The Danger Caused By Moderates
Posted on March 1, 2017
From a certain point of view, the current crisis was entirely caused by moderates and centrists. Moderates, please bear with me. Assume for the sake of argument a simplified model in which one side in a deep political division is strongly unified, and is thoroughly radical and extremist in its ends, means and rhetoric, and seeks to utterly overturn the existing socio-political order, subject to just two limits:
1. They more-or-less obey ordinary laws, or at least don’t get caught;
2. They do not reveal their radicalism all at once. Instead they use a method of step-by-step change, focusing especially on changes in rules or practices that help them and hurt the other side–but with the ultimate goal of destroying all opposition.
Assume that the other side is ideologically motivated but generally committed to the general existing Constitutional order and the rule of law and reason. They commit the usual number of political peccadilloes, e.g. sometimes shading the truth about facts, but in principle they support the unwritten rules of self-restraint that make a democracy practical. In particular they do not seek opposition destruction.
Also assume that moderates and centrists hold the balance of power can determine each small issue as it comes up. And suppose they always assume moral equivalency between the two sides, and seek a compromise in the middle (even if that might include a small element of injustice). And suppose the outcome of each small battle is decided in a way that gives radicals half of what they demanded. And then step by step the radicals escalate their demands and their rhetoric, and get half of what they demand in each new round. And so they gradually move the country towards the radical outcome they had in mind all along. And centrists and moderates ease their way at each step.
There is only one way to stop destruction of a democracy through a path of radicalization. Those in the center must give up on the idea of moral equivalency. They must give up on the idea of splitting the difference. They must call a lie a lie. They must point out that the lies on one side vastly outweigh the lies on the other in both quantity and import. They must call out irrational arguments. And above all they must oppose each act of deconstruction of the established order, and they must oppose each act of destruction by the opposition.
None of this requires accepting the ideologies of the more reasonable party. It does however require rejection of the ideologies of the radical party. That’s what centrists have not done. And that brought us to our current crisis.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. in a somewhat similar struggle:
“I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Planner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”