Sunday, July 24, 2005

The meaning of moderation: Beware the siren call of extremism

It may now be somewhat self-serving of me to link to The Moderate Voice, but here I simply must. Joe has written a passionate and thoughtful defence of being a moderate (and of political moderation generally). Please give it a look here. Joe's analyses of politics and culture are always balanced and nuanced -- which is why I'm excited to be a part of TMV -- but he knows as well as anyone that moderates tend to be squeezed out of the left-right bipolarism that characterizes so much of today's political discourse, especially in the preaching-to-the-converted echo chambers of the blogosphere.

In Book VI of Plato's Republic (Bloom translation), Socrates and Glaucon address moderation, one of the four cardinal virtues:

Socrates: Now is it possible that the same nature be both a lover of wisdom and a lover of falsehood?

Glaucon: In no way.

Socrates: Therefore the man who is really a lover of learning must from youth on strive as intensely as possible for every kind of truth.

Glaucon: Entirely so.

Socrates: But, further, we surely know that when someone's desires incline strongly to some one thing, they are therefore weaker with respect to the rest, like a stream that has been channeled off in that other direction.

Glaucon: Of course.

The problem nowadays is that there is no longer such a vital distinction between "wisdom" and "falsehood". Nor is there much of a striving after "every kind of truth". And, indeed, what we find on both ends of the political spectrum, among liberals and conservatives alike, are narrow and sometimes extremist advocates whose "desires incline strongly to some one thing" to the exclusion of "the rest". Plato is discussing the difference between philosophers and non-philosophers (and false philosophers), but, as always, the lessons of the Republic are universally applicable.

However I label myself, or however others label me, I would like to think of myself in political terms as a partisan of moderation. History is replete with examples of what's wrong with extremism, and of what can go wrong when extremism takes over, whereas moderation is, as Leo Strauss understood, both one of the central virtues of citizenship and one of the key elements of classical political philosophy: "For moderation is not a virtue of thought: Plato likens philosophy to madness, the very opposite of sobriety or moderation; thought must not be moderate, but fearless, not to say shameless. But moderation is a virtue controlling the philosopher's speech."

Politically speaking, today's moderates -- liberal, conservative, centrist -- must be fearless as they attempt to navigate between the Scylla and Charybdis of extremism.

Reader: How can you call yourself a moderate?
TMV: Like this: I'm a moderate.

"We're going to keep reading ALL ideas and positions and present to readers on this site MANY IDEAS from MANY people -- and our own." Exactly, Joe. That's the way to do it.

Moderates, beware the siren call of extremism. It will lead you to your destruction.

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  • OK, this is from an interview that appeared in the ici this week... it's the Leo Struass reference by a member of the BJM that makes this so shareable.

    Interview is with Brian Jonestown Massacre:
    Pouvez-vous nous parler de votre nouveau mini-album, we are the radio, qui vient de paraitre?

    Je crois que cette musique va non seulement survivre a nos nombreux detracteurs, mais elle survivra aussi a cette merde de mouvement neo-conservateur intestinal (voir Leo Strauss).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:46 PM  

  • Moderation has increasingly gotten a bad name throughout the world. Extremists, in either thought or deed, seem to set the agendas. People increasingly consider moderation to be craven and/or confused.

    It's sad that people cannot accept that there is no monopoly on truth. Interesting, too, that while people talk about post-modernist relativism, the fact is people increasingly seem to believe that there is ONE truth to which all right-minded people should adhere. There is LESS understanding that different perspectives can produce different understandings of truth and that it is often valuable to understand those perspectives. I've always found that if you make an effort to understand someone else's position, it often makes you question your own. And perhaps that's why people don't want to do that.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:36 AM  

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