What is a Fanatical Centrist?: Challenging Paul Krugman's Assertions

Paul Krugman appears at a forum in Shanghai.  (Imaginechina via AP Images)

Paul Krugman appears at a forum in Shanghai. (Imaginechina via AP Images)

“Fanatical Centrist” - /fənætɪkəl sɛntrɪst/

Adjective; definition unknown.


“Powerful factions are committed to false views of the world, regardless of evidence.” The opening statement of Paul Krugman article, “Attack of the Fanatical Centrists,” is both ironic and sententious.

What is a centrist, and how can one be fanatical? Depending on the material referenced centrist can mean very different things to different people. According to the American Centrist Party, “Centrism is a political ideology based on reason and pragmatism considerate of short and long term thinking - Centrism is not defined by compromise or moderation, it is considerate of them….” Merriam-Webster defines it as “anyone who holds moderate views”, which implies that the term ‘centrist’ depends on the era and political climate; meaning there is no set political ideology for a ‘centrist’. Centrist can also be described as one who is fiscally conservative but socially liberal.

What makes the ‘fanatical centrists’ just “another faction whose obsessions and refusal to face reality have also done a great deal of harm…;” a faction whose harmfulness is only rivaled by that of the ‘extreme right?’

“There is no question that the most disruptive, dangerous extremists are on the right.” If Mr. Krugman was referring to Islamic extremism, he would most certainly have a point. However, “Attack of the Fanatical Centrist” is specifically referring to modern American politics. What does Mr. Krugman mean by ‘the right?’

Communication is the most important facet of a working society; its overall importance is highlighted by the power precise language holds. Every authoritarian state in history has restricted, banned, or twisted words to prevent opposition and organization thereof. It becomes concerning to me when there is such a blatant disregard for the meaning of words.

For example, take descriptors such as ‘extreme right,’ ‘Nazi,’ or ‘alt-right;’ powerful words with negative connotations that can make a pariah out of anyone they’re cast on. The frequency of their usage paired with major inconsistencies in meaning have made the above terms lose most of their value, and in some cases become practically meaningless. A few decades ago the vast majority of people, when asked what a Nazi or right-wing extremist is, would probably say something along the lines of, “a white identarian with an unhealthy obsession with World War II.”

Language, especially political and philosophical language, has become increasingly eroded. The modern usage of the word fascist has come to span the political spectrum, lumping classical liberals, genuine fascists, and all those ideologically ‘right’ of Peter Kropotkin into the same camp. The mainstream intelligentsia has instigated a severe degradation of language, causing the majority of mainstream publications to appear at best lazy or out of touch and at worst manipulatively disingenuous. Even recent public polls indicate that 72% of Americans distrust mainstream media publications.

Paul Krugman’s opinion piece, “Attack of the Fanatical Centrist,” exemplifies the above sentiment. At best the article is out of touch and at worst it seems purposely ideologically disingenuous. The first three paragraphs of the article highlight the cognitive dissonance and political bias of both the author and the publication. Is it truly an accurate and objective statement to say that “Radical leftists are virtually nonexistent in American politics…?” When groups like anti-fa have caused riots, hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage, physically attack and harm others, and are considered a terrorist groups in some states? Mr. Krugman seems to be either too lazy to do a modicum of research or he is being purposefully dishonest.

Living in the age of information one wouldn’t think it difficult for a well-connected journalist from The New York Times to be able to back up his claims about ‘right-wing extremists’ and the ‘radical left.’ More pressingly, Mr. Krugman did not describe what type of centrist he’s complaining about in his article. In fact, throughout the entire article, Mr. Krugman never states precisely what he means at all. Taking his time in the first half of the article to virtue signal the right talking points; purposely using scary phrases, like ‘extreme-right’ and ‘fanatical centrist,’ to prompt an emotional response from his audience; e.g. wealthy second wave baby boomers who have voted Democrat for the last few decades.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Mr. Krugman appears to be both disingenuous and out of touch throughout this whole article. The title indicates that this piece is about the perceived transgressions of the ‘fanatical centrists’, yet, as one reads the reader realizes that the article has nothing to do with centrists, but fiscally conservative economists and one Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks. Neither of these are examples of what I would call a centrist, but what can a person really expect when the author hasn’t even taken the time to explain what he means by the word?