AskDefine | Define centrist

Dictionary Definition

centrist adj : supporting or pursuing a course of action that is neither liberal nor conservative [syn: middle-of-the-road] n : a person who takes a position in the political center [syn: middle of the roader, moderate, moderationist]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Of, pertaining to, or advocating centrism.


  1. A person who advocates centrism.

Extensive Definition

In politics, centrism usually refers to the political ideal of promoting moderate policies which land in the middle ground between different political extremes. Most commonly, this is visualized as part of the one-dimensional political spectrum of Left-Right politics, with centrism landing in the middle between left-wing politics and right-wing politics. However, there is arguably more than one dimension to politics, so even the centre has its own radicals as exemplified by radical centrist politics.


An alternate definition is to assume that the two poles in question (e.g., Left/Right) are well-defined, and then (i) define as 'centrist' any position which the Left considers too far Right and the Right considers too far Left, and (ii) define as a 'Centrist' any person who self-identifies more with those positions than either the Left or the Right. The weakness in this argument is that it is difficult to unambiguously and objectively define both poles at once, but that difficulty affects all political definitions, not just centrists.
In practice, the two poles can only be well-defined in a specific place at a specific time, since they differ from place to place and change over time. Thus, "centrism" itself means different things in different places (depending on the local political spectrum) and changes over time. For example, ideas that were considered extremist 200 years ago (such as democracy and universal suffrage) are considered centrist today - while other ideas that were considered centrist 200 years ago (such as slavery and racism) are considered extremist today.

Marxist movement

"Centrism" has a specific meaning within the Marxist political movement. It usually reflects an ideologically held position between a revolutionary and reformist position. For instance, the Independent Labour Party (ILP) was seen as centrist because they oscillated between advocating reaching socialism through reforms and advocating revolution. The members of the so-called Two-and-a-half and Three-and-a-half Internationals, who could not choose between the reformism of the democratic socialist Second International and the revolutionary politics of the Communist Third International, are exemplary of centrism in this sense; examples are the POUM, ILP and Poale Zion. Marxists often describe centrism in this sense as opportunistic, since it argues for a revolution at some point in the future but urges reformist practices in the mean time.
The term "Centrism" also denotes positions held by some of the Bolsheviks during the 1920s. In this context, "Centrism" refers to a position between the Right Opposition (which supported the New Economic Policy and friendly relations with capitalist countries) and the Left Opposition (which supported a planned economy and world revolution). By the end of the 1920s, all three factions had been outmanœuvred by Joseph Stalin who, while casually aligning with each of them in turn, built his own power bloc and had the leaders of the three factions removed from their positions, imprisoned and eventually executed during the Great Purge. At the same time, he implemented policies that drew some ideas from each of the factions, combined with his own characteristic ruthlessness.

Nordic Countries

In most of the Nordic countries there are centrist parties, these share in addition to the a centrist position on the socio-economic left-right scale, a clear separate ideology. This is based around decentralisation, a commitment to small business and environmental protection. They have aligned themselves with the Liberal International and European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party. Historically all these parties were farmers' parties committed to maintaining rural life. In the 1960s these parties broadened their scope to include non-farmer related issues and renamed themselves Centre Party.
The Centre Democrats and the New Alliance in Denmark are not rooted in agrarianism.

Republic of Ireland

In Ireland, the two main political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are both centrist (and also relatively populist) parties and share broadly similar policies with their main division being stooped in Civil War politics. Each party also has groupings of centre-left and centre-right members within them, with neither party willing to describe itself as being "left-" or "right-wing".
The largest non-centrist party is the Labour Party, which describes itself as democratic socialist (left-wing) and has links with numerous trade unions throughout Ireland.
centrist in Danish: Centrisme
centrist in German: Zentrismus
centrist in Estonian: Tsentrism
centrist in Spanish: Centro político
centrist in French: Centrisme
centrist in Finnish: Poliittinen keskusta
centrist in Japanese: 中道政治
centrist in Italian: centro (politica)
centrist in Norwegian Nynorsk: Sentrisme
centrist in Portuguese: Centro (política)
centrist in Swedish: Center (politik)
centrist in Russian: Центризм
centrist in Polish: Centryzm
centrist in Chinese: 中间派

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Laodicean, apathetic, center, compromiser, conservative, even, fifty-fifty, half-and-half, impartial, independent, indifferent, middle-of-the-road, middle-of-the-roader, midway, moderantist, moderate, moderationist, moderatist, neuter, neutral, nonaligned, noncommitted, nonpartisan, on the fence, passive, third-force, third-world, uncommitted, uninvolved
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