Author Oscar Wilde once recommended "everything in moderation, including moderation," and there is a nugget of truth in this whimsical remark. While moderation may well be advisable in one’s consumption of chocolate, it is, as Barry Goldwater put it, "no virtue" in the pursuit of justice and the defense of liberty. In political circles, we are frequently told that we must give up any form of extremism and support moderates in order to succeed, but succeed at what?
When drafting the Constitution, "extremists" called for outlawing slavery because it explicitly violated the natural rights principle espoused in the Declaration of Independence, but "moderates" advocated a “three-fifths compromise” and other such concessions for the sake of political expediency. The result? Millions of individuals, their children and grandchildren remained enslaved for nearly an additional century until the bloodiest war in our nation's history finally freed them and destroyed federalism in the process.
Today, we are frequently faced with similar quandaries. "Extremists" call for repealing Obamacare in full and doing away with wasteful government programs while "moderates" call for tweaks, adjustments and reductions in the rate of increase. The reality is that our country's problems are extreme and so often are the proper solutions.
Free-market economist F. A. Hayek has explained why defenders of liberty fail while radical leftists succeed. "The main lesson which the true [classical] liberal must learn from the success of the socialists is that it was their courage to be Utopian which gained them the support of the intellectuals and thereby an influence on public opinion which is daily making possible what only recently seemed utterly remote." What was once the position of socialist "extremists" (such as Obamacare) is now our reality.
Some might suggest that even if they don't accomplish as much, at least moderates accomplish something. Is this true, though? Have those who are calling for “reforms” to Obamacare been any more successful than those who have denounced it since its inception?
Hayek explains that "those who have concerned themselves exclusively with what seemed practicable in the existing state of opinion have constantly found that even this has rapidly become politically impossible as the result of changes in a public opinion which they have done nothing to guide." Today, the public is largely accepting of ideas which would have been roundly denounced as "extremism" a century ago.
Our opponents are not afraid to be "extremists" in the pursuit of their goals, and they have been far more successful than we have during the last hundred years. Let's stop being afraid of what the moderates will say and go out and be "extremists" for liberty. In my view, it's the one cause that's actually worth it.