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To be a moderate takes real courage

To be a moderate takes real courage

One good thing about being skeptical of your own opinions is that if the wrong candidate wins you can reassure yourself by thinking that perhaps you were wrong all along and the people who voted the wrong way were right. 

By “being skeptical” I mean to try to avoid extremes or to resist dogmatic positions; i.e., to be moderate.

But isn’t such wishy-washy-ness weakness? 

Well, I was beginning to think so until I stumbled across a lecture by a professor named Aurelian Craiutu (mcconnellcenterpodcast.libsyn.com/website/why-not-moderation-with-aurelian-craiutu-phd) which made me see that moderation is not cowardly, but courageous. 

Mr Craiutu reminds us that moderation is a virtue, one that is taught by Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Washington called it a foundation of our liberal democracy, and it is referred to throughout the Federalist Papers. Moderation is not flashy or proud, but rather, modest, humble and prudent. It is being unsure that one is right. A moderate is willing to learn from others. Moderates reject all-or-nothing thinking. They accept new evidence and they listen to their opponents. They promote civility and compromise. They do not try to crush the opposition.

On the other hand, to be moderate is to know when not to be moderate, or as the old adage says, “Moderation in everything except moderation.” In other words, there are times to be immoderate and those times differ in different ages. What was moderate in 1950 may be immoderate today, and vice-versa.

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There can be moderate conservatives and moderate liberals, which is good because moderation means these sides cooperate to keep the ship “trimmed.” So there are no litmus tests, no lists of dogmas you must adhere to or else be cancelled. Thus, a moderate often swims against the current of the traditions of his or her own political leanings, because moderation resists echo-chamber thinking. 

Consequently, moderates are often accused of being weak, or mediocre, or lacking moral principles, or being opportunists. Moderates get it from both left and right. Moderation isn’t charismatic. If you’re moderate, you’re going to be accused of many ugly things, which is one reason it takes guts to be a moderate. Craiutu likens a moderate to a tight-rope walker who must have great courage while keeping the weight balanced, so as not to fall off the rope.

Moderation accepts the world as it is and does not expect perfection or utopias. It hesitates, and it resists categorizing others as good or evil. Most political issues have more than one solution, so moderates preach plurality of opinion. Moderates seek piecemeal solutions and do not expect miracles. They avoid seeing the world as evil people versus good people. That way of thinking is tied up in what the journalist Terry Mattingly calls the false idea that good people do only good things and bad people do only bad things.

We all tend to think ideologically, but moderation helps us to think politically. A moderate can combine principals from different traditions, so that if one opposes abortion one can also oppose capital punishment; if one supports some forms of gun control one can also defend the Second Amendment. Since power is abusable, a moderate seeks to spread out that power among people who hold different political opinions. 

The ethics of moderation is based on the principle that we are each responsible for our own actions. It is a practical ethics that gets things done, instead of being mired in winning one for one’s ideology. Moderates make decisions based upon changing circumstances, so they are flexible. Maybe a favored policy will work, maybe not, so give it a try, but be willing to change it if it doesn’t work.

Well … perhaps there is still hope for moderation as an effective political position. Of course, it doesn’t mean one believes in nothing or in everything, but it does mean one is willing to question one’s own opinions. Nevertheless, we should ponder the words of Peter Kreeft: “We don’t want to be skeptical about everything. Skeptical about everything makes us a dogmatic skeptic. We want to be skeptical skeptics. We want to have an open mind about having an open mind.”

(Steven Crider is retired physician who lives in Waynesville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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