… moderates like Douthat have a way of getting depicted as wishy-washy or unprincipled by our media, who are addicted to sensationalizing conflict.
What can be done about this?
Here’s one suggestion: Make the middle ground more exciting by discussing how to articulate it philosophically, as a clear and defensible set of principles.
Obviously, this is a long-term task, not something that I can explore in depth here. But here are two candidates for philosophical principles which, taken together, seem to me to define pretty well the middle ground that Douthat and most of the electorate occupy:
The left is partly right: I am my brother’s keeper.
The right is partly right: Man lives not by bread alone.
The trouble is, as embraced, both principles are desperately corrupt.
When God asked Cain where his brother Abel was, Cain famously replied, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain had in fact murdered his brother. That was the point. The passage was not about any supposed responsibility on Cain’s part to forward money to a huge government for the support of bureaucrats whose job it is to look after his brother in some lowly condition or other – the normal way the phrase is used today.
It’s also true that man does not live by bread alone, but again the context is, “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” In short, the saying refers directly to the Christian (and Jewish) religion. It is not talking about God (“however you conceive him”), family, country, sacred honor, and the like. Of course, all these things seem more important to a decent human being than bread, but that is not what is being discussed.
The way the throwaway saying is used today is to imply that the People are not the research flock on the Government’s experimental farm. True, but such a monstrous proposition, routine today, was not even considered by the author of the saying or his hearers. If all people want to assert is their human dignity over against the giant government machine they support, they should really get their own slogan, not poach from the Bible.
And there is no way of making the middle ground exciting. There just isn’t a middle ground between degradation and dignity.
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