By STEVEN NALLEY
Moderation has a bad reputation in politics today, and Aurelian Craiutu wants to change that.
To illustrate the extent to which politicians and political experts have decried moderation, Craiutu, a professor of political theory and the history of political thought at Indiana University, cited several quotations from political figures both old and current, from the left and right.
One came from conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh: “By definition, moderates can’t be brave — they don’t have opinions. Brave moderates? Great moderates in American history? Show me that book.”
Craiutu came to Mississippi State University’s McCool Hall atrium Wednesday as part of MSU’s Institute for the Humanities Distinguished Lecture Series, giving a lecture entitled “In Praise of a Forgotten Virtue: Moderation in the 21st Century.”
He also signed copies of his book, “A Virtue for Courageous Minds: Moderation in French Political Thought, 1748-1830.” Craiutu’s education began in Romania and France, culminating in a doctorate from Princeton University in 1999.
MSU assistant history professor William Hay said the Distinguished Lecture Series is intended to cross disciplinary boundaries and show both students and the community at large something they might not see elsewhere.
“(Craiutu) and I have met on a number of occasions at conferences, and when I saw his book out from Princeton University Press, I thought this would be very timely and interesting to our audience, so it would be a great contribution to the series that we run,” Hay said. “It seemed like a good topic for a conversation after the election.”
One of Craiutu’s key points was that moderates may be open to compromise, and moderation may be fluid in the sense that a moderate position today might not be moderate in the future, but moderates do not necessarily lack political vision.
“(Moderation is) not being wishy-washy; it’s not flip-flopping. (A moderate) may have strong convictions, but they must be tempered by a sense of responsibility,” Craiutu said. “The moderate shuns the idea of government as being the chief agency in the pursuit of perfection. Above all, a moderate is aware that, in the words of Raymond Aron, ‘Politics is never a conflict between good and evil, but always a choice between the preferable and the detestable.’”
Moderation should also not be confused with centrism, Craiutu said, because there are moderates in politics on both the left and right. He compared political moderation with trimming the sails of a boat, to a sailor using his own weight to counteract winds that would otherwise blow the boat off course.
Craiutu also said moderation is not necessarily the best choice for all people and all seasons.
“I am not sure whether moderation has any relevance when your house is being burned down, when the secret police is after you and the hangman is at your door,” Craiutu said. “You don’t respond to that with moderation.”
Craiutu said this is his first time at MSU, and he was impressed with an audience at MSU that outsized the ones he sees at his own university. He said he enjoyed the question-and answer session at the end of the lecture.
“I would always welcome rebuttals and even challenges, so for me, this is really dialogue because I’m not sure that (moderation) is a virtue that can be rigorously analyzed,” Craiutu said. “All I hope to do is to suggest to people that there is a history of discourse behind the concept, to enrich the debates rather than to condemn the moderates for something that they don’t do or they don’t have. (I’m) trying to suggest to people that this is a complex virtue.”
Brian Shoup, an assistant professor of political science, said he attended graduate school at Indiana, so he has known Craiutu for the past 10 years and was glad to see him come to MSU.
“I think the biggest thing it’s done is it’s really provided a good avenue to showcase the strength of humanities at Mississippi State,” Shoup said. “As a really well-respected political philosopher, Craiutu is very well-regarded as an analyst of French democratization and French political thought more broadly, and it’s a really great opportunity for our students to see someone who’s really at the cutting edge of contemporary political theory.”