In the wake of murder in Tucson, predictable voices have urged moderation and suggested that Americans agree on a middle path, a resolution to “get things done,” and so on. Few myths are more resilient than the idea that the path of moderation is benign. When Barry Goldwater, 47 years ago, said “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” the cognoscenti in the enclaves of Leftist power judged him a doomed candidate. But…why? What Goldwater said was precisely true. Our nation was founded upon the radical idea that all men are created equal and that the primary purpose of government is to preserve liberty.
Goldwater proudly called himself a conservative. He warned that Social Security was an irresponsible program moving towards insolvency. Goldwater wanted either to win the Vietnam War or not to fight it. Goldwater, and later Reagan, accepted a worldview which saw Communism as both evil and vulnerable. Goldwater believed that civil rights measures before Congress, which he had strongly supported when the issue was simply racially neutral government, could not morally or constitutionally infringe private choices.
The drubbing he received in 1964 has been used ever since then as a bogeyman to keep conservatives from passionately attacking the dreary old structures of Leftist orthodoxy. We should, instead, take the middle path, the moderate way, the line of least resistance. Not only does this lead to slow civic death, but contrary to what the Left would have us believe, the middle path has a very ugly historical pedigree.
Who, besides Leftists today, urged a middle way for tackling political issues? The Nazis embraced that approach. We are so trained to think of Nazis as on the nonexistent Right, that it may come as a surprise to learn that the National Socialist German Workers Party did not even consider itself a party of the Right. The term “Third Reich” was not, as most people believe, coined by Arthur Moeller van der Bruck in his 1922 book of the same name although Moeller popularized the phrase. His “Third Reich” was intended to mean “Third Way” or “Third Viewpoint.” When Nazis were first elected deputies to the Reichstag in 1924, the Nazi deputies did not sit on the Right side of the Reichstag or the Left side of the Reichstag, but rather at the back of the chamber, deliberately stating in the political language of the time that the Nazi Party was neither Right nor Left.
As late as November 4, 1931, Nazi propaganda was proclaimed: “Left and Right, outdated concepts! A new man forms a new era” to a poster with a huge Nazi “We” standing behind the political parties of the notional Left and Right. In July 1932, Hitler campaigned against both the Left and the Right. The 1934 book, Hitler’s Official Programme, by Gottfried Feder states: “We know that neither the Left, with their false promise of ‘Down with Capitalism,’ nor the Right, with their phrases about the Fatherland, are capable of initiating a new world epoch, for neither Marxists nor reactionaries could alter anything in the nature of our economy.” The 1938 Hitler Youth book, The Life of the Fuhrer, noted in its introductory chapters that Hitler had opposed both conservatives and Marxists.
What did this “middle path” mean to the Nazis? It meant that the Party could lie with abandon, embrace or reject principles on pure political expediency, and condemn every political opponent having secured the “middle” of the political spectrum. Most honestly held political beliefs are uncompromising and extreme. This does not mean harsh, intolerant or deranged. Seventy years ago, the “extremist” in Britain was Winston Churchill, who against all odds and all advice opposed Nazism as irreducible evil. There were “moderates,” of course, in the British government. They would have at least parlayed with Nazi diplomats, suggested compromises, and tried to find common grounds of agreement. Any agreement, of course, would have implicitly allowed the survival of Hitler’s regime.
Forty years after Churchill, President Reagan summed up his approach to the Soviet Union: “How about this? We win. They lose.” Like Churchill, Reagan was vilified as a madman, cursed as the provocateur of war, and an “extremist.” Both men, both “extremists,” left us a legacy of hope which we have largely dissipated in the craven lust for transitory peace. We all find this sort of peace, eventually, when our life ends. The ugly, petty, vain and silly middle would have left the Gestapo running Europe and the Gulag swallowing lives whole. The shallow rhetoric of the “middle” presumes that no real truth, no vital principles, and no moral absolutes exist in our global ant colony. The middle is wrong. It has always been wrong. We should not shrink from advocating the good, the noble, and the right. Will we have garbage thrown at us by those who see no farther than their own comfort and ease? Of course: It has always been so, and we can embrace what we know is true or we can slip into the warm ooze of facile moderation, the ugly middle.