The terms radical center or radical middle describe a Third Way philosophy as well as an associated political movement. Followers of this philosophy will and can claim to improve understanding by simultaneously affirming both sides, whether that be disagreement amongst left-right politics or other disagreement or dilemmas.
Various groups have adopted radical center as a term to describe a third way philosophy which includes their belief that, in affirming the core principles involved on both sides of a dilemma, the dilemma or disagreement can be rendered moot. The terms radical center and radical middle are often used interchangeably, although the former more often refers to a political movement or current and the latter to a political philosophy. The latter use reflects an emphasis on epistemic virtue, by resolving false dilemmas, i.e. finding the excluded middle. As a relatively grass-roots movement, especially in the United States, there is no definitive statement of radical middle politics. A primary recurring theme, however, might be the idea of "sustainably improving choices."
In 1955, Geoffrey Crowther, then editor of the UK publication The Economist, declared, "It is to the Radicals that The Economist still likes to think of itself as belonging. The extreme centre is the paper's historical position." While the term radical center or similar expressions have been used in various ways since at least the 1970s (like "rigorously centre" by the French Giscardian movement or the Portuguese Democratic and Social Centre - People's Party during its foundation), its use became more common due to the Reform Party and Ross Perot, who were frequently described as representing the radical middle due to their attempts to partisanize those portions of the American electorate. Despite a strong showing in the 1996 U.S. presidential election, today the Reform Party is not generally perceived as a major player in national politics, though they have impacted state elections - notably with their Jesse Ventura becoming Governor of Minnesota.
Today, the term radical center is most commonly associated with a movement that does not explicitly claim descent from the Reform Party or its ideas, but rather draws its inspiration from the book The Third Way by Anthony Giddens (1998) and Giddens' highly-regarded follow-up book The Third Way and Its Critics (2000). In the U.S. third way politics is most actively represented by the New America Foundation and its book by Ted Halstead and Michael Lind, The Radical Center (2001). Subsequent introductions to radical centrist politics include, most notably, Matthew Miller's book The Two Percent Solution (2003) and Mark Satin's book Radical Middle: The Politics We Need Now (2004). (Interestingly, Lind was once a conservative, Miller was once an aide in President Bill Clinton's White House, and Satin was a co-author of the U.S. Green Party's founding document from the 1980s, "Ten Key Values") The definitive history of "Centrism" in America, and probably the best-selling radical centrist book to date, is John Avlon's Independent Nation (2004, pbk. 2005).
The term radical middle appears to have been spontaneously invented by several different communities around the turn of the millennium, apparently in response to frustration with both extremism and moderation. An early use appears to be from Gordon Fee's kingdom theology course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the 1970s, which helped inspire the Vineyard Movement. He used the term "radical middle" to contrast the evangelical focus on the future kingdom of God with the Pentecostal emphasis on the present kingdom of God. But the first known use of the term "radical middle" was by Jules Feiffer in a comic strip that appears in Hold Me!, a collection published by Random House in 1962.
Radical centrists are related to what is sometimes called the Vital Center in American politics, and similarly claim to be drawing on the best of both sides. However, they differ significantly from traditional centrism, which prides itself on moderation and seeking political consensus amongst the parties; radical centrists, for example, can be quite radical and populist in their stated policies. Radical centrists also can be divisive, as opposed to the non-partisan approach of traditional centrism. Radical centrists are quick to dissociate themselves from traditional moderates, whom they often contrast as the "sensible center", or deride as the "squishy center."
Radical centrists can be found in both left-wing and right-wing political parties, and often form what might be called separatist factions and run as independents. Radical centrists assert that their principles represent the fusion of the best aspects of conservatism and liberalism, and thus interpolate at the level of philosophy rather than policy. They claim these ideological moorings ("radix", the 'root' behind their sociological use of the term 'radical') provide the basis for their critique of society, government and other political movements.
Michael Lind, in his 1996 publication Up From Conservatism, writes that, though American radical centrism is today a minority political philosophy, it was, in fact, the dominant political philosophy within the United States from the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt through Lyndon Johnson — a philosophy that was shared both by the presidents of that era and the majority of the American people. Therefore, Lind argues, the American "radical" centrism of today is simply the adamant pursuit for a return to the once-mainstream political principle of New Deal economic progressivism coupled with a moderate cultural conservatism. This modest cultural conservatism would be exemplified on the political stage simply by the "radical centrist" politician's refusal to politicize or advocate socially-liberal issues like abortion or gay rights. However, the radical centrist politician might spurn any influence or pressure coming from the Religious Right and other socially conservative groups (i.e. pro-life advocates, school prayer advocates, etc.)