Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Tyranny of Moderation

Fr. Beane recently wrote here, on Gottesdienst Online, "when it comes to God's grace, I think 'moderation' falls into the category of what you often find in the middle of the road, the ultimate symbol of the 'extreme moderate'... " He then inserted the picture of a dead possum in the middle of the road. He might also have shown Our Lord spitting out lukewarm water.

His insightful article reminded me of an observation Peter Kreeft made of Aristotle's golden mean. In the first place, the idea that there is always a golden mean is in itself a kind of extremism that we would expect Aristotle be against. In the second, the golden mean absolutely does not apply to the Theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. I don't know where I read this in Kreeft but here is his website: All his stuff is good.

What Kreeft doesn't comment on, in my memory, is how the golden mean is also a rhetorical device. Conceding that your opponents have a point, but have taken it too far, always paints you as the careful and considerate writer or thinking and your opponent as a non-thinking extremist, well-intentioned perhaps, but not balanced. Our politicians do this frequently, whether they are church politicians or state politicians, because Joe Plumber and Joe Pewsitter both dislike extremists and are most comfortable with the idea of being average and ordinary. To be sure, it is the mark of a good writer, to acknowledge and concede points to his opponents, but it is also a means of persuasion known to marketing gurus and politicians. Le the reader beware.

Another point to consider is the tyranny of average and moderation as known in communism. Communism cuts down and discourages excellence. The goal is stated as equality, but it is really a golden mean or average which discourages and usually punishes those who don't fit the State-defined standard. In fact, the State rarely punishes those who fall below the standard, and because of this the standard declines over time. It is safest to be just below average when Stalin is king. But the State rarely ignores, promotes, or even tolerate those who rise above that standard. Those people are a threat. I think it is Kreeft again, but it could have been Rufus Fears, who uses the analogy of a meadow to describe communist insistence on average in the propaganda of equality. It goes like this: "The State mows at a certain height. Weeds that stay short are never cut off, but flowers that dare to rise above are immediately noticed and cut back."

Bureaucrats, as well as dictators, like things safe.

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