When I heard about an important new book by journalist Ezra Klein, “Why We’re Polarized,” exploring the roots of America’s partisan climate, my thought turned unexpectedly to Aristotle.
Among other things, the Greek philosopher linked ethics to moderation. He defined core virtues in terms of finding a mean between the extremes.
Aristotle’s thought isn’t the finale of ethics. He supported the slavery of his day, for one thing. But that ideal of temperate thinking may have more-than-passing relevance in the age of political rifts that Mr. Klein documents, where compromise and centrism can seem missing in action.
Yoni Appelbaum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, recently pointed to some patterns of history worth noting. First, recent research finds a correlation in Europe between stable democracies and the health of the moderate right. A strong center-right party, it seems, is a bulwark against authoritarianism.
Second he finds examples that show political parties can move away from extremes. A century ago, it was Democrats turning from nativism toward greater inclusion.
For Mr. Klein, one path toward depolarization lies in bolstering and improving the democratic process. “This is not a hypothetical,” he writes. “The country’s most popular governors are Charlie Baker in Massachusetts and Larry Hogan in Maryland.” They are moderate Republicans who are governing in Democrat-dominated states, with majority support.
Moderation isn’t dead. But it may need some TLC.