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Virtue in American Government; A Defense of the Moral Middle

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Why the Middle?

Aristotle in his treatment of Ethics stated: “Virtue then is a …middle state between two faulty ones, in the way of excess on one side and of defect on the other: and it is so moreover, because the faulty states on one side fall short of, and those on the other exceed, what is right, … but Virtue finds, and when found adopts, the mean.”  If we apply this concept of “Virtue” to politics, we must conclude that government can both do too little as well as too much. It is my opinion that this is currently true of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. The Democratic Party, in pursuing their own unique course of inclusion, seems to have wavered from the middle, or mean, in the way of excess. The Republican Party, oddly enough, seems to waver in excess in its willingness to use military force but, when it comes to social issues, the party seems to fall the way of defect, or an unwillingness to step in and do what needs to be done.

In the case of The Democratic Party, it has become a haven for post 1960 social liberal groups embracing abortion, LGBT rights, aggressive environmentalism, and a war on religion; all contributing to and resulting in a militant political correctness. Each of these groups comes to the party with specific grievances requiring redress and political platform initiatives. The sum total is that the democratic platform has been pulled “off of center” and away from past party emphasis on supporting the common person, as was the case in Theodore Roosevelt’s  “New Deal”, etc. This acceptance and embracing of liberal special interest groups has lead to a philosophy, which undercuts the moral solidity of our democratic republic. In their book “The Lessons of History,” Will and Ariel Durant state: “Morals are the rules by which a society exhorts …its members and associations to behavior consistent with its order, security, and growth.” Commenting then on the modern state of our nation, the Durants note: “We frolic in our emancipation from theology, but have we developed a natural ethic-a moral code independent of religion-strong enough to keep our instincts of acquisition, pugnacity, and sex from debasing our civilization into a mire of greed, crime, and promiscuity?” In our rush to accommodate this modern liberality have we taken the time to develop a complementary moral code to protect our society or, have we fallen then, as Aristotle teaches, from Virtue “in the way of excess?”

In the case of The Republican Party; since the time of Theodore Roosevelt, the party has become a haven for political Hawks that are quick to use America’s military might to spread democracy throughout the world. This has led us at times to become the aggressor in military conflicts e.g., Viet Nam and Iraq. Additionally, the Republican Party has become the home for radical Constitutionalists and entrenched conservatives touting isolationism and who, while viewing our nation with monochrome judgment, are adamant against compromise. This has resulted in a tugging of the party right of Reagan era republicanism and to the party itself of being branded as obstructionists.

Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico led a successful and bloodless revolution in a country where revolution had, in recent history, devastated the population in ways rivaling and even surpassing the U.S. experience during our civil war. What wisdom has he gained? He wrote: “This is the great lesson of democratic revolution, relevant for those who would bring democracy to Iraq or Nigeria through a rifle barrel today: You can’t hand democracy to a people on the point of a bayonet. You can’t export it like American tractors on a USAID program. It must come from within. That is the great wisdom of King and Gandhi, Lech Walesa, Baclav Havel, Nelson Mandela: Before you can change governments, you must change hearts.” He later concludes: “By ignoring the process of global democracy …the United States set itself up as the world’s judge, jury and policeman.” Here to, in our efforts to provide a safe world and to export freedom, have we missed Virtue “in the way of excess?”

The Moral Middle is an effort to identify and discuss avenues of Virtue in American political direction and to bring that discussion to as broad of an audience as possible. Where does the virtuous “mean” described by Aristotle lie? I think it can be found in questions which seek a middle ground. Questions such as: Can we not pursue a path of kindness, tolerance and fairness without embracing a laze-faire attitude toward behavior? Can we not spread democracy through trade and example rather than blood and carnage? Can we not embrace both the democratic and republican core tenants by taking care of our people and be fiscally responsible at the same time? Can we not base our republic on the empowerment of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness instead of “acquisition, pugnacity, sex” and gun boat diplomacy? Alexix de Tocqueville said “America is great because it is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Please, join me in discussing ideas on how America can continue to be “good” and preserve its greatness.

Samuel Waen Jensen

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About Waen

Educated through Golden Gate University's MPA program and previously employed in Human Resources by the Federal Government and Higher Education, Waen is now retired from working 8 to 5 and is writing about Politics, Life and a little Religion.
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