The Moderate Mind

By Daniel Stratford

Within the confusion and intensity of the politics of our age, there is a special premium placed on being a so-called “moderate.” However, what exactly is a moderate? It is a term with as many applicable uses as duct tape. Despite this, political theorists have stressed adherence to its time-honored name.

The first thing about being a “moderate,” or adhering to “moderation,” is that one should not identify as a moderate like one would as a “liberal” or “conservative.” Counter-intuitive as this may seem, moderation is not a blind loyalty to a specific ideology. Nor is it the averaging of liberal and conservative positions for the purpose of distilling some sort of mythically idealistic “middle ground.” Rather, being a moderate is being bound not to a specific inflexible ideology, but to prudence and logic. It is a state of mind, one accrued after many years of political experience. It is, suffice to say, not a title that one can haphazardly claim as a political affiliation.

However, if one is devoid of any ideological affiliation, do he then rescues himself from politics altogether? The answer to this question is a resounding “No.” Just because the moderate does not feel for the unbridled passions of dogma does not mean that he at all feels disinclined to participate in the political process. Politics, as this humble columnist has mused time and time again, is a communal enterprise.

As such, it is dependent upon the participation of the entirety of a nation’s populace to function effectively. The moderate simply feels inclined to act within the spectrum of reality and within the framework that republican government has afforded us. Being a moderate is realizing the extent of the subversive potential of speculative ideology. This includes the realization that ideology is utilized by the more politically savvy amongst us as a political football – useful in an election, but harmfully constrictive when it comes to policymaking.

Does this mean that moderates are, out of necessity, independents? This is also a widespread but untrue conception. Moderation and prudence are mindsets, not palpable political entities, and they are characteristic of those who have been around the proverbial block more than once when it comes to politics. Moderates can exist in any given party, and are indeed smart enough to recognize the great participatory value of political parties. However, that is another column for another day.

We stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us in politics. As a result, the vigilant moderate must demonstrate a particular reverence for history. History affords us the greatest of all possible perspectives. It is, as Edmund Burke said, the unspoken union of “the living, the dead, and the as of yet unborn.” As a consequence, the acquisition of and adherence to forbearance in policymaking is very much an evolutionary process which requires a careful study of history. This is because one must know not just where one is going, but from where one came, and where one may potentially journey again.

Because of this, the process of acquiring a temperament that befits the leader of a republic takes time and persistence. Only after one has known the extremes of dogma can one fully appreciate the value of prudence and reflection. However, this is a journey few are willing to take, for it requires not only great introspection, but also an intimate familiarity with politics and history, a journey in which even fewer are willing to embark upon. As an antidote, the enlightened moderate also recognizes the role of informed authority in restraining the sometimes ill-informed passions of the populace. This was also recognized by the venerable Burke, who espoused a special affinity for the graduation of authority that allows the government and the governed to live harmoniously. At the very least, this affinity for gradation provides a more realistic model for governance as opposed to an unrealistic and ill-advised conception of total and direct democracy.

However, if moderates possess a proclivity towards prudence, it does not necessarily make them conservative across the proverbial board. Though the oft-quoted Burke is seen as the father of modern conservatism, even he recognized the inevitability of change. Therefore, if the necessity of change is broadly agreed upon by the stakeholders involved, then let that change not be tailored to the hem of a specific ideological inclination. Rather, let it be hemmed to the waistline of reason, reality, and national interest.

Just as moderation is un-ideological, it is not necessarily elitist. Everyone has the capacity to be a moderate, just as everyone has the capacity to be politically informed. However, many people choose allegiance to the fanciful qualities of a specific dogma over the admittedly stoic and austere dominion of moderation. As James Madison asserted in Federalist No. 51, if “all men” were “angels,” then they would possess divine quantities of prudence and level-headedness. That is simply not the case, as wisdom, and therefore perspective, is learned by traversing the tempests of the sea of life. To those with an inclination towards prudence in an ideological age, it is necessary to paraphrase that quintessential moderate, George Washington: “Let us raise a standard to which the prudent and prescient can repair!”

  Daniel Stratford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]