You are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost its savor, how shall it be salted? it is thereafter good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Matthew 5:13
Conservatives may not be the salt of the earth, but metaphor holds well enough nonetheless. In the Fall 2012 edition of the Claremont Review of Books, William Voegeli has an essay, entitled Extremism in Defense of Liberty1, explaining why the Republicans haven’t been worth their salt – so to speak.
Voegeli addresses the consensus among the so-called moderate wing of the Republican party expressed by former G.W. Bush speechwriter, David Frum,
The conservative shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology has ominous real-world consequences for American Society.
So those paragons of supposed-moderate virtue would have us believe. The reality is, of course something quite different, as Voegeli ably demonstrates. There is another reason why the Republican party is failing to hold the interest of its base – or anyone else. It doesn’t stand for anything. The centrism that Rino’s like Frum yearn for is simply blasé, and scarcely differentiable from the leftists who have taken over the Democratic party. (Funny how no one bemoans the extremism prevalent among the Democrats who booed God at their convention.) For all their wailing over the claimed pernicious influence of those evil tea-partiers, it is actually the so-called centrists which end up polarizing the debate. Voegeli’s point:
In the absence of a satisfactory account of its essential principles, however, centrism stands revealed as an “-ism” without an -ism, the chief reason that ultimately became a -wasm. Lacking a telos, centrism’s logical base is to collapse into split-the-difference-ism, rendering it not only incoherent in theory but counterproductive in practice. That is, insofar as centrism is a political force that matters, it ends up inciting rather than restraining extremists. If centrists can be relied upon to embrace the middle position between two extremes, the partisans of each extreme have every incentive to make their positions more extreme, not less, before the centrists calibrate and then endorse the half-a-loaf resolution. For all their hopes and exertions, moderates not only do not moderate the political process and policy outcomes, but actually intensify and polarize fights over the nation’s future course.
This is but one of many interesting observations that Voegeli makes during the course of his essay. We can’t hope to summarize his thoughts effectively without simply copying the entire piece here. Fortunately, it is available on line. It is to be highly recommended.
“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”