I was casting about for the source of a statement I’ve always admired (and have quoted more than once) when I remembered this piece:
Compromise is potentially constructive only when it's strictly about means: i.e., when the two sides angling toward a compromise sincerely agree on the end to be sought, and are both willing to allow that they might be wrong about what means would best serve that end. Under those conditions, everyone involved will be watching the outcome and judging the means applied by that standard alone. When the ends are opposed to one another, compromise must disserve one or the other. It cannot be any other way.
If your end is political liberty -- the maximum possible freedom from coercion or constraint for peaceable persons -- there's absolutely no reason to "dialogue" with persons whose end is an expansion of State power. Compromising with statists means promoting their end, which is the exact opposite of your end. Yet many a freedom-minded person will feel a tug toward such a "dialogue," and the ideal of compromise, despite the clarity of the above. This is the Nice-Guy Trap in action.
Of course. But the Left is as relentless as the Sun is regular. It always comes back: perhaps weakened, or under a new disguise, or with dramatically different rhetoric and tactics. But one way or another, it comes back.
Which means that if lovers of freedom and justice want an enduring victory – not an eternal one, mind you; that’s impossible, in the nature of the game – we must be prepared. The preparations must be of a specific sort.
For the umpteenth time – or perhaps the skatey-eighth? – I will repeat a maxim of which I’ve grown fond:
There are possible modifications to many a proposed public policy that would improve it in the fundamental sense: i.e., by making it a better step toward its goal. However, there are equally many possible modifications that would corrupt it: i.e., they would alter it away from its goal, perhaps by giving life to an evil whose defeat was the point of the policy initiative.
This is the heart of the problem of compromise. A parable I first encountered in the writings of mathematician, polymath, and maverick philosopher Raymond Smullyan comes to mind:
John and Steve, two young boys, are wandering around in a seemingly empty house. They come to its kitchen, where they find a scrumptious-looking cake. John exclaims at once “Excellent! I shall now eat the whole cake.” Steve immediately moves to block John: “No! We found it together, so we should share it: half for you and half for me.” John pays him no mind, and says once again, “I shall eat the whole cake.” The two are quarreling when an adult happens upon the scene, listens briefly, and says “Gentlemen! This is no way to act. You should compromise.” He then addresses Steve: “Give him three-quarters of the cake.”
[Presented in This Book Needs No Title. NOTE: The above is not an exact quote.]
Get the idea?
Business legend Robert C. Townsend wasn’t fond of compromise either:
Compromise is usually bad. It should be a last resort. If two departments or divisions have a problem they can’t solve and it comes up to you, listen to both sides and then, unlike Solomon, pick one or the other. This places solid accountability on the winner to make it work....
When you give in, give in all the way. And when you win, try to win all the way so that the responsibility to make it work rests squarely on you.
[From Further Up The Organization.]
In a business context, the desirability of that sort of absolutism can be debated in particular cases: specifically, those in which the “loser” is required to collaborate with the “winner” on the “winner’s” terms, against the “loser’s” best judgment (and possibly his departmental interests). In a public-policy context, the matter is much clearer.
When the Right is in the ascendant and proposes a policy (or a change to an existing policy), it will almost always be rooted in a fundamental goal of the Right: defending the country, limiting government and its exactions, assuring and protecting individuals’ rights, what-have-you. The Left will usually choose between two tactics:
- Outright denunciation of the proposal as somehow cruel, unjust, or “un-American;”
- A suggestion of “compromise.”
Clearly, the former stroke must be fought a outrance; no other response is possible. The latter one often sets the Right back on its heels.
Why is that? Because the word compromise has somehow been imbued with a glamor that fogs minds. It’s treated as good beyond all possibility of argument. And nearly all the time, the exact reverse is the case.
The Left’s goals are absolutely and irremediably in conflict with ours. The “compromises” they suggest to Constitution-respecting, pro-freedom initiatives will oppose the goal of such initiatives. Therefore they must be fought with maximum ferocity.
Will that always be the case? At this point in our sociopolitical devolution, I must answer in the affirmative. The Left wants absolute power over every last aspect of human existence, forever. That is its one and only goal. Leftists’ representations of “compassion” and the like are purely cosmetic. Therefore, in principle – and there’s a word more people should understand for its exact meaning – there can be no “compromise” with them.
At this time, the Left is in a shrunken minority position, nationwide. Its own machinations have “weaponized” the federal government, such that President Donald Trump can tear away its recent gains by the same methods his predecessor used to accrue them. Preliminary indications, including several surveys of popular opinion, suggest that the denunciation tactic will not serve the Left this time. Therefore, we must expect that their mouthpieces on Capitol Hill will attempt to undermine Republican initiatives with suggestions of “compromise” – cups of sewage to be poured into our pro-freedom, pro-Constitution, pro-American wine – with coordinated PR campaigns designed to paint the GOP as “unreasonable” should those “compromises” be declined.
The moral should be obvious...and there are those two damnable words again.
Write your Republican Representatives and Senators. Send them a link to this essay. And remind them that you’ll be watching.