The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

The superiority of the middle course

September 23, 2005

I don’t really understand the nature of the kerfuffle between the good folks at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Justin Gardner of I-can’t-say-this-name-without-grimacing Donklephont. It does provide me, however, with an opportunity to quote the Duck’s patron saint, Max Weber.

The sociology of self-described “moderate” sites (as opposed to people who are simply moderates) on the blogoverse has always interested me (I have a few aborted posts on the subject). Perusing these sites, whether Donklephont or Totten’s, one comes away with the distinct impression that “moderate” sites are mostly synergistic with the conservative side of the blogoverse, and not so much with the liberal side.

I think a lot of this has to do with September 11th. Take, for example, Justin’s comment on Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Compromise is, and will always be, the best political doctrine. You don’t get much done on the fringe, unless the fringe is in power. Unfortunately, in the last 5 years, the right fringe has held sway over policy. Some would disagree with this statement, but 9/11 truly did change everything and I don’t think the left has truly appreciated this. I didn’t accept it for a long time, but now I do, and the fact that Bush won reelection certainly blosters this theory.

I can forgive some level of incoherence in a blogpost, let alone in a comment thread, but “paperwight” does a wonderful job of eviscerating this kind of slogan-spitting.

But what’s wrong with the “moderates” gets summed up pretty well in Justin’s comment that, “Personally, I think the middle has always been the breeding ground of progress. Politics, by their very nature, is about compromise. It isn’t about telling the other side they’re wrong. Otherwise, nothing would get done.” As a statement about the political process, this is unobjectionable. As a statement about the correctness of moderate ideology, it is intellectually lazy. Here’s Weber:

Only an optimistic syncretism, such as is, at times, the product of evolutionary-historical relativism, can theoretically delude itself about the profound seriousness of this situation or practically shirk its consequences. It can, to be sure, be just as obligatory subjectively for the practical politician, in the individual case, to mediate between antagonistic points of view as to take sides with one of them. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with scientific “objectivity.” Scientifically the “middle course” is not truer even by a hair’s breadth, than the most extreme party ideals of the right or left. Nowhere are the interests of science more poorly served in the long run than in those situations where one refuses to see uncomfortable facts and the realities of life in all their starkness.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.