One of the greatest regrets that any anti-war centrist ought to have when looking back at the second half of the 20th century is that the majority of centrist politicians in the US and Europe were not opposed to war, but were merely opposed to the intensity of the wars advocated by the right. Thankfully, this pro-war trend was not true of centrists in Asia and Africa who viewed the post-colonial experience as an opportunity to eventually abandon war as a means of conflict resolution. This was certainly the case for example, in respect of the growth of ASEAN in the aftermath of the Malaysia-Indonesia confrontation.
As ASEAN grew from a Cold War alliance designed to limit confrontation among the non-communist states of south east Asia, into a post Cold War body of nations striving to pool their geopolitical and economic weight in order to create a more peaceful and prosperous south east Asia – one could call such a development a supreme triumph of genuine centrism. Not only did the group that allowed Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to put aside their differences by the end of the 1960s grow into an organisation that came to include Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar by the turn of the 21st century, but this development clearly showed that the appetite for Cold War era alignments in south east Asia had long ago faded into a past that no nation in the region seeks to revisit.
But as the 20th century became the 21st, western politicians calling themselves centrists (much of the time such people were and remain radical liberals), found that they had grown even more fond of war than their 20th century forebearers. For much of this period, anti-war centrists found common cause with the consistently anti-war left of the US and Europe. This was evidenced by the high turn out in 2003 during multiple rallies against the war on Iraq that was spearheaded by the neo-conservative US President George W. Bush and the ideologically liberal UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Since then however, much of the energy that the anti-war left displayed has largely been co-opted by liberals who claim to represent a new version of the left and one that is in most cases as pro-war as the neocon right. While longtime homeless, as the first two decades of the 21st century draws rapidly to a close, anti-war centrists are now more lonely than ever…or are we?
The Donald Trump years have helped to highlight a phenomenon which predates Donald Trump: the phenomenon of the young anti-war right. This is distinct from anti-war libertarians who have existed in American in particular, for decades. The reason that it is important to draw this distinction between the authoritarian right, paleo right and far-right on the one hand and libertarians on the other, is because most forms of libertarianism sit somewhere in the centre for all intents and purposes.
But today, mostly young individuals who argue for strict top-down controls of the culture, opposition to both illegal and legal immigration, those who are inclined more towards fanatical rather than moderate views on religion and those who feel that right-wing uprisings are something to be admired, also tend to agree that foreign wars are incorrect.
While most centrist disagree with everything such young right wingers stand for, anti-war centrists will at least certainly welcome the right into the non-denominational anti-war big tent, just as anti-war centrists made common cause with the anti-war left for decades.
If members of the right oppose war due to being fiscal conservatives, as a centrist myself I would welcome this. But as the young US and EU right tend not to care much about fiscal conservatism (quite unlike libertarians and many classical centrists), one suspects that the reason the young supporters of the US and EU right tend to be anti-war has a lot to do with the big lies that liberals and pro-war “centrists” (aka liberals in all but name) used to sell their devastating wars.
Prior to the mid-20th century, most politicians agreed that wars were matters of self-defence, national pride, competition with another great power or a desire to simply conquer the resources of a militarily inferior entity. Then however, the liberal imperialism of the late 19th century which was always easily exposed as farcical, warped into a Frankenstein monster by the end of the 20th century.
The liberal war mongers sold war after war as a “humanitarian mission” using such terms as “right to protect” in order to justify the violation of well established international law in order to exercise a self-anointed right to kill – in some cases by the millions. Tony Blair outlined this grizzly propaganda during a speech he delivered in 1999 at the University of Chicago, a speech which to this day is represents the clarion call for killing people in order to pretend that one is saving people. Not to be outdone, in 2002, Samantha Power (Barack Obama’s UN Ambassador) authored a book called A Problem From Hell which again laid out the perverse case for making war in order to achieve the aim of peace.
At this point, it would seem that the seed was planted in the minds of the US and EU young right that even if they felt that the thesis of Blair and Power made sense, their penultimate conclusions were wrong. In other words, while not challenging the absurd notion that being blown to smithereens helps to make one free and democratic, the young right simply reverted to old fashioned ultra-nationalism which said ‘we don’t want to help foreigners…not with our cash, not with our sympathy and not with our bombs’.
In this sense, the right have reached a sound conclusion by invoking a deeply aggressive, troubling and reactionary methodology. That being said, they have reached a sound conclusion nevertheless and this cannot and indeed must not be ignored, no matter how much centrists find the other views of the young right repugnant. Nor can it be ignored that as such young right wingers mature, some of these people have even picked up on the classic anti-war arguments of the anti-war centre, anti-war libertarians and even some on the anti-war left.
Thus, at a time when the centre has moved to the right, the left have moved into the extremes (at least for the time being) and the young right (some would say far right) have moved into a position of opposing war while retaining the other classical characteristics of the far-right, one is witnessing a reality in which the ultra-nationalist far right which had always existed has now become a highly visible and even potent force in an increasingly de-centralised anti-war movement.
What’s more is because most leftist political parties across the west have adopted extreme social positions that are so far from the centre of mainstream social thought, any anti-war sentiments such parties might have are automatically tainted by their association with extremist social movements.
Therefore, if and when the anti-war movement is going to rise to the foreground of western politics again, it will almost certainly not be from the left.