Engaging Culture

Why I’m Not a “Moderate”

After such a polarizing election, it’s not surprising that so many people are talking about “moderation.” In fact, it’s currently being held up as the ideal position to have these days. While on many issues, reaching across the aisle and compromising is important to moving the country forward, I have to admit that I’m not really interested in becoming a “moderate.” As Joseph Loconte has written recently in The Huffington Post: “… No leap forward toward a more just society was ever brought about by political or social moderates. The anti-slavery novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the blockbuster which helped ignite the Civil War, was not written by a moderate. The daring conspiracy against Nazi Germany, the plot to risk all and “put a spoke in the wheel” by assassinating Hitler, was not attempted by moderates. The Letter from Birmingham Jail, a plea to “make real the promise of democracy” and to reject racist laws that “degrade human personality” was not conceived by a moderate. The Polish Solidarity Movement, which defied communist thuggery and created the first crack in the wall of Soviet totalitarianism, was not led by moderates.”

In today’s politics, as in business, cooperation often greases the wheels of change. But during times of great challenge – especially moral challenge – it’s the visionaries driven by extraordinary commitment, passion, and determination that move us forward.

As Loconte continued about Dr. Martin Luther King: “”I agree with Dante,” wrote the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” On the great moral questions of our day — such as the sacred worth of every member of the human family — self-styled moderates should entertain the possibility that they’re not on the side of the angels after all.”

Moderates may make friends, but they don’t change the world.

What do you think? Will you stick with moderation?


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  1. Dr. King, and Jesus, also insisted on unconditional love. The stood fast on principle but refused to personally attack their opponents. This summer I visited the MLK Memorial and was struck by the fact that his statue gazes across the tidal basin at Jefferson’s memorial. Jefferson, great advocate of liberty, owned more than 300 slaves and refused to free them when he died because it would have left his children bankrupt. I wonder what their conversation would sound like…bet it wouldn’t be 140-character sniping at each other.

  2. “…Martin Luther King Jr., along with several other church leaders, had been jailed after leading the first march for freedom on Maundy Thursday in Birmingham, Alabama.Within three days, Andrew Young organized a mass meeting and peaceful four-block walk, from New Pilgrim Baptist Church to the jail, to let his mentor know they were carrying on the struggle. Over 5,000 people showed up for the march. Led by Young, the group was met by a blockade of a half-dozen fire trucks. Firemen aimed hoses with enough water to break ribs. Flanked by the entire canine detail, Police Chief Eugene “Bull” Conner stood ready to crush the movement. As the demonstrators approached, they knelt in prayer, then proceeded toward the blockade…”
    from: “A Testament To The Olympic Spirit: An Interview With Andrew Young,” by Anne Mayer. (Hemispheres, September 1994)

    It was my great pleasure to interview a courageous man, Andrew Young, who didn’t back down in his fight for a just cause. Though fearful, it takes a strong belief and a vision to make a difference in this world – something moderates will never have.

    The day I become a moderate is the day I stop believing……Anne Mayer Mount

  3. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with moderation *as moderation.* If the decision to slide to the middle comes from a fear of making enemies, or a lack of assurance in one’s own convictions, or an unstated desire to take the path of least resistance, then it is a poor and poorly-reasoned choice. But taking a strong/extreme/polarizing position is just as wrong if motivated by fear, lack of critical thinking, or laziness. My political views probably fall mostly into the “moderate-conservative” category, but I hope that it is because I believe it is possible to serve the common good by finding points of agreement. I am also ready to admit that I don’t know everything, and while I do have strong views on many points, there is always something that I can learn from someone with an opposite view. The problem I have with our lack of political moderation right now isn’t that people feel strongly and defend their convictions on both sides of the political spectrum, it’s that few people are willing to concede that intelligence and benevolent motivations *might* exist on the other side and *might* contain some elements of truth. Moderation may just be the easy way out, but “advocates” may simply be unwilling to consider any other points of view or how their positions could be re-imagined without forsaking their convictions. Moderation is dangerous when it signifies a failure to consider, an abandonment of moral principles, or an exercise in politically expedience. On the other hand, moderation characterized by respect and a search for common goals is sorely lacking.

  4. Phil, I guess I’m just unreasonable. Since last Wed., I’ve heard and seen numerous admonitions – most along the lines of, “Now that the elections are over, the people have spoken…so shut up, read your Bible, pray, listen for God and keep your opinions to yourself.” Your perspective reminds me of a quote by George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. All progress, therefore, depends upon the unreasonable man.” I would change his quote slightly to say, “The unreasonable follower of Christ persists in trying to adapt this world to His Kingdom…” Sounds like you’re being unreasonable as well…and I like that about you.

  5. I can understand why one would want to brand extremism as a
    virtue in and of itself – certainly that line of thinking worked quite well for
    all the enemies listed in the examples Loconte used (Nazi, Fascist, Slave
    proponent – all virtuously non-moderate).

    But can we at least remember that Dr. King was criticized
    for being too moderate in his views – calling passionately for civil rights
    while at the same time calling passionately for a love of (not hatred of) those
    that disagreed? (Perhaps Loconte was
    confusing Dr. King with the virtuously non-moderate Malcolm X). And can we at
    least pretend to remember that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was also criticized for being
    too moderate – for, in fact, giving too much humanity to the white South, and
    for elevating above the others the one character that called for neither violence
    nor flight?

    Can we remember that it was the extremists on both sides that
    wanted the nation torn asunder in the Civil War, and it was the moderate
    Abraham Lincoln (who filled his cabinet with factious leaders and forced them
    to cooperate) who wanted both emancipation and union?

    Yes, the willingness to listen to both sides of an argument,
    the ability to acknowledge that there is truth in more than one place, the acumen
    to take good ideas from the left and the right is politically very
    inconvenient. Yes it takes more examination and more work to be a fervent moderate
    than to be an extremist. And yes, not reducing your enemy to a label, choosing
    dialogue over screaming, and not comparing every political decision to Nazis
    and slave owners comes off as very dispassionate.

    But is there really no virtue to be found there?

  6. The problem is that our country has become so polarized that people who weren’t extremists (liberal or conservative) end up being moderates even if they don’t change their views. Plus, in what way are you “moderate”? Are you like “weeeeeelllll” on all issues? Or are you very strongly left on some issues and very strongly right on others.

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