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Aurelian Craiutu On Moderation's Moment

Aurelian Craiutu On Moderation's Moment

The political scientist learned a lot from his upbringing in communist Romania.

Aurelian is a political science prof at Indiana University in Bloomington. His two most recent books are A Virtue for Courageous Minds: Moderation in French Political Thought and Faces of Moderation: The Art of Balance in an Age of Extremes. His forthcoming book is Why Not Moderation?: Letters to Young Radicals. If you think you know what moderation is, Aurelian will surprise you. Not mushy; not vague; not the median: it’s a political temperament and philosophy with its own distinctive heritage. We talk of Raymond Aron and George Orwell, Albert Camus and Michael Oakeshott, Isaiah Berlin and Adam Michnik. And why we need these kinds of thinkers today.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app — though Spotify sadly doesn’t accept the paid feed). For two clips of our convo — on whether the right or left is more of a threat to moderates, and why moderates oppose the notion of salvation — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: Aurelian growing up in communist Romania near Ukraine; his five key principles of moderation; the French philosopher Raymond Aron and his rivalry with Sartre; Camus and Orwell as men of the left whom leftists hated; Isaiah Berlin and pluralism; Tocqueville, Judith Shklar, and Montaigne; relativism vs. skepticism; Keynes, and how liberty and equality are not incompatible; Machiavelli and the role of luck in politics; Oakeshott, politics as the art of improvisation; Adam Michnik’s courage in dark times; Plato on when moderation is not a good thing; MLK’s critique of moderates, Flight 93 elections, the Benedict Option, the cancel culture of the right, Oscar Wilde and the need for relaxed humor in politics. Yes, it was a lot. But we had a lot of fun as well.

Another friendly chat came from Glenn Loury, whose Dishcast appearance is now available as a full transcript. Here’s an audio sample:

A listener really liked our latest guest:

Gosh, Jill Filipovic is whip-smart! Definitely gonna check her out more.

We had a spirited debate on feminism and abortion, but this listener saw lots of common ground:

This episode was one of the first where I found myself frequently finding the “opposing” viewpoints not as incompatible as they might seem on the surface. For example, you repeatedly brought up biology as an important factor when considering gender roles in society. We could say that sexual violence is clearly dominated by males, and that testosterone must therefore be a significant factor in making someone predisposed to sexually violent crimes. But we wouldn’t want to discount culture. I don’t think anyone would argue that sexual violence hasn’t changed since caveman times, that biology is completely deterministic, and that we shouldn’t bother to outlaw sexual violence because the existence of testosterone means it will never go away. Clearly, culture still has a role to play even if biology is extremely influential on behavior.

I could actually see the argument that feminism is even more important and essential because of the biological differences and the way they need to be integrated into society into a safe, fair way that provides everyone with dignity. 

Indeed. The nature vs nurture fight is absurd. The argument is always about the mix of the two, how they interact, and how human behavior is both inherited and learned. So yes, Jill and I had plenty of common ground, but different emphases.

Here’s Jill on the gains of feminism over the past 40 years — and the battles she still wants to fight:

Another listener enjoyed “your intense exchange with Jill Filipovic and came away both fascinated and frustrated”:

I think you let Jill off easy by letting slip without comment her statement that she was “assigned” female gender at birth. No, she was a female at birth because she has two X chromosomes. Of course, a true intersex infant may be “assigned” a gender at birth — the condition used to be called “hermaphrodism,” and you can’t write that on a birth certificate or a driver’s license. (Yet.) But I am confident pending correction that Jill was not intersex at birth. To say “assigned” ignores genetics altogether.

I do think Jill was right in pointing out that not all pregnancies are the consequence of the moral agency of women. Strangely, the discussion didn’t dwell on rape and incest. In those cases, I have long wondered why, of the three human beings involved, the fetus is subjected to capital punishment. I would be extremely sympathetic to making the legal consequences of rape and incest much more severe, especially when these acts result in pregnancy.

Another exclaims, “That abortion discussion was intense!”

I found Jill’s views much easier to understand — and even agree with — once you drew her into acknowledging there were moral tradeoffs involved. It’s because I agree with so much of what she said, that I wish you would have pushed back more on the idea that nobody demands from men what pro-lifers demand from women. The military draft springs to mind; men were forced to experience pure atrocity. Roe was decided five months before the last man was drafted, and to this day all men still have to register. We do not have a constitutional right to avoid military service.

It was one thing to hear pro-choice rhetoric focus on the uniqueness of pregnancy when Roe felt like the vanguard of broader bodily autonomy, but now that it’s clearly not, would a constitutional amendment to re-secure those rights also clearly cover the draft? What about other current issues of bodily autonomy, such as vaccine mandates? Youth gender transition? And if not — if it singles out abortion from these things for explicit protection — why?

Another on abortion:

I was struck by your statement that you could never be party to an abortion. If I might get a little personal for a moment, as I understand it, you take a liberal approach to sexuality in your personal life and, while your principles are pro-life, you are essentially pro-choice in the political sphere. Given your sexual orientation, in the normal run of things, you will never need to be a party to an abortion. I wonder if you could imagine a scenario in which abortion is a live issue for you. 

I love this quote from Richard Rohr:

There certainly is a need for a life-giving sexual morality, and true pro-life morality, but one could sincerely question whether Christian nations and people have found it yet. Christianity will regain its moral authority when it starts emphasizing social sin in equal measure with individual (read ‘body-based’) sin and weave them both into a seamless garment of love and truth.

I think you (broadly!) made the same point to Rod Dreher in your conversation a couple of weeks ago about sexuality. Perhaps you could imagine applying this approach to abortion, which exists as a result of the expression of human (hetero) sexuality. 

I have some profound issues with the idea of “social sin.” As for imagining how, as a gay man, abortion could be a live issue for me personally, I can only imagine a friend coming to me and asking for help with one. I couldn’t.

Another listener turns to the topic of child custody:

I’m listening to your conversation with Filipovic right now. She is being VERY patient with you, even though you keep dismissively saying “well, you’re wrong” — when she isn’t. As a lawyer who has handled family law cases, it is absolutely NOT TRUE, as you confidently insisted, that custody of children is “almost always” awarded to mothers. That may have been largely true once, but it’s definitely not the case anymore. And there’s no reason it should be.

There was once a thing called the “tender years doctrine,” which held that for very young children (not kids in general), the mom is usually the right choice. But nowadays even that idea is regarded as dumb. Men can raise kids just as well as women.

I do like that you have a guest who challenges your retrograde ideas, knows more than you do, and stays calm. You should have more such people — maybe Jennifer Rubin or Heather Cox Richardson. And fewer right-wing nuts like Christopher Rufo, please!

I wish my reader provided some solid data to back this up. We’ll investigate and report back next week on what we find. Back to the guest at hand — on hormones:

Really great episode with Filipovic. I often found myself shouting at my phone, but the important thing is you weren’t! Exactly the kind of engagement that is needed these days. You’re the anti-Tucker Carlson.

One correction that you’ve probably already gotten: women have testosterone too, and men have estrogen. I was astounded to learn that testosterone doesn’t just make men more masculine, it basically makes humans … human. With no testosterone, one interviewee was a hollow shell.

Did you know that even male monkeys prefer trucks and female monkeys prefer dolls, with no influence from human culture? BOOM. Also, I thought your point about the difference between gay male and lesbian relationships was brilliant. (You just need some hard data to back it up.)

I am of course aware that both sexes have testosterone and estrogen. Check out my piece two decades ago. But it’s not close to equal. Here’s one more listener on the Jill episode who “immensely enjoyed it”:

I was struck in particular by what she said about teen girls, cell phones, and self-esteem. That was my life — and I’m a guy. I was so excited to join Facebook when I was 14, but it soon destroyed my mental health and self-confidence, and I still deal with those issues. I feel like I missed out on a fair amount of life, and I have the weird feeling that if I had been born 20 years earlier, I wouldn’t suffer from these self-esteem issues.

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