Who is a moderate now? Who’s a centrist?
Until recently, the answer to such questions was primarily ideological. Centrists were middle-of-the-roaders who rejected the purity of the ideological left and right. I will confess: I used to have considerable scorn for such people. They often acted as if being in the middle was a sign of intellectual superiority.
After all, on some issues the pure ideological position is often smarter than the split-the-difference compromise. If one side wants to build a bridge over a canyon and the other side doesn’t, the smartest course isn’t to build half a bridge that stops in thin air.
In recent years, though, the definition of centrism has been changing before our eyes as the culture has become more partisan.
Karen Stenner, an economist who studies authoritarianism, has identified what she calls an “authoritarian predisposition.” She is quick to note that authoritarianism isn’t synonymous with conservatism or any other ideological…