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Aurelian Craiutu

Moderation: A Forgotten Virtue

Many may still remember Barry Goldwaters famous words on the occasion of his nomination
acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco in 1964: I would remind you
that extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the
pursuit of justice is no virtue. After pronouncing these memorable words, Goldwater gracefully accepted
the nomination of his party and went on to score a massive defeat at the polls. His extreme defense of
liberty was seen by many in tension with his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, and this contradiction (in
addition to other things, of course) was enough to send Goldwater to the ranks of political losers.
I begin with his critique of moderation because in my view, it misrepresented in an unforgettable
way a cardinal virtue without which our political system would not be able to function properly. This
understudied and underappreciated virtue deserves a closer look to reveal its nature, complexity, and
potential benefits. This is precisely what I sought to achieve in Faces of Moderation: The Art of Balance
in an Age of Extremes (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016),1 which is part of a larger multivolume
research agenda whose main goal is to bring to light the richness of political moderation in the history of
modern political thought.
The book addresses the following questions: What did it mean to be a moderate voice in the
political and public life of the past century? How did moderate minds operate compared to more radical
spirits in the age of extremes? What were they seeking in politics, and how did they view political life?
We will also take up a few more general questions: What are the characteristics of the moderate mind in
action? To what extent is moderation contingent upon the existence and flourishing of various forms of
political radicalism? What do moderates have that others lack? Is moderation primarily a style of
argument that varies according to context, circumstances, and personal character? Or does it also have a
strong ethical-normative core? And, finally, are there any common elements of what might be called the
moderate style?
Without treating moderation as a unitary block, I show its heterogeneity and diversity by focusing
on the writings of representative authors who defended their beliefs in liberty, civility, and moderation in
1 http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/15561.html

an age when many intellectuals shunned moderation and embraced various forms of radicalism and
extremism. Although their political and intellectual trajectories were significantly different, these thinkers
may be seen as belonging to a loosely defined school of moderation that transcends strict geographical
and temporal borders. I insist at the outset that there is no ideology (or party) of moderation in the proper
sense of the word and that moderation cannot be studied in the abstract, but only as instantiated in specific
historical and political contexts and discourses. What is moderate in one context and period may
significantly differ from what is moderate at another point in time, which is another way of saying that
moderation is not a virtue for all seasons and for everyone.
The thinkers discussed or mentioned in Faces of Moderation came from several national cultures
(mainly France, Italy, England, Poland, and the United States) and belonged to different disciplines
(political theory, philosophy, sociology, literature, and history of ideas). Not all of them identified
themselves primarily as moderates; some preferred to be seen as liberals or conservatives, while others
rejected all labels. What makes them fascinating and noteworthy is precisely their syncretism as
illustrated by their different trajectories and ideas as well as by the fact that many of these thinkers
refused narrow political affiliation and displayed political courage in tough times. Some of them started
off their careers on the Left and then gradually embraced political moderation, moving toward the center
or the center-right. A few of them exercised significant political influence as journalistsRaymond Aron,
for example, wrote for Le Figaro and LExpress in France for over three decades, while Adam Michnik
has been the editor of the influential Gazeta Wiborcza in Poland for over two decades and a half nowor
engaged intellectuals or politicians such as Norberto Bobbio who was a member of the Italian Senate.
Still others such as Isaiah Berlin and Judith Shklar remained in the ivory tower of academia in the UK and
US, even if they never lost interest in political issues.
In spite of their differences, the thinkers discussed in Faces of Moderation shared many important
things in common such as their belief in dialogue, their rejection of Manichaeism and ideological
thinking, their embrace of trimming and political eclecticism, and their opposition to extremism and
fanaticism in all their forms. They all paid a certain price for their political moderation because they
refused to play the populist card or did not embrace trendy themes for short-term gains. Finally, they kept
open the dialogue with their opponents even in the most difficult times.
Moderation is, therefore, a legitimate response to the violent age of extremes in which they lived.
It is one of those key virtues without which, as John Adams once said, every man in power becomes a
ravenous beast of prey. But I have also come to regard it as something much more than a circumstantial
(contextual) virtue or a mere character trait. The argument offered here is that moderation, in its many
faces, is a fighting and bold creed grounded in a complex and eclectic conception of the world. A great

advantage of the latter is that can be shared by diverse actors on all sides of the political spectrum (not
only in the center!) in their efforts to promote necessary social and political reforms, defend liberty, and
keep the ship of the state on an even keel. Because it rejects ideological thinking, moderation implies a
good dose of courage, non-conformism, flexibility, and discernment, as suggested by the image chosen as
the cover of this book. Finally, as a tolerant and civil virtue related to temperance and opposed to
violence, moderation respects the spontaneity of life and the pluralism of the world and can protect us
against pride, one-sidedness, intolerance, and fanaticism in our moral and political commitments. For all
these reasons moderation remains an indispensable virtue for navigating the muddy waters of our
contemporary world.

Aurelian Craiutu is Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington.