Moderation in all things (but especially politics)

Barry Goldwater, Republican senator and presidential candidate
Sounds fair enough
I disagree. Even in pursuit of a righteous goal, moderation is still generally a virtue.
Why would anybody want to only moderately do the right thing?
Well for starters moderate can often succeed where radicals fail.
They can build broader coalitions and inspire less fear in their opponents.
Take for example, Abraham Lincoln. He was wrong about slavery: he initially opposed abolitionism and only changed his position during the Civil War. And it was just as well he was. If the Union had an abolitionist president, all the slaveholding states would have joined the Confederacy. Had that happened the South would likely have won and slavery would have survived.
So this is a pragmatic position?
In part but it goes beyond that.
Making changes incrementally often makes them more sustainable. Consider Britain’s slow transition to democracy compared with France’s revolutionary switch. Britain may have achieved universal (male) suffrage after France but got there with fewer reverses and less bloodshed.
Plus radical objectives often goes hand in hand with a willingness to use extreme measures that are inherently undesirable. It is fortunate that debate Martin Luther King largely prevailed in his debate with Malcolm X about the role of violence in the civil rights struggle, not only because his approach was more effective but likely spared America the kind of bloodshed that Northern Ireland saw.
Why are you bringing this up now?
Mostly because Robert Webb inspired me to. In his piece responding to Russell Brand’s obnoxious plea for people not to vote Webb writes that:

You’re a wonderful talker but on the page you sometimes let your style get ahead of what you actually think. In putting the words “aesthetically” and “disruption” in the same sentence, you come perilously close to saying that violence can be beautiful. Do keep an eye on that. Ambiguity around ambiguity is forgivable in an unpublished poet and expected of an arts student on the pull: for a professional comedian demoting himself to the role of “thinker”, with stadiums full of young people hanging on his every word, it won’t really do.

What were the chances, in the course of human history, that you and I should be born into an advanced liberal democracy? That we don’t die aged 27 because we can’t eat because nobody has invented fluoride toothpaste? That we can say what we like, read what we like, love whom we want; that nobody is going to kick the door down in the middle of the night and take us or our children away to be tortured? The odds were vanishingly small. Do I wake up every day and thank God that I live in 21st-century Britain? Of course not. But from time to time I recognise it as an unfathomable privilege. On Remembrance Sunday, for a start. And again when I read an intelligent fellow citizen ready to toss away the hard-won liberties of his brothers and sisters because he’s bored.

While moderates like Lincoln do occasionally receive the plaudits, we do have a tendency to be drawn to radicalism because it’s more dramatic. So for example, the fight for votes for women is often taken as synonymous with the campaign of the Pankhurst’s militant Suffragette movement – which may have been actively harmful to the cause. By contrast, Milicent Fawcett’s larger, more effective and more moderate Suffragists.
This tendency to focus on the drama of radicalism potentially means neglecting the people who really deliver change.
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One thought on “Moderation in all things (but especially politics)

  1. Pingback: The trashing of Russell Brand | Matter Of Facts

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