"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Political Moderates–Principled Or Wishy-Washy?

In an article in the New York Times (5.12.15) David Brooks notes that the political center is becoming more and more crowded.  Republicans and Democrats both are hewing more to a moderate line, offering greater chances of reconciliation and collaborative governance. Centrists by their very nature see both sides, are less given to absolutism and irrevocable opinions, and are in a position to offer a conciliatory hand. Centrist moderation is the key to compromise, mutual respect, and the timely passage of laws in the public interest.  If the trend continues, the childish two-year old tantrums of Congress may soon be things of the past.

Apparently the center is being crowded by former ‘progressives’ who realize that their positions on abortion, LGBT rights, redistributive and punitive fiscal policy, and the primacy of the State have become suspect in many quarters and downright seditious in others. Liberals see that the breeze is stiffening against them.  Their righteousness is beginning to smell bad, and their ex cathedra pronouncements on race, gender, and ethnicity – an annoying and irritating drumbeat – would drive anyone to a conservative sanctuary.

LGBT demo


Although the migration to the center is led by progressives, they are not alone. Many older conservatives who remember the simpler, less confrontational and antagonistic days of Ronald Reagan, feel ill-at-ease with the new barnstorming fundamentalist newcomers who have lost the former President’s principled conviction and have conflated a punitive Biblical interpretation with a lack of social compassion.  These conservatives, tired of religious fundamentalism, bigotry, and flag-waving patriotism gravitate to the center and jealously protect the perimeter.  They still believe in the principles enunciated by Reagan – individualism, small government, family values, and patriotism – but have no patience for the vitriol and reactionary attacks against even the most moderate democrats.

Image result for images ronald reagan

Despite the centripetal migrations of both Left and Right, the bases of both parties remain largely intact.  Neither fundamentalist Southern conservatives nor Vermont liberals are likely to abandon their core principles, nor should they.  Brooks’ argument for centrism and moderation misses the point. Conciliation at the expense of values and principles is no virtue.  Political opinion is no mere matter of rational judgment. 

For conservatives gay marriage is not a secular, civil issue, but a deeply-held religious and philosophical one.  Reproduction is both a Biblical imperative and secular one.  Children fulfill Biblical prophecy and are irreplaceable expressions of goodness and innocence.  Mother-and-father families replicate the sexual and reproductive essence of Adam and Eve, and fulfill the psychoanalytical imperatives of Freud and Adler.  Children who are born and grow up in a heterosexual world but who are raised in an artificial same-sex crucible, face a difficult maturation. Sexual difference in marriage is at the heart of society.

Adam and Eve


For progressives the scenario is quite different. There is no such thing as religious or philosophical absolutes.  Human society is not governed, as conservatives say, by the ineluctable force of human nature; but by the rational interventions of the collective. There is no such thing as biological or genetic determinism. The course of human events can be altered for the better.

Within that perspective, social injustice and economic inequality are not givens and products of human nature, but expressions of human enterprise which can be moderated, reformed, and restructured for better ends.

In short, the extremes of Right and Left should be taken seriously.  They should not only be tolerated but encouraged.  Why should one try to uproot conservatives’ fundamental beliefs, shake off the dirt, and replace them in the shallow ground of the center? American society benefits from those who deeply and implacably hold a profoundly religious position.  How could conservatives possibly dismiss the Bible, social history, and genetic imperatives?  How could they arbitrarily reject the precepts of morality that have been applied for centuries? How could they ignore the deterministic evolutionary history of Man for whom millennia of venality, self-interest, territorial expansion, and individualistic expression of will have been the rule not the exception?

Image result for images darwin

At the same time one should not expect progressives to abandon their belief in secular progress. The world is clearly a better place than it was 1000 years ago in terms of socio-economic well-being.  Is there not some validity to the idea that if humanity has progressed so remarkably from our primitive beginnings, it can evolve much further? Is not the collective enterprise of a well-meaning and purposeful society worth something?

There seems to be no good reason at all for a moderate, conciliatory, and accommodating political center.  Yes, consensus on trade, foreign policy, and tax reform would certainly be easier if the radical elements of both parties would keep quiet.  Gridlock might be broken, and civil society might return to an imagined golden age of communitarian respect; but at what cost? We need to have the basic philosophical principles of the Left and the Right front and center at all times. They challenge who we are, not simply define our political choices.

I have always admired Pope John Paul II for his condemnation of Protestant sects and cults which, in his opinion, were making access to the Divine a parlor game, a theatrical and melodramatic performance.  There is no way to understand the complex and ineffable nature of God without out rationality, exegesis, and philosophical context. To be ‘born again’ is a far more profound intellectual and spiritual experience than storefront churches admit.

Image result for images pope john paul ii

John Paul and other Vatican conservatives have given no ground on Catholic moral teaching.  It has not mattered to them that American public opinion has turned against the doctrinaire teachings of the Church and tended towards secular views on abortion and reproduction. John Paul insisted on the inviolability of marriage between a man and a woman, the sanctity of childbirth, and the integrity of the family despite criticisms to the contrary. The Catholic Church was a Platonic beacon.  John Paul knew that most Catholics would disregard his teachings, but someone had to hold the line against secular expediency.

The same holds true for ‘extremists’ on the Left and the Right.  Both are right to express and defend views that are unpopular with many.   Conservatives in their fight against same-sex marriage are restating Biblical principles – not the negative dismissals of homosexual concubinage, but the very positive references to family, procreation, and the spiritual evolution that comes with being in the presence of childhood innocence. Liberals in their own way are invoking a very Christian sense of duty and compassion for others; and by staking out a moral ground which is based on the community not the individual are restating a positive social principle.

What does one gain from the accommodated middle? An incremental legislative progress, perhaps; but nothing fundamental and essential. In fact, there can be no accommodating widely different socio-political viewpoints; and the value of elections is the exposition of conflicting principles.

It would be good if the Right and the Left contested elections on principle so that the rest of the nation could understand and appreciate both the fundamental differences in philosophical approaches and in the application of principle to action; but politics being what it is, the voter is consigned to slogans, logos, and PR.

So, the Middle is overrated.  While it may provide a sanctuary for acrimonious debate, it offers little else.  The intellectual vigor is on the margins.

As much as I get exercised every time a Bernie Sanders quote is posted on Facebook, I am glad that his radical views on social integration are being aired; and as much as I wince at the anti-governmental screeds that circulate on the web, I am glad they are posted.

Although I understand that most evangelists on the Left and the Right have long since lapsed into knee-jerk partisanship, I still hope for sincere reflection.  It is our obligation to pay attention to their screeds, not for their hostility and anger, but for the kernels of philosophical truths they espouse whether they know it or not.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.