Moderation in life is a good thing. We must balance our long-term plans with the need for short-term rewards. So we forego spending today so we can save for a vacation six months from now. Many of us drink alcohol but we stop before we get drunk. Life is about taking an expansive view of our interests in these and countless other ways.
Along the same lines, there is value in keeping an open mind about subjects. Dogmatism, which means the refusal to think, leads one away from a reality orientation by turning a blind eye towards contradictory facts. But an open mind is not a wide-open mind, considering each new proposition devoid of context. And it also does not mean that there are no absolutes; you can achieve certainty about particular conclusions you have reached through careful deliberation.
But there are fundamental distinctions about which you cannot be silent. There are fundamental decisions you simply must make. The nature and existence of God is one such decision. Another is freedom versus slavery. These types of choices demand confrontation and it is one or the other that must prevail. Admixtures are unpalatable at best and fatal at worst.
That is why I view the political moderate as a despicable creature. Like agnostics, faced with a choice between two fundamentally conflicting viewpoints, he shrugs and says, “Who am I to know?” David Brooks’s recent manifesto is a bold statement of a lack of boldness, a defense of an indefensible position.
The political fecklessness and intellectual vapidity Brooks laments about the centrists stem from an inherent lack of principle. The two camps are principled: the liberals believe that the state is supreme and should be able to do whatever is necessary to further its aims; the capitalists believe that individual rights are sacrosanct and that government is instituted to secure and protect those rights. The man in the middle—Brooks in this case—objects only to the rigidity of both positions. He seeks a “vision that puts competitiveness and growth first, not redistribution first.” Redistribution is not out of the question; it just should not be the first priority.
In this political calculus, it is only the capitalist vision that must capitulate. Once the sanctity of the individual’s right to life, liberty, and property is conceded, then it is just a matter of degree—the state is supreme, it faces no limit in principle. If you get a group in power that is more oriented towards freedom, then people might get more of what they earn or face less strictures on their activities. But there is nothing to stop the next group from rolling back those concessions or tightening the handcuffs.
This is no time for moderation of our appetite for liberty. Let us be immoderate! We must not be open to the ideas of slavery. Let us be close-minded! Circle the wagons, truck no compromise, revel in their failures. To paraphrase Churchill, we shall fight them on the blogs, we shall fight them in the newspapers, we shall fight them in the town halls; we must never surrender.