Moderation, The Appeal to

The presumption that moderate ends can always be obtained by moderate means. But, as the sixteenth century French thinker, François Rabelais, warns us—don’t count on it. He valued, perhaps above all else, médiocrité—which means neither mediocrity nor moderation, but “reasonable tranquillity”, and he warned that the achievement of tranquil ends may well require means which include fortitude, along with action that is anything but moderate. One of Rabelais’ characters gives advice on the defence of tranquil space against the fanatics and authoritarians that would invade it:

Burn them, nip them with pincers, slash them, drown them, hang them, impale them, break them, dismember them, disembowel them, hack them, fry them, grill them, cut them up, crucify them, boil them, crush them, quarter them, wrench their joints, rack them and roast them alive . . .M18

But surely such behaviour is to be avoided if at all possible? As the Czech thinker of our own day, Nadia Johanisova, writes,

There is no doubt that violence may be necessary. We should have defended ourselves against Hitler in 1938. On the other hand, in this country we have sad experience of immoderate means (torture, execution, imprisonment, being expelled from the country, job, university, etc) being taken to defend laudable ends (equality between classes, employment for all, free education, an idea of Communism which some believed) and I would be very careful to suggest any form of extremism.M19

Johanisova is right of course; when thinking about this subject, it is impossible to avoid playing with fire. The brutality that she reminds us of was in no way a defence of reasonable tranquillity—that is, of civility. It was an exact expression of what happens when those defences break down. Yet civility and médiocrité do not come free. Moderate defence is no defence.

 

Related entries:

Calibration, Frankness.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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