There are some significant arguments to be made that extreme ideologies can have negative impact on society. Take, for example, recent policy arguments between liberals and conservatives in the United States. The two sides, of the equation, have their differences based upon their ideological preferences including their understanding of the role of government.
However, some might argue that the nation is in a particularly polemical stage. For example, the recent crisis over the Federal budget and debt ceiling resulting in a Federal shutdown has led to posturing on both sides that the other side is unwilling to negotiate. Liberals have accused conservatives of essentially “holding the country hostage” in order to address some of their key issues while conservatives believe that liberals are missing key points that would negatively impact the economic scene of the country. In such a partisan environment, it might be tempting to revert to a more moderate position that examines the world in a more pragmatic way.
Another advantage of moderation is that it allows people to consider both sides of the problem. When one can identify with a person with a different viewpoint that empathy can potentially lead to better arguments / solutions and/or lead to the incorporation of ideas that incorporate a diversity of viewpoints.
At the same time, we must be very careful to avoid falling into the trap of moderation. A recent New York Times op-ed piece () argued that current crises faced by the United States was, in fact, led by so-called moderates who later acquiesced to more extreme ideological positions in a quest to gain power as a go along to get along policy.
This article could have extended its argument to other conflicts where the lack of a strong position ceded power to evil. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. in A Letter from a Birmingham Jail (King, 1963) protested the position of White clergy members who believed that Blacks in the Jim Crow South should wait to get their rights because Whites were simply not quite ready to give it to them yet. This, King wrote, was unfair because this population had been waiting to be able to exercise their rights for years. In addition, King stated that this moderate viewpoint simply extended White racism. While the position of the White clergy may not have been as extreme, by refusing to take a real stand, the viewpoints of people similar to the White clergy allowed the continuation of the Jim Crow laws.
We see this also in writings of and after the era of the Nazi regime in Germany. Hannah Arendt (1963) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (published 1955) both argue that there could be such a thing as universal good and, thus, a regime that continuously allowed abuses should not be allowed to stand. Arendt’s famous reports from the Nuremburg trials of Nazi soldiers who were “only following orders”, for instance, showed that people’s lack of resistance against an extremist ideology enabled and extended abusive acts.
For some, looking to religion will also reveal some issues with looking to merely satisfy authority. For example, the Christian Gospels are rift with examples of the Pharisees looking only to the law for answers while ignoring some of their own behavior. Pontius Pilate, who orders the execution of Jesus Christ, does what he believes is necessary, what one might call the politically popular thing to do. He ends up giving the order for Jesus Christ to be executed (Matthew 27:24, NRSV). These acts are marked not by courage to do the right thing, but only by compromise. These acts, in Christianity, teach us that we must not be afraid to do the thing closest to God, that we must have the virtue of courage.
While there are some things that moderation can be useful for, it should not be thought of as always the best course of action or even as an alternative to ideology. Moderation, it might be said, has the same potential to become an ideological idol as does a conservative or liberal ideology. Moreover, in times of crisis or otherwise, it may not always offer the best path forward. In other words, moderation has the potential to function as an ideological idol as does any other kind of ideology.
To avoid idolizing our ideology and move forward, we must look toward not ideology, but the Moral Good. There have been volumes of philosophical, theological, and other works on this matter. As a writer and sociologist of education, it is probably best if I simply refer you to this literature instead of trying to answer that question in this format (if I ever do, it will be a post for another time). Suffice to say, the Moral Good should strive toward equity, morality, and liberty. This may also force us to deal with the more pragmatic elements of our lives especially when solving problems. Failing to appreciate the worlds and lives of others can significantly negatively impact not just the lives of others, but our own lives as well. If we are going to improve anything, whether it is world problems, our nation, our local community, our religious organizations, or local community organizations, we need to be able to think beyond our own point of view.