“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Thomas Jefferson
The Reign of Terror, the End Result of Extremist Ideologies
Everywhere I look I see extremism winning. It doesn’t matter which corner of our furry world you look it seems that some sort of extremist group or bunch of radicals is dominating the landscape. It doesn’t matter what realm of life it is the radicals and extremists dominate be it religion, politics, foreign policy, social issues, the environment, the worldwide economy and the media. I’m sorry to me it is a very unseemly environment and unfortunately will probably get far worse before it gets better.
Just take a look around the country and the world and you can see it. We have Muslim fundamentalist extremists committing acts of terror in the name of their faith against anyone that they oppose. There are Christian fundamentalists in Africa advocating killing homosexuals just because they can with the full support of some American fundamentalist groups. In India Hindu fundamentalists burn Christian villages and kill the inhabitants. In Iran anyone that disagrees with the Islamic regime is a target of the Revolutionary Guard, in China dare disagree with the Communist party. There are environmentalists that advocate killing off most of humanity to “save the planet” using the Vietnam war logic of “we had to destroy the village to save it.” I could go on naming example after example but that would simply be beating the dead horse so to speak and I would rather kill farting cows.
In the politics of American real moderates were pretty much driven from the Democratic Party and for the past 20 years or so the Republicans have been driving moderates from their ranks. Many of those that call themselves “moderate” still in political power simply pander and meander to stay in power giving the rest of us a bad name. Now if you want to gauge just how much moderates are held in derision by these self proclaimed ideological purists just look around the blogosphere and you will see people on the right and the left use the same language and invective to castigate moderates. At least they can find something to agree about, maybe there is hope. Let’s face it even Hitler and Stalin agreed about crushing Poland.
With all of the extremists about the world is lurching, no plunging into anarchy. As any student of history knows that anarchy is unsustainable because people in nations suffering under it will eventually give up and surrender freedom for the “security” that tyrants provide. I don’t know about you but while tyrants provide order they also tend to repress the people that helped them into power, crush dissent at home and wage aggressive campaigns against their historic enemies who might have actually become friends in more civil times. In a sense we have reverted to totalitarian tribalism in almost all areas of life where those of the political, ideological and religious extremes attempt to ensure that those views are dominant and all others crushed.
I remember once when I was attending seminary hearing a fundamentalist preacher remark that moderates that were recognizable by the tire tracks on their back and deserved to be run over. That was back in about 1990 or 1991. As a moderate I was appalled because this preacher was fairly well known. Now no moderate is safe. In the United States true moderates as opposed to the pandering politicians than claim to be moderates are unwelcome in either of the major political party. In the religious world moderates are being driven from their churches or religious organizations because they do not adhere to the prevailing theological, social or political leanings of their particular religious faith. Allegedly since moderates are not doctrinally ideologically pure they are not moderate at all but watered down versions of what they ideologues on the right and left view as their enemies. In fact they are despised even more than their actual ideological or theological opponents. I have seen atheists state that religious moderates are worse than fundamentalists and similar things said by religious fundamentalists regarding religious moderates. Even Hitler viewed moderates the same way these Jacobins and used such terms. It doesn’t matter what the issue is be it moral, social, political or dealing with other nations we now live in a world where alleged ideological or theological “purity” thumps everything and woe betide the person that raises his or her voice against the extremists. Mind you the ideological, political or theological purity that the radicals espouse is usually some bastardized form of the original because ideologues are as brazen liars in regard to truth as they come, except they claim to own the truth.
In fact such people cannot back down from their own propaganda because if they do they believe that they lose their corner on the truth. Adolf Hitler said in regard to this: As soon as by one’s own propaganda even a glimpse of right on the other side is admitted, the cause for doubting one’s own right is laid.
It used not to be this way in the United States. Americans used to be appalled by extremists and our Founding Fathers feared extremists like the French Jacobins who conducted the reign of terror during the French Revolution. Moderation was considered a virtue and was the glue that held American society together during times of worldwide upheaval. In the past we found common things to agree on even when we debated very divisive and explosive subjects. We were the epitome of religious freedom of expression and tolerance and we found ways to appreciate the cultural contributions of immigrants from around the world. Yes we had problems and still do but overall we did pretty well when we still valued one another.
Moderation meant that we respected the Constitution and the liberties that it promises to all citizens. Moderation meant that the hate filled ideologies of Fascism, Nazism and Communism never found a home here, at least beyond that of limited enclaves of society. We never had a Hitler or Stalin because we respected each other as Americans enough not to embrace such types of individuals and their hate driven ideologies. Moderation meant that four Army Chaplains, two Protestants, a Catholic and a Jew gave away their life jackets to soldiers without on a doomed transport torpedoed by a U-Boat. Those chaplains after giving up their life jackets were seen embracing each other and praying as the ship went down. Moderation meant that our politicians could go to the mat against each other on the campaign trail or in the halls of Congress but when all was said and done could still be friends and even grieve when an opponent passed away. As Thomas Jefferson said “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” Now we have elected leaders as well as political pundits of both major parties calling the other side the enemy and hurling the vilest of epithets at one another to include the wish that their opponents would die.
American moderation sets the ideal of the Constitution and rights of fellow citizens over any ideology or theology that would trample those rights from the left or the right of the political, social or religious spectrum. American moderation believed in an ideal of consensus, the consensus of the governed and the government to build a more perfect Union. Of course consensus does not mean perfection or ideological purity thus we evolved from a country that believed that blacks were only 3/5ths of a person and could be enslaved to a country that fought a war to end that practice and then fought another 100 or so years to ensure that African Americans had equal rights. We have had similar, although not nearly as egregious examples of discrimination that we have fought to eliminate and not just racial. While not perfect we have aimed to ensure equal rights for all, but there are people that would use their political or religious (including Atheists) that would attempt to impose their beliefs on others, so the fight goes on. For those that want perfection you are not going to see it on this earth no matter what extremist promises that it can happen. America was great because it was a nation whose exceptionalism was not found in political or economic power but in our very form of government which promoted individual liberty as well as the common good. Our founders believed strongly in majority rule but not at the expense of the minority. As Jefferson said: “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”
This worked because Americans made it work and resisted for the most part the temptation to abuse those liberties for the sake of one political party or religious sect’s gain. Andrew Jackson said: “Americans are not a perfect people, but we are called to a perfect mission.”
That era has ended and thus real moderates need to stand up and become passionate for the ideals of individual liberty and the common good before those are savaged by extremists of every kind that promote their way as the only way. Moderates cannot be like the sham moderate politicians who sell their vote to the highest bidder while claiming to be non-partisan or moderate when in reality the only thing that they are concerned is maintaining their office and the power that goes with it. That is not moderation and our founders would spin in their graves at the thought of this. I would dare say that James Madison who was as great of a moderate and champion of liberty and the common good as any man that has ever lived would be appalled by what is going on today in the United States but also in the world. Andrew Jackson saw the danger in his own day when he said: “I weep for the liberty of my country when I see at this early day of its successful experiment that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives, and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office.” I know that many if not most politicians are susceptible to this but when those that proclaim that they are “moderate” do it they bring even more shame to their office.
If moderates not only in the United States but around the world do not start passionately promoting this kind of moderation they will end up like the fundamentalist preacher said with “tire tracks down their backs,” but I think that they might have worse in their backs, perhaps knives or bullets. If moderates do not stand up for individual rights and the common good and build real consensus that works for liberty we are doomed to political, social and religious fratricide and anarchy that will only end when one group of extremists wins and sets up a tyranny that oppresses all in the name of their ideology.
Look at us today we stopped dreaming and have given in to fear mongers of every imaginable persuasion. These fear mongers have no compunction in communicating that if things are not done their way that calamity will be the result and they use every form of media to communicate that to a populace in despair. They play on the fears that they create and gain support of people that are desperate. The result is that they are destroying the fabric of this nation every day.
Unfortunately that my dear readers is happening every day and it seems that no one has the wherewithal to stand up against it. We live in an age where the world is in turmoil and “leaders” of all types actively seek to bring about the despair that increases their power over those that they govern. The world is going down the road that ends up in tyranny faster than the speed limit allows and the ones driving the bus are the are the radicals and extremists, the descendants of the Inquisition, the Jacobins, Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, the perpetuators of genocide around the world and the Ayatollahs, Al Qaeda. They hail from every country on the planet and are found among all religions including the Atheists, all political persuasions and economic point of view and mind you wherever you live on this big blue marble their desire is to gain and maintain power for themselves because they honestly believe that there is no other way but theirs.
True moderation is not just borrowing from the extremists and trying to find a “middle way” between them. That has been the trap of those who desire to be moderates for millennia. John Adams said: “In politics the middle way is none at all.” Moderates must not be looking for the middle way but be about forging a consensus built around truth and dare I say tolerance. Moderates must always seek the truth wherever it may be and not be afraid of those that chastise them for doing so simply because they do not fit one group or another’s ideological or doctrinal template. If moderates pursue such a life and maintain such an ethos they will be opposed by all extremist but have nothing to fear because truth is on their side.
However my friend’s true moderates are a dying breed in our land and in the world. I saw some analysis of voting patterns and exit polling from the last few elections and it appears from being some latent massive force that real moderates comprise only about 10-15% of the population. I hope that those numbers are not true and only a passing phenomena. Of course that is the result of several decades of bitter and acrimonious fighting that have so divided Americans that it is hard to imagine things going back to a better time. The extremists have intentionally done everything that they can to rip apart the social, political and religious fabric of our nation just as extremists have done throughout history. They do this because they know that such action serves to destroy consensus in order that they and their faction can gain absolute power.
If men and women of good will practiced the kind of moderation that I write about they would have nothing to fear. In fact this kind of life promotes optimism. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”
Americans used to dream and imagine a better world and were willing to work together to make it happen. The words of President John F. Kennedy still resonate in my heart “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Likewise when the rest of the world was falling to totalitarianism in the 1930s as a result of the Great Depression when fear and panic gripped much of the nations, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” and though many disagreed with his policies Republicans worked with him and a number served in his cabinet.
It is time that we returned to such an ethos. We live in an age where the world is in turmoil and “leaders” of all types actively seek to bring about the despair that increases their power over those that they govern.
Real moderates do stand for something and I for one am tired of those that decry moderates in favor of narrow self serving ideologies which promote the seeds anarchy, tyranny and oppression. It’s time to stand up. Andrew Jackson said: “Americans are not a perfect people, but we are called to a perfect mission.”