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    Moderation in all things

    And that, my dear blogdaddy, is why I still use the word libertarian. Moderate is a state of mind, not a set of political positions. This is not to trivialize the very important philosophical and ethical principle that we should all listen to those with opposing views, deal honestly with the valid points they make, and be willing to change our positions if their counterarguments are strong enough.

    It’s just that, if what you’re looking for is an indication of what the person you’re talking to thinks the relationship between government and society should be, hearing him says he’s a “moderate” tells you nothing except that he likes to congratulate himself about how fair-minded he is. You still need to find out whether he’s a conservative, a leftist, a nanny-statist, a one-world pacifist, or an isolationist; and the only way to do that is to start talking policy.

    Of course, libertarian has its downside–especially since all too many people like to hear “gay libertarian” as “gay libertine.” But in its implication that someone so labeled is likely to defend the strict delimitation of government power in relation to most issues that come up–which I’ve actually been known to do pretty immoderately–it suits me better than anything else I’ve encountered.

    Added on 10 June, Pretenders playing in the background: Alan Stewart Carl has his own take on centrism. It’s a good read. I’m still not entirely sure about this part, however:

    I have very firm beliefs (free markets, social inclusion, privacy rights, vigorous national defense, etc.) but other Centrists may fall to my left or right on some issues. That doesn’t make us mushy.

    Indeed? Sounds pretty mushy to me. I’m not accusing these individuals of being mushy, mind you, only saying that any political movement they’re all yoked into is going to be, unless you list out policy positions and do a sort of two-from-column-A-two-from-column-B diagnostic kind of thing.

    This part also caused my eyebrows to rise a bit:

    The current political environment too often serves up only two possible solutions. And too often the adherents to those solutions are unwilling to consider change (just look at the Social Security debate). Centrism seeks to get away from the choice A, choice B or no choice at all method of problem solving. We believe there is often a third way. And we want to find it.

    This is attractive on its face; we’ve all heard the proposals from the two major parties on a given issue and thought, “Wow, those both suck.” But surely centrists have noticed that, in the real world, the “third way” that is actually arrived at is frequently a cheerfully schizoid “bipartisan compromise,” produced by haggling and deal-brokering and back-scratching and pork-barreling in which coherent policy aims recede from view. If Alan thinks he has a better way that’s genuinely practicable, I, for one, would very much like to hear about it.

    I doubt that more hand-wringing about “special interests” is going to be of much help, though. By this point every American belongs to a half-dozen interest groups, whether he pays membership dues to any organization or not. Those that are very powerful tend to be those that have a lot of constituents (AARP, anyone?), which makes calling them “special” somewhat misleading. We are the special interests, and if those who self-identify as centrists want to decry the general entitlement-mindedness of the citizenry, I’m certainly on board. But in that case, you have to acknowledge (at least, I think you do) that stern, uncompromising calls for self-reliance are more likely to be effective there than yet more willingness to negotiate or endlessly poke around for more options.

    I don’t want to sound dismissive, because I do think what he’s saying is very important. The models for discourse we’re frequently offered these days usually come in two varieties: “politeness” = “namby-pamby PC-ism” and “character assassination/gruesomely gleeful expletive-throwing/screechy overstatement” = “daring truth-telling.” Both are tiresome beyond belief.

    But both also extend beyond the political realm and into popular culture, the arts, education, and what passes for conversation at dinner parties. Which is to say, a general return to civility, in which strongly-held, fact-based opinions are respectfully aired and heard, is what’s called for. Casting it as a move for political reform seems to me misleading and insufficient.

    10 Responses to “Moderation in all things”

    1. Amritas says:

      “moderate” tells you nothing except that he likes to congratulate himself about how fair-minded he is.

      Or “don’t worry, I’m a little like you, whatever you are.” The term can be a cowardly copout as well as a sign of arrogance.

      I prefer the term “extremist” for myself. But even that could be abused. “Ooh, look at ME and how FAR OUT I am, maaaan!”

    2. Dean Esmay says:

      Just beware of the libertarians who will call you a traitor for your heresies….

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      Better that than the “Totally gotcha!” crap you get from those who say you’re “really” conservative or “actually” liberal and need help [from their enlightened selves] to figure it out.

    4. Dean's World says:

      Moderation As Temperament

      Sean and Casey and Alan have more to s…

    5. Dean's World says:

      Moderation As Temperament

      Sean and Casey and Alan have more to s…

    6. Dean's World says:

      Moderation As Temperament

      Sean and Casey and Alan have more to s…

    7. caltechgirl says:

      how about libertarian with a small l…..

    8. Alan says:

      I’d probably call myself libertarian if the party by that name didn’t take their ideas to such extremes. And, you know, if they believed in national defense.

    9. Sean Kinsell says:

      Maybe it’s the fact that many people I’m surrounded by aren’t American, but I only rarely have the problem of someone’s reacting with, “Oh, one of those dissolve-the-federal-government types?” Then I use caltechgirl’s solution. (Congratulations on finishing your PhD, BTW!) It requires a little bit of explanation, but, as I say, I haven’t found anything more elegant. Usually, it only takes one or two sentences about what I think of the WOT and border security to disabuse anyone of the idea that I’m a big-L-small-pragmatism Libertarian.

    10. Connie says:

      and “character assassination/gruesomely gleeful expletive-throwing/screechy overstatement” = “daring truth-telling.”

      Party pooper.

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