“Moderation in all things,” an old proverb, encourages us to avoid the extreme. Oscar Wilde conjoined the phase with, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” In Plato’s Republic, temperance — moderation — ranked there with wisdom, courage and justice. All call for moderation.
Moderation might be good advice but it is advice seldom activated in nearly everybody. In his 1964 speech at the Republican Convention, Senator Barry Goldwater emoted, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.” He received lots of push back on that one. But isn’t he right?
We really do not practice moderation. If you and your spouse when courting, looked for moderation you might have said she/he “is OK.” Nothing special, much like most. We will marry and it will be “OK.” During the vows when the words, “sickness and health” came up the response might in moderation been, “How sick? Not too sick, I suppose.”
Moderation vanishes when emotion, coupled with low intelligence, takes over. In 2003, Morgan Spurlock ate three meals a day for 30 days at McDonalds. It should have been obvious that nothing good would come of that … and it didn’t.
Now of course, should one propose moderation on some issues, the masses would condemn you for being racist or whatever the current insult is. For this, people have lost their jobs and others assaulted.
The Brookings Institute documented that to get an education, get a job, get married and have children in that order would keep one out of poverty. Following this sequence calls for discipline and moderation — no skipping steps.
Living a life from bassinet to burial in constant moderation, while boring, is also impossible. Life happens. Much of what we consider success does not evolve from moderation. Thomas Edison tried 1,000 elements before he found the right one for his light bulb. Not very moderate, that! We just witnessed two men elevated off Pad 39 in a rocket to join with the space station. Sitting on top of an explosion, to be shot into space, is not a moderate act.
People on both sides of the barricades do not display moderation. The protestors for various reasons mass in cities across the world to express their passions. Police staunchly attempt to contain them, knowing they are likely to be injured. Nothing moderate in that. Protesting unprotected by social distancing and masks reveals an inability to evaluate today’s actions and the future’s results. The smart folks can do this; the not so smart don’t and here we are. Mark Steyn repurposed the Mr. Kornbluth’s title Marching Morons to describe the not so smart massing in the streets.
One stands in awe of Michelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine Chapel. He spent four years lying on his back with sweat dripping into his eyes and plaster on his head to create this wonder — passion trumps moderation. The first responder jumping into a frozen river to rescue someone is not a moderate act but of one of passion to duty.
In politics we laud the moderates and grieve they exist no more. They never did. How can one hold a moderate position on capital punishment or abortion or the First Amendment? They are either-or propositions, with no middle ground?
Today we find people on one side trashing their political opponents and even calling for their death. We have the media taking sides positing every story praising one side and condemning the other even when knowing they violate their oath of objectivity, knowing they lose creditability. This leaves a vacuum which immoderate opinions rush to fill.
We owe lives in the United States to our immoderate founders. They risked their lives to break away from King George III, fighting the world’s most powerful military with rough settlers and their long guns. That spirit of immoderation laid the foundation for our prosperity and safety.
The passion of Winston Churchill’s defense of Britain and the West kept us from succumbing to Hitler’s Nazis’. Lots of English moderates urged him to strike a deal with Hitler to avoid an invasion. France’s moderates urged their politicians to surrender to save Paris and then spent years under the Nazi boot.
“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Life is made up of passions pursued and immoderate acts that give life its value, spice and satisfaction. Immoderates in our history bequeathed us the right to be passionate today to defend our liberty against those in their passion who attempt to intimidate us grasping for power.
Frank Leister grew up in Charlotte, attended Georgia Tech, and worked 34 years for IBM. He advised school districts on technology implementation until moving to Charleston, where he is a docent for the Edmonston-Alston House and active in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.