What is Radical Moderation?

Since there will likely be a lot of confusion on this point (we’re still working it out ourselves!), let’s start with what radical moderates are not:

  1. We do not advocate mere compromise for the sake of avoiding conflict. Conflict can be a radically moderate thing, particularly when it leads to the truth. And that leads us to…

  2. We’re not relativists. We do believe in truth, but the truth tends to be complicated. And that leads us to…

  3. We are not advocating a blanket “moderate” approach to any and all social issues. Moderation will look different in different situations. The simplest explanation is usually the correct one, but the simplest solution is often not. Human life is complex and messy.

If those are what radical moderation is not, here’s what it is, at least for starters…

The simplest definition of moderation comes from the Oxford Dictionary, and it’s “the avoidance of excess or extremes, especially in one’s behavior or political opinions.” But that definition needs fleshing out, since it can slide into compromise or neutrality or indifference and cease to be a principled position at all. So here’s why the avoidance of excess or extremes is so important….

For us, radical moderation is the most defensible way to live our lives because of the following facts about human beings:

  1. First, human affairs are necessarily complex, diverse, and contingent. A lot of complex individuals come together to create human communities, and that complexity means simple solutions often won’t work. Immoderate people tend to want simple uniform solutions to complex problems. Human social life just doesn’t work that way.

  2. Second, every “solution” to any given problem involves tradeoffs. The refusal to recognize that tradeoffs exist is the prime reason for much of the immoderation we see in daily American life. (More on this later!)

Because of these realities, Radical Moderates approach life with a cluster of interrelated characteristics:

  1. A mindset of humility and constant growth, where we recognize that we sometimes (often!) have incomplete data, narrow experiences, or simply a lack of omniscience. We expect to be wrong! A lot!

  2. An appreciation for the ways in which community can help (or hinder!) moderation. True communities need moderation to flourish, but community can itself support or hinder moderation, depending on the kind of people involved, the dialogue those people engage in, and the way the community is structured. Like we said, it’s complicated. But because community is so central to moderation and particularly to what we’re trying to do here, we need to go about community in the right way. That leads us to…

  3. An approach to dialogue that emphasizes civility, not because all viewpoints are worthy of being civil about, but because those viewpoints are held by human beings, who matter (more on this later too!). Civility is also important because being uncivil often accompanies the conviction that one’s position is absolutely right. As radical moderates we encourage humility, which can and should encourage civility by extension. Incivility destroys dialogue, destroys viewpoint diversity, and lends itself to siloed groups where immoderation can flourish. All bad things!

If we can summarize radical moderation in a few buzzwords (which is probably a somewhat immoderate thing to do), those words would be humility, a respect for complexity, an appreciation of real diversity, a commitment to community and civility, an awareness of tradeoffs, and ultimately a deep respect for individual human beings, because humans are what this is all about. These are our starting points for thinking about the world. We’ll be updating this post as we add more content and use real-world issues to think through these commitments, but right now this seems like a safe starting place.

You might also ask: what’s radical about any of this?

First, it’s uncommon. In our current polarized society, people are taking sides for reasons they don’t fully understand (partisanship, family loyalty, online clickbait, habit, etc.) or not taking positions at all because they’re scared or overwhelmed or even lazy. We want people to take positions because they understand their values, they understand the tradeoffs such values require, and because they believe such a position truly contributes to human flourishing. Weird, right? Radical? Yes!

Second, we’re here to redefine the way moderation is characterized by many of its opponents. Moderation is not the lack of a position or a lack of commitments or a lack of understanding. Instead, moderation stems from deeply held and investigated beliefs about how the social world of human beings work. True moderation is a form of radicalism because it requires rethinking and questioning our biases, unexamined beliefs, and habits.

Third, we are deeply radical about moderation. We believe that it is *almost* always the right answer; that it leads to human flourishing in most situations; and that it is worth preserving and fighting and sacrificing for. We believe that moderation properly understood might be the answer to most of humanity’s most pressing problems (those that are soluble, at any rate). And that’s partly why this project exists: as a way to explore the depths of moderation with other smart and thoughtful people who will hopefully challenge us and push our understanding even further. (It’s worth noting that there are lots of other people doing this work too and we hope to link to them and their work in subsequent posts).

With all that being said, we’d love to hear from you. What about you? What are the principles of radical moderation you want to see more of in discourse and modern life?

If you like what you see here…

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Moderation, Radically Done


Lauren Hall

I am a professor of political science and a political theorist by training. My goal here is to think broadly about how to think about, formulate, and defend a principled moderation in an increasingly unprincipled and immoderate world.