Some Thoughts On Extremism
There’s nothing so insalubrious as an ardent, unthinking love for extremes. Such a passion, more often than not, results in disasters on a large and frightening scale. So unbalanced a romance and inflammable a zeal can lead, very quickly, to devastating effects. In truth, for most of us, a tranquil moderation from which we can’t be so easily tossed, a peaceful equilibrium on which our footing is sound and our happiness secure, is usually desirable, and almost always best.
As the great Frederick Douglass once noted—that famous man upon whom every divine drop of sagacity was showered, and from whom no ounce of Herculean strength nor Sisyphean patience was withheld—extremes beget extremes.
Douglass, born to servility, raised in penury, and released to a world by which he was seldom applauded, and widely maltreated, intuited the baleful nature of this truth. Extremes beget extremes; that is their natural offspring. Once started, there is no end to their malign reproduction. If we could judge a philosophy by the eagerness of its fertility, regardless of the fruit to which it ultimately gives life, that of “extremism” must be deemed most capable of producing a bountiful, if terrifying yield. It’s as philoprogenitive as a thought can be, the type that’s unacquainted with chastity, and contemptuous of restraint.
To combat it, we must seek moderation. We must seek a point from which the tempting poles of radicalism and extremism are safely equidistant, by whose sheer distance, their fecundity is checked.
We must find ourselves embracing neither the excess of the one side, nor the deficiency of the other. We must always strive for the Aristotelian golden mean, the aurea mediocritas over which proportionality reigns, and equanimity rests. This is what Aristotle preached and, if only on the rarest of occasions, what he hoped to discover in the ethical life of man. Too often was the busy Stagirite disappointed, however, for he found that the Athenians among whom he lived could abide by his maxim and resist everything—except temptation. To this, as Oscar Wilde predicted, man would always succumb.
I’ve tried earnestly to learn from their ancient shortcomings, as well as the multitude of failures for which our own age is, and continues to be, responsible. As such, moderation has become, for me, the unbending path from which I try never to deviate. It’s the infallible guide to which I try never to be faithless. A thoughtful moderation is the philosophy from which I derive wisdom, and a humble temperance is the light by which I’m led.
I’m pleased to say, by and large, the journey’s been met with success. Internally, I’m content and intellectually, I’m unmolested. Morally, I’m humbled and psychologically, I’m tranquil. I suffer no disquiet in feeling as though I must hasten with my fellows to the thin and dangerous atmosphere of the fringe—that place to which, in the words of the great and rhythmic Alexander Pope, fools rush—about which angels are rightly cautious. I have no great compulsion to indulge the radical enticement to which others seem unable to offer a robust and unyielding defense.
Lamentably, though, it’s a path along which I see few other footprints tread. It’s a path increasingly unmarked by the gentle shuffling of our once proud and strong gait. Now, as never before in our country, those who might’ve once joined in so moderate, sober, tranquil, stoic, and temperate a walk have fled for the radical pastures in which the poisonous flowers of extremism grow. They’ve abandoned the intermediate lane between whose broad confines all are welcome, and all are calm, and run to the edges over which too many hazard a fall.
Those people love extremes, by which, with consequences unforeseeable, their love will be reciprocated. Let us abandon these attractive but fatal flowers with which the furthest wings of ideology are strewn. Let us, instead, hasten in our rediscovery of the path of moderation, a place in which all can flourish, and our country grow.