Moderation and Its Discontents — Edward Gibbon edition

In the no-matter-how-much-things-change-they-remain-the-same department … in my insomnia last night I hit upon the following quote in Vol. V of Edward Gibbons’ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

In the field of controversy I always pity the moderate party, who stand on the open middle ground exposed to the fire of both sides.

As ever, the thought is elegantly and economically phrased by Mr. Gibbon. But what caught my sleep dazed eye was the degree to which, in the current environment, I do not share Edward’s sympathy.

I mean, consider this…or this…or this. My inclination is to remain on the barricades; it’s hard for me to see how the moderate middle holds.

Update: Forgot to title the damn thing.

Image: John Leech “Horatius Cocles defending the bridge” from The Comic History of Rome, c. 1850. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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2 Comments on “Moderation and Its Discontents — Edward Gibbon edition”


  1. Someone suggested your blog to me. Just dropping a line to say I’m listening in, for sure.

    As for the sentiment of your blogpost, I agree. I’ve read the Pharyngula post before, and I had a touch of gut-wrenching nausea.

    Well, I get that whenever someone mentions Expelled, really.


  2. Without having read Gibbon, I still came to the same conclusion. Liberalism seeks a sweet spot between simple and extreme ideologies of Marxism and laissez-faire capitalism. The extremes are easier to explain and sloganize, but they don’t work better.

    Despite the propensity of the political media to average positions (as the right shifts ever rightward), that doesn’t mean there’s always a coherent middle ground. It didn’t make sense to split the difference between Shinseki’s 300,000 troops and not invading Iraq at all. Of course, there was an appropriate middle ground – containment – which just proves a further difficulty of applying Gibbon’s observation.

    So, aphorism for aphorism: Moderation in all things – including moderation.

    Maybe better: Don’t do something stupid in the name of ideology.


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