Political fundamentalism can have great appeal. As the morals of our culture deteriorate; as our economy falters with sustained high unemployment; as even science becomes politicized; as political stalemate paralyzes our federal government; as the Obama administration fights with the Catholic Church over practices repugnant to its core doctrines, unheedful of the Constitution's bedrock guarantee of freedom of religion; as the sweeping PPACA legislation was passed on purely partisan lines in a hurried and unseemly fashion; as federal spending has become unsustainable, people understandably search for answers, for a way out of the mess we're in.
Many yearn for absolutes in politics. Although absolutes may be appealing and politically expedient, in reality, answers to complex problems are rarely simple. That is the danger of political fundamentalism gone too far: It can lead to extremism and inflexibility.
Good politics cannot operate in a highly polarized environment like we see all too often now. When people become extreme, they become intolerant of conflicting points of view. When people become zealots, political absolutism replaces civil dialogue and mutual respect. Political opinions become quasi-religious doctrine. While moral and religious principles often deal in absolutes, our democratic system requires compromise.
The rightfully revered participants at the Constitutional convention in Philadelphia were great examples of this principle. This amazing collection of strong-willed men represented states with very different interests. And yet through debate, persuasion, listening, and negotiation, these men were willing to compromise. This same ability to listen and to compromise without sacrificing principle is needed today.
Sometimes it takes an upwelling of popular opinion to right the ship of state which has listed too far to one side. Unlike Germany, Russia, and other nations, and excepting the American Civil War, the United States has avoided violent political upheaval. However, if too many people feel disenfranchised and ignored, and become pessimistic about their own and their country's prospects, they will become potential allies for some charming or beguiling demagogue. To avoid the frustrations which can turn into extreme movements, government leaders of all parties must work together to address the huge and difficult issues many nations face today. They must give their citizens an honest appraisal of their national challenges and educate and listen to them. Out of this political success will grow continued political and economic stability. Recent events have shown wise observers that we cannot take such stability for granted.
Extreme political fundamentalism will surely be a part of the world's future, much of it deriving from religious intolerance. Let's hope we can meet its many risks.