It is nothing new to observe that the center of American political and cultural life is having difficulty, as Yeats once put it, “holding.” It is instead increasingly extremes of various kinds that are gaining greater traction. “Extreme” carries a negative rhetorical charge, of course. One might say instead that Americans are coming to see the attraction of values long alien to their own largely optimistic, pragmatic, and open tradition–the values of commitment, hierarchy, tragedy, identity, and others–values that have their own claims on human hopes and fears. Some believe this to be a change from America of the past–a deeply and widely divided America has some precedents, but it is perhaps not the main stream–and one interesting question is just why the change has come upon us with such force today.
A new book out this fall makes the case for a return to balance: Why Not Moderation? Letters to Young Radicals (Cambridge University Press) by Aurelian Craiutu. Worth checking out, especially by those of us who might react with some (moderate) skepticism to its claims.
Moderation is often presented as a simple virtue for lukewarm and indecisive minds, searching for a fuzzy center between the extremes. Not surprisingly, many politicians do not want to be labelled ‘moderates’ for fear of losing elections. Why Not Moderation? challenges this conventional image and shows that moderation is a complex virtue with a rich tradition and unexplored radical sides. Through a series of imaginary letters between a passionate moderate and two young radicals, the book outlines the distinctive political vision undergirding moderation and makes a case for why we need this virtue today in America. Drawing on clearly written and compelling sources, Craiutu offers an opportunity to rethink moderation and participate in the important public debate on what kind of society we want to live in. His book reminds us that we cannot afford to bargain away the liberal civilization and open society we have inherited from our forefathers.