A time for militant moderation
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
— W. B. Yeats
The fierce and divisive politics of the last decade in Israel and around the world are not unprecedented. But neither does that mean that comparable scenarios have always ended happily.
We should be very careful about comparisons to Weimar Germany. Still, there is one similarity to which we would be wise to give our attention: that Weimar was, in many ways, a failure of the political center to rally its large constituency against the extremes.
The current situation in Israel artificially masks the fact that the center of this country has never been larger. Were ideology the only issue at stake, a centrist coalition would include a lion’s share of the nation’s electorate. It would include both Likud and its main rivals, Yesh Atid and National Unity (Gantz); it would include several other parties as well.
So why is the center here, and elsewhere, so divided? More than ever, politicians have learned that — given its moderate disposition — the center is always at a disadvantage. It does not have the force of passion and militancy to arouse its supporters. Indeed, its detractors use this in their attacks upon it. And in an age where both traditional media and social media cater increasingly to our passions, this disadvantage is magnified.
The strategy of extremists has always been to radicalize latent sympathies of those ideologically aligned with them. Meaning, the center is also divided between right and left (or whatever appropriate distinction can be used in any given case). What separates the center-right and the center-left from the extremes is less ideology than temperament. Hence, a society is divided both at its center and between the center and its extremes. But centrists understand that they must find a balance between their own ideals and those of others. They also understand that it is in the interests of everyone to satisfy most people some of the time rather than to satisfy some of the people — including ourselves — all of the time.
There is a place for passion in politics, as there is in life in general. But that place must be carefully watched by the leaders of any responsible party. The job of truly centrist politicians is to stress what separates them from the extremes, not what they have in common with them. In this regard, both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition have failed miserably. Moreover, any centrist who places the blame exclusively on one of them has fallen into their trap.
Both leaders have, up until Monday, refused to take decisive steps to reach a compromise. I imagine that this is a calculated ploy to get votes and win support. It has been their strategy over the last several years; and, in many ways, it has worked for them. But if there is a constructive place for passion right now, it should be directed against leaders who fan the flames of passion when they should be controlling them. We must demand moderation with the very same passion that some of us who should know better placed at the service of those uninterested in compromise for the greater good.
Let it be clear — the extremes of Israeli politics are also primarily made up of good, well-meaning individuals. There is no need to ostracize them, or to totally forswear any cooperation with them. Nevertheless, history teaches that when the center divides to align with its favored extremists, we hand them a future that will come to haunt us.