Agonistic centrism?

What if I cast left versus right in terms of effort required to maintain equality or inequality?

The further left one’s ideology leans, the more one believes that equality with others should require no effort. Enforced preexisting equality of all people is the ideal.

The further right one’s ideology leans the more one believes inequality should be maintained effortlessly. Enforced preexisting rank among all people is the ideal.

A centrist — at least an agonistic centrist — wants to see equal access to an unstable system of inequality, where all individuals have an equal chance to move up or own the social order based on the effort they expend. Work and rise; slack and sink.

effortless egalitarianism <–> effortful achievement <–> effortless rank

I think this is a flawed and maybe vapid idea, but I can’t decide how flawed yet, because my damn cat woke me up two hours early and I’m too groggy to attack myself properly. The questions I plan to confront myself with are: Enforced by whom, exactly? State, obviously, but I think the state is only one kind of organization with enforcement powers. What about the ANT idea of creation of irreversible processes that produce stability and gradually decrease requirements to expend effort? How much stability is permissible. Here I might even lean right of center! But then… how do we ensure equal access to mobile inequality if stable inequality becomes entrenched inequality? A libertarian would argue that removing all state involvement would naturally produce the ideal balance here, but I’m not ready to assume that. It’s too tidy, and tidiness excites my skepticism.

3 thoughts on “Agonistic centrism?

  1. The more left I drift, the more work I see that needs to be done to maintain and encourage equality. Of course the desire stems from a belief in some kind of automatic, God-ordained, equality of worth.

    I wouldn’t place the “pure free market” libertarianism of “work and rise, slack and sink” anywhere on the left-right spectrum: there seem to be far-left and far-right libertarians. Then again, I most likely misunderstand libertarians because I’ve never had libertarianism explained to me in a way that convinced me it wasn’t naive.

    1. I share your misgivings on libertarianism. I believe many libertarians just crave simple formulas for complex problems. Others want an excuse to dismiss social problems. Some want ideological permission to be ruthlessly greedy. I am not interested in those forms of libertarianism. What I find interesting is the belief that the market can potentially be one of our best liberal institutions: a means to support the greatest diversity of perspectives, ideals, talents and flourishing of individuality. I happen to think only a regulated market can do that, which places me on (at least what used to be) slightly left of center.

      But frankly, I am starting to doubt progressivism is still about economics and class. Progressivism can even be viewed uncharitably as a right-wing alternative class interest movement, representing a cultural elite battling a moneyed elite for predominance, with the cultural elite courting non-white lower-class masses and the moneyed elite courting the white lower-class masses, but each ultimately working for its own class interests.

      Most of the very outspoken progressives I know are quite prosperous and well positioned to float above any real loss of status of the demographic categories they see as their “identities”. It seems fairly obvious to me that their real identity is Progressive and that they signal progressive values in order to enjoy the prestige of belonging to an elite class of smarter, more caring, more insightful, more tasteful, better educated breed of person. Whatever is given up in demographic status is gained in class status. See Thomas Frank’s Listen, Liberal.

      1. Hmmm. Our church is full of outspoken progressive people, many of whom live right at the income danger line. Many are outspokenly “progressive” because they are queer, trans, minorities, have been in prison, etc. — in other words, facing threats to their well-being and safety. It’s kind of horrifying that that’s considered “progressive”: it’s easy to lose sight of the actual harm that current conservatism wishes to inflict. They’re not “I disagree but respect your right to be queer”: they’re “I disagree and will actively work to prevent you from adopting a child, receiving medical benefits, etc.”

        That’s one of the biggest weirdnesses right now to me. I actually don’t want to be partisan, and dislike the idea of identifying with one or other Party or Wing. But right now it seems that the criticism of the left is, “Your attempts to help people are misguided/selfish/naive/unintentionally harmful/uncaring/pandering,” while the Right doesn’t seem to be trying to help people at all.

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