What it Means to be a Moderate



Political moderation is not a comprehensive political ideology. Rather, it’s more of a psychological inclination. It nevertheless has profound political implications. 


Moderates seek to avoid political extremism. Moderates intuitively feel that no one is smart enough to have all the answers, and they see plenty of evidence from actual politics to confirm that intuition. This means that no political ideology is likely to be completely right or completely wrong, except those that are completely extreme. 


Moderates think all or most political philosophies have something to offer. The trick is to get your ego out of the way. Let your powers of reason discover and evaluate the evidence for each specific idea, and then pick those that seem likely to work best. 


The political moderate wants to stay in the middle of the road so as to avoid the ditches on either side. 

What would things look like in a moderate world?


The moderate vision aims for political peace and policy pragmatism. They want to end the shouting, arguing, and name-calling while also executing the best policies. 


A moderate world would spend less time on politics and more time simply living and enjoying life. The remaining time that was still spent on politics would evolve in the direction of friendly debates where all sides honestly seek to find the best answers. In a moderate world politicians would easily admit errors and make course corrections. Pragmatism would rule public policy. 


It stands to reason that policies drawing from the best ideas of all sides have a better chance to work. It also makes sense that policies will work better when they can be quickly and easily changed in the light of experience, without all the egotism and political grand-standing that currently locks bad policies in place. 


This means that moderates see a place for both self-government and government intervention. They want to let actual experience tell us what the proper balance should be. Once we find that balance more things will work better, leading to constant progress toward a better world. But…


The moderate has no illusions about how difficult it will be to create such a political culture. They understand that human passions are very powerful and will be difficult to subdue. They think this can best be changed by having more and more people set a good example. They hope to attract more people to be more moderate by modeling that behavior in their own lives. 

Types of moderates


Because political moderation is more of a psychological inclination than an ideology it is not as easy to define types of moderates as it is to define the different kinds of conservatives, progressives, and libertarians. But one thing can be said…


Most moderates lean toward one of the major ideologies. Some lean progressive, some conservative, and some libertarian. Some probably even lean authoritarian. As paradoxical as that may sound, when push comes to shove some moderates probably do favor a lot of state intervention in both economics and personal behavior/lifestyle choices. It is very rare to have a moderate who is perfectly balanced between self-governance and state intervention on all issues. Therefore…


If we wanted to categorize types of moderates we would probably do that by describing which of the major ideologies they lean toward. 

Important moderate heroes and accomplishments


Because there is no political party or organized movement arguing for political moderation it’s nearly impossible to find specific moderate heroes or accomplishments. There is no FDR or Ronald Reagan of political moderation. 


The best we can do is point to individual acts of moderation, but even that can be difficult. How can we tell a moderate law from one that is immoderate? 


At best we might find a politician who is constantly negotiating compromises with the other party, but no such person immediately springs to mind such that we could call that person a moderate hero.


Perhaps the best we can do is point to Gallop studies showing that more than 40% of Americans are politically independent. They belong to no political party. So perhaps the great moderate heroes are all those Americans who are political independents. 

Important moderate organizations


If there is no well-defined moderate political philosophy, party, or movement, and no set of easily identified moderate heroes and accomplishments, it stands to reason that it will also be difficult to identify organizations that work for political moderation. 


If such organizations existed in great numbers and were highly visible, then we could easily say that they constitute a movement for political moderation, and the leaders of those organizations would probably be that movement’s heroes. Alas, such groups are few in number and tend to be small but there are a few of them…


  • The Problem Solvers Caucus in Congress has 64 members, evenly divided between the Democrats and Republicans. They seek to reach compromises across the partisan divide. One of their proposals is that the members of the caucus should only support legislation that has co-sponsors from both parties. 


  • No Labels is a U.S.-based organization that promotes a problem-solving approach to politics. It encourages politicians and citizens to set aside rigid ideological positions and work together to find practical solutions to the country’s challenges.


  • The Centrist Project aims to support independent candidates and encourage bipartisanship in the U.S. political system. It seeks to reduce the influence of extreme partisanship and increase cooperation in government.


  • The Radical Middle is a grassroots effort that emphasizes centrist ideas.


  • The Alliance Party seeks to run centrist candidates for office. 

Important books that argue for political moderation


  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt: This book explores the psychological roots of political divisions. It emphasizes the need for understanding and empathy across ideological lines to foster political moderation.


  • The Centrist Manifesto by Charles Wheelan: Wheelan makes a case for centrism in American politics, arguing that moderate solutions are often more effective and appealing to a broader range of voters than extreme positions.


  • The Politics of Virtue: Post-Liberalism and the Human Future by John Milbank and Adrian Pabst: This book presents a post-liberal perspective that critiques both left-wing and right-wing ideologies and advocates for more moderate and inclusive politics.


  • The Middle Way: Finding Happiness in a World of Extremes by Lou Marinoff: This book explores the idea of moderation and the middle way as a path to personal and societal happiness, drawing from the teachings of ancient philosophers and modern thinkers.


  • The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics by Ted Halstead and Michael Lind: This book argues that the future of American politics lies in a pragmatic, centrist approach that can address the country’s challenges more effectively than the polarized ideologies of the left and right.

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