence as pretty close to the mainlinest of mainlines (we are in close-quarters combat with Presbyterians) whereas British methodists have always been dissenters even after the end of the Oaths of Allegiance, etc.. Perhaps that is why seeing Methodisms relation to anything radical seems odd.

    It seems odd to me, as well, but I don’t think it is completely unwarranted with Milbank’s incoherent historical narrative. Methodists are rarely mentioned outside of jokes (Cf. Jon Stewart) or…, so at least it is something.

  7. I agree that his references make a kind of sense — insofar as Methodists are more Catholic-like than Protestant-like in a lot of ways, and of course Wesley was reacting to a lot of the super-voluntarist stuff in the Calvinist tradition. It was definitely unexpected, though.

    I’ve heard rumors that Milbank has some kind of personal connection to the Church of the Nazarene, actually — not Methodism, but still a Wesleyan denomination.

  8. While Methodism might be irrelevant to New Labour, Christianity certainly wasn’t, not by a long shot. Blair was explicit about this. Another example: Robin Cook, who was an atheist, complained that the atmosphere between Blair and Brown was incredibly ‘pious’. Its all over Blair “journey” book as well.

  9. I think what people are saying is that you seem to be rigorously contending that “left,” “right,” “plain old liberalism” and “fascism” are the only possible political options. Hopefully this isn’t true.

  10. No offense to the currently present British folk, but phrases like “the growing hostility to the Crown” just rubs this atheistic Marxist the wrong way – makes me want to chant “Down with Monarchy!” but it feels so 19th century, doesn’t it?

    Plus, the opening of the piece – “For some time I have noticed a curious phenomenon amongst [insert a group]” – is such a classic condescendo-assholish move that it’s hard to move past it to the actual content, whatever it is.

  11. Ben, Have you noticed the rule in the comment policy about not making the comments personal? I think it should be pretty clear from everything else I’ve written here that I would reject Milbank’s article regardless of what he’d said about me.

  12. I am relieved that Milbank has made it possible, through his use of “radical centre,” to return to a serious consideration of the collected works of David Held, Tony Giddens, and that Blair guy. I feel they were neglected through the mid-nineties and into the start of the new millennium.

  13. I do not know if Milbank proposes the right solution (I have serious doubts about there being a “radical centre”) but I believe he has a point. This article was not the “pseudo-progressive” pro-Enlightenment historical reconstruction that we saw with Milbank’s last article which mourned the fall of Christian empires. I think if we applied his critique in US American circles, one could squarely fit it on the worship of Ayn Rand by the most free market purist libertarians (Allen Greenspan comes to mind).

  14. That’s exactly what makes Milbank a radical right-wing thinker, though. On par, I think, with the worst kinds of right-wing obscurantists, like Belloc and Chesterton. He can, even through a haze of poor historical scholarship, see the right problem, but proposes the exact wrong solution.

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