Civility Tomorrow (or not)

“Oh Universe! What thou wishest I wish.”
Marcus Aurelius

David Brooks’ October 26 column, What Moderation Means, is an excellent primer on the way a political moderate views the world. It should be a civics course.

The American political moderate, Brooks writes, “…has a deep reverence for the way people live in her country and the animating principle behind that way of life. In America, moderates revere the fact that we are a nation of immigrants dedicated to the American dream — committed to the idea that each person should be able to work hard and rise.”

Fulfilling this dream poses a natural conflict  pitting equality against achievement, centralization against decentralization, order and community against liberty and individualism. From the very beginning, liberals and conservatives have put forth philosophical arguments for dealing with these issues.

Being a moderate is not, in Brooks’ view, a wimp-out position trying to seek a middle ground between conservative and liberal philosophies. Rather, the moderate recognizes that there are no solutions to the arguments, only trade-offs to provide a rough proportion between individual liberty and social cohesion.

There are times, such as now, when things get out of whack. This is when immoderates are inclined to advance their solutions before they’ve defined the problem.

Brooks writes, “For a certain sort of conservative, tax cuts and smaller government are always the answer, no matter what the situation. For a certain sort of liberal, tax increases for the rich and more government programs are always the answer.” …The moderate sees three big needs (today) that are in tension with one another: inequality, debt and low growth. She’s probably going to have a pretty eclectic mix of policies: some policies from the Democratic column to reduce inequality, some policies from the Republican column to reduce debt.”

Observations

I had two ideas for this post:  one, to encourage my readers, whatever their political persuasion, to read Brooks’ column. Here is the link:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/26/opinion/brooks-what-moderation-means.html?ref=davidbrooks (Thanks to Dave Fisher for the heads up on this piece).

The second is to provide the socionomic forecast for civility in political discourse in this country: There won’t be any until the bear market in social mood runs its course, probably sometime after 2016 when all parties are exhausted.

The danger during this time is to unwittingly get caught up in the passions of either side.

Brooks, again: “Moderation is also a distinct ethical disposition. Just as the moderate suspects imbalance in the country, so she suspects it in herself. She distrusts passionate intensity and bold simplicity and admires self-restraint, intellectual openness and equipoise.”

Brooks’ picture of the moderate position, it seems to me, is one to heed.

Gustave LeBon wrote The Crowd, his great thesis on crowd psychology in the aftermath of the French revolution, a period (believe it or not) very much like what we are entering now. He pointed out how easily the bystander was ultimately pulled into the madness. This battle promises to be just as emotionally wrenching. We would do well to distance ourselves from rigid, immoderate views.

Cheers,

Rod

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