David Brooks on Moderation

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“Moderation is a generally misunderstood virtue. It is important to start by saying what it is not. Moderation is not just finding the midpoint between two opposing poles and opportunistically planting yourself there. Neither is moderation bland equanimity. It’s not just having a temperate disposition that doesn’t contain rival passions or competing ideas.

“On the contrary, moderation is based on an awareness of the inevitability of conflict. If you think that the world can fit neatly together, then you don’t need to be moderate. If you think all your personal qualities can be brought together into simple harmony, you don’t need to hold back, you can just go whole hog for self-actualization and growth. If you think all moral values point in the same direction, or all political goals can be realized all at once by a straightforward march along one course, you don’t need to be moderate, either. You can just head in the direction of truth as quickly as possible.

“The moderate can only hope to be disciplined enough to combine in one soul, as Max Weber put it, both warm passion and a cool sense of proportion. He aims to be passionate about his ends but deliberate about the proper means to realize them. The best moderate is blessed with a spirited soul and also the proper character to tame it. The best moderate is skeptical of zealotry because he is skeptical of himself. He distrusts passionate intensity and bold simplicity because he know that in politics the lows are lower than the highs are high— the damage leaders do when they get things wrong is greater than the benefits they create when they get things right. Therefore caution is the proper attitude, an awareness of the limits the foundation of wisdom.”

—David Brooks, The Road to Character (New York, NY: Random House Publishing, 2016), 69-71.

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