Radicalizing Moderates

By: Lucas Lang

The world is becoming increasingly polarized. More and more, both the left and right are adopting with us, or against us, policies. These divisions are increasingly affecting moderate elements on both the left and the right as views that were accepted as middle ground or at least reasonable by opponents are becoming increasingly far-out. Those sharing even some of the beliefs of the fringes of the spectrum are being cast by the other side as being part of the problem.

Polarization has gotten to the point where those holding moderate views are forced to take more extreme sides or face rejection by both sides of the spectrum. An example of this could be an individual with a view that conditionally accepts abortion. The extreme right might reject them for being even open to accepting the murder of babies. Meanwhile the extreme left might reject them for even considering refusing a woman her right to choose. In such cases moderates are forced to yield to viewpoints which they may not completely agree with due to fear of rejection.

Some scholars are becoming concerned that current polarization is creating similar circumstances to those that led to the Spanish Civil War. Preceding the conflict, both the left and right engaged in increasingly violent actions creating division within society. The ensuing conflict further separated the population into opposing sides. A vast assortment of factions including Liberals, Conservatives, Catholics, Anarchists, Monarchists, Republicans, Fascists, Socialists, and Communists were forced to co-operate with factions they did not always agree with (resulting in significant internal conflict) in order to defeat “the other side”.  Comparing current U.S. events to the Spanish civil War, history professor Ian Dowbiggin notes that, “The Spanish example is a warning of what happens when there is no middle ground.” Ultimately, the people in the middle are being forced to pick sides, and the loss of the middle ground only makes polarization more severe.

Recent re-evaluations of Social media are further inflaming the situation. Crackdowns on extreme points of view and efforts to silence radicalizing content on multiple social platforms are not only enraging radical elements but also detrimental to efforts to reduce polarization. While some hope that as an alternative to “radical” content, extremists may view more content from the other side, a 2018 study found that exposure to “opposing political views on a social media site such as Twitter might be not only be ineffective but counterproductive.” Furthermore, as the example of Parler demonstrates, that banning of radical elements only forces them to seek new methods to communicate their worldview. In the ensuing effort to silence radicals, it is the center that suffers most.

While no one can argue that the center is flawless, elements acting within it often act as a calming voice to both sides of the spectrum. While they themselves vary in extremity, they do serve to reassuring their respective sides that the other is not an unreasonable disease. Through media, moderates can platform views, if not uniting, that can at least seek coexistence.

Through a polarized lens though, to someone, somewhere, any view can be considered radical. Efforts to rid the internet of so called “radical content” are a clear and present danger to moderates. Its hard to argue that the other side is reasonable when they are looking to ban your content for your views being too radical. Such action only serves to dis-empower moderate views while proving radicals correct when they argue that the other side cannot be reasoned with. Such was the case in early 20th century Imperial Russia. Moderate liberals and socialists seeking change were cast out by the Tsar, being imprisoned, or exiled, forcing them and their supporters to turn to more radical elements for the change they desired. Without moderate voices in our own time, can we expect any different?

As the world enters a new decade, the world is ever more polarized. In politics across the globe sides are being taken and lines are being drawn. Fear, anger, and hatred echoing a conflict that occurred 85 years ago are haunting us. We know what happens. Maybe its time to find a new path, before the moderates are forced to take sides.  

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