Every democratic country is (or should be) based on an inclusive and comprehensive political process. By definition, the democratic discourse includes all stakeholders: hardliners, moderates and “confused”. All actors play an important role in shaping the structure of the society and in enhancing the correct functioning of the political process.
Hardliners vs moderates
Regardless of the nature of the State, hardliners can be found in any country. Extremists can be driven by political, economic or religious ideals and have a clear vision of what they want the State and the society to look like. By definition, hardliners “pursue an uncompromising policy” and are “reluctant to accept changes and new ideas.”
If we imagine the political scenario as a long, straight line, we may find hardliners at the opposite ends, promoting conflicting views and often clashing over crucial issues (i.e. immigration, State involvement in the economy etc.). Conversely, in the middle part of the line we can find moderates.
A moderate is “someone with a political belief that sits between the two extremes of liberal and conservative, usually combining aspects of both (example: liberal on social issues yet conservative on economic issues).”
Both hardliners (or extremists) and moderates are necessary to continue the political discourse: in fact, only the democratic opposition of views can bring about progress and effective governance. Furthermore, such distinction exists both within a single party and among different parties. For instance, in the United States the two main parties are Republicans and Democrats and they differ in many substantial ways:
- Democrats are liberal, left-leaning while Republicans are conservative, right-leaning;
- Democrats believe in collective rights while Republicans believe in individual rights;
- Democrats support gay marriage while (some) Republicans don’t;
- (Many) Democrats oppose death penalty while (many) Republicans are in favor;
- Democrats support public universal health care while Republicans prefer private health care systems; and
- Democrats are generally more favorable to open immigration policies while Republicans support strong enforcement actions at the borders.
However, Democrats and Republicans are not the only ones on the scene: in fact, the gap between the two parties is filled by a large and heterogeneous group of moderates. According to recent statistics, more than a third of Americans consider themselves moderates, and the numbers are not much lower in other countries.
The large number of moderates does not imply that a third of the American population is not well-informed or does not care about the fate of the nation. On the contrary, being a moderate means:
- Considering both sides of complex issues;
- Avoiding dangerous extremisms;
- Looking for compromise rather than for opposition;
- Worrying about the possible repercussions of extreme policies and decisions; and
- Being open to confrontation and mediation.
Moreover, moderates exist even within single parties. For instance, within the Republican party we can find hardliners and moderates:
- Hardliners are against abortion while moderates support abortion in some instances;
- Hardliners push for a ban in immigration and for the closure of borders whereas moderates – while supporting a strong control at the borders – agree with amnesty for undocumented immigrants under special circumstances; and
- Hardliners are totally against gay marriage whereas moderates may accept it.
The role of Moderates in the political process
Political growth depends on the ability of the parties involved to discuss constructively and to act in the best interest of the nation. As such, it often happens that crucial members of the leading elite are part of the moderate group – at least in democratic countries. In fact, when people democratically elect their government, it is hard for an extremist/hardliner exponent to get the majority of the votes. Indeed, there are particular circumstances in history when citizens feel the need of a strong, authoritarian leader who can deliver his promises and will not let them down. However, in times of peace, the majority of the population is more prone to vote for a moderate leader who will (most likely) not drag the country into a conflict and who will not act impulsively and irrationally.
Furthermore, even if they are not part of the leading circle, moderates play other, important roles in the political process, and their presence is essential for the stability and the prosperity of any country. In fact, moderates:
- Play a pivotal role in peacemaking and negotiations;
- Are willing to take into account the needs and interests of other people;
- Are open-minded;
- Are skilled negotiators and are willing to change their views and positions – if their counterpart is able to persuade them;
- Are very rational;
- Play a central role in pushing for the de-escalation of conflicts;
- Are conciliatory;
- Constructively participate in the promotion of confidence-building measures rather than in confrontations;
- Often act as impartial third parties in the appeasement of conflicts;
- Condemn and limit the damages created by extremists and hardliners;
- Contribute to the creation of a better image of the whole group/party (e.g. having a large number of Republicans supporting abortion rights contributes to the creation of a more moderate/less extreme image of the party);
- Can limit or prevent the escalation of hostility and conflicts;
- Promote cooperation;
- Limit the escalation of violence;
- Limit the polarization of the society; and
- Engage in constructive problem-solving.
In other words, moderates play a pivotal role in the maintenance of balance and peaceful relations within a party and among parties – and, in some cases, among States.
If we analyze the matter from another perspective, we can see what the society would look like without moderates. In a world of hardliners:
- The likelihood of conflicts would increase;
- Cooperative efforts would be replaced by (violent) confrontations;
- Minorities and other groups would be marginalized;
- Negotiations would result much more complicated;
- Societies would be polarized;
- There would be major shifts in politics and economic programs depending on the tendencies of the ruling elite; and
- Relations with other countries would be much less peaceful.
Not only are moderates important for the maintenance of peaceful dynamics within a country, but also for the prevention and resolution of conflicts at the international level. In fact, moderates often engage in track II diplomacy, which is defined as “unofficial, informal interaction between members of adversary groups or nations that aim to develop strategies, to influence public opinion, organize human and material resources in ways that might help resolve their conflict.” Indeed, the outcomes of track II diplomatic efforts may lead to subsequent improvements of personal and international relations and could promote the spread of peaceful, moderate ideals.
In a world where extremist ideals are becoming increasingly popular, the importance of moderates is growing exponentially. Being a moderate, in fact, does not mean being ill-informed or being unaware of the situation within (and outside) the country. On the contrary, moderates are well aware of the complexity of important issues (i.e. immigration, health care, international involvement, conflicts, human rights, individual and collective rights, role of corporations, taxes, economic growth, etc.) and are able analyze all aspects of any issue as well as all possible consequences before taking a stance.
Furthermore, moderates also limit the damages of (possibly violent) confrontations of hardliners standing at the opposite end of the spectrum. Indeed, moderates play a mediating role both in domestic and foreign policies, and their presence is crucial for the peaceful resolution of conflicts as well as for the prevention of clashes and disputes.
Finally, not all moderates are the same:
- Some may believe in death penalty while pushing for abortion rights;
- Some may be biased against Muslims or black people while supporting women’s rights;
- Some may be in favor of gay marriage while being against abortion;
- Some may push for the peaceful resolution of some conflicts while insisting for military involvement in others;
- Some may be in favor of amnesties for undocumented migrants while supporting a large involvement in international conflicts and a strong stance against terrorist groups; and
- Some may insist for a large State involvement in the economic sphere while advocating for the privatization of the health care system.
In other words, if someone is a “moderate” on one particular issue does not mean that he/she will have the same approach for every single issue and under all circumstances. However, regardless of the matter of concern, there will always be someone able to rationally analyze the situation and to promote a moderate approach and solution. In fact, in order to have a democratic and inclusive political process, all opinions must be considered and taken into account – in particular the moderate ones that often bring together and reconcile the most extreme perspectives and offer a common ground for debate and growth.