The Virtue of Moderation

Andrew Sullivan on moderation:

And by moderation, I don’t mean the mushy middle, defined by the center between two poles. I mean the capacity to tack left and right to resist extremes of both kinds, to retain principles that endure against the passions of the moment, to seek compromise rather than conflict, to prefer skepticism and slow change to “moral clarity” and revolution. Conservatism isn’t about opposing all change; it’s about finding the best ways to adapt to constant change while keeping the best of the past.

He then quotes from Aurelian Craiutu’s Faces of Moderation: The Art of Balance in an Age of Extremes:

I don’t want to identify moderation with centrism. The way in which I think about moderation is that it can be found on both sides of the political spectrum. There are moderates on the left, in the center, and on the right.…

I think it’s one of the riskiest things to try to act as a moderate when passions run high, when reason is overcome by passion and most people just want to shout and express their dismay, their concerns and so forth, without concern for political moderation. It’s a virtue only for courageous minds. It’s a paradox. The image of moderation is that of a weak virtue. And I think that it is a difficult virtue that requires a great dose of courage, nonconformism, and risk.

Both Sullivan and Craiutu describe moderation as a virtue in the sense of an ordered disposition of the soul—and they set this virtue of moderation against unreflective partisanship. In other words, the relevant kind of moderation is defined not by its ideological content—it can be found equally in those on the left, in the center, and on the right—but by its distinctive quality as an ordering of the soul. Partisans (or mere partisans) “shout and express their dismay” while seeking, or despairing of, victory for their side. Moderates (in the relevant sense) exercise their judgment by asking, what is the best outcome I can reasonably hope for in these particular circumstances? What outcome will best preserve or promote what I and those who agree with me value, while giving us time to persuade those who disagree that they are wrong? Or to find an even better compromise. I like it. This is how I’m going to use the term moderate from now on.

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