Commentary Magazine


Distinguishing Between Moderation and Political Compromise

I wrote a piece recently on compromise, moderation, and the American Constitution, and in reaction I received a note from Diana Schaub, a professor of political science at Loyola University Maryland.

She pointed out to me that it’s “helpful to distinguish the virtue of moderation, which is always right, from the practice of political compromise, the goodness of which depends on circumstances.” Moderation, Schaub went on to write, “doesn’t always entail the spirit of accommodation. There are times when one must stand fast, and one can do so without becoming immoderate.”

To buttress her argument, Schaub cited an example of George Washington (who became a revolutionary, having arrived at the conclusion that diplomatic compromise was no longer possible with Great Britain) and Abraham Lincoln (who was unwilling to consider certain sorts of compromise in order to maintain the Union and who steadfastly opposed any action that would remove the label of moral evil from the institution of slavery). Professor Schaub herself has used the apposite phrase “intransigent moderation” when describing Lincoln. 

Her main point, Schaub said in the note she sent to me (and which she kindly allowed me to quote from), is that “moderation, while usually receptive to political compromises, can at times be uncompromising without ceasing to be moderation.”

These words are ones I fully concur with and are consistent, I think, with some of the observations I made in my original piece. My emphasis, though, was somewhat different. What I intended to underscore is that to assume per se that moderation and compromise are problematic is itself problematic.

In any event, I thought Professor Schaub’s explication was wise and very intelligently stated, and certainly worth sharing.