The European left, allegedly more democratic than its counterparts on other continents, tends to offer us typical radical moments, under democratic guise, with the support of the Portuguese cheerleaders.

The idea of ​​”moderation” has not been so present in the political debate for a long time. But what are we talking about when we talk about “moderates“? The expression has been used in such an indiscriminate way that it sometimes seems like an empty qualifier, with no other function than that of a discursive crutch. If we are going to talk more and more about “moderates” (and their opposition to “radicals”), it is good that we give the concept a minimally precise meaning, one that is useful for the discussions that are taking place.

The current civil war environment has generated notions that do not work. Sometimes “a moderate” is just the way someone qualifies himself – even if he is a complete radical – to, in contrast, disqualify his opponent. It is a way of mastering language, of controlling the limits of debate, of exercising power.

At other times “moderation” is the insult with which a person, left or right, is disqualified by those on their own side. In his lack of fervor, a “moderate” is a wimp, a dilettante, a venal technocrat from the “centre”. In his condescension to the enemy, he is an infiltrator, a heretic, a traitor. In the past, the PCP’s accusation of gentrifying Zita Seabra for frequenting pastry shops, boutiques and gyms was considered a comic curiosity. Today that mentality is everywhere.

To simplify, we could say that moderates are those who oppose “populism”. That would not be enough, because there is no exact notion of what “populism” is either. Sometimes it is enough for a politician to raise his voice to be accused of being a “populist”.

It is true that a moderate is more contemplative than fundamentalist, and that he likes to see both sides of an argument more than dogmatically insist on a predefined conclusion. This makes him, as a rule, less aggressive. But it is possible to have temperate political ideas and intemperate behavior at the same time. It is possible to defend moderate policies with gusto, even truculence, just as it is possible to be sectarian with smooth talk. Take the case of Francisco Louçã, who with his legendary whispering rame-rame has been transmitting radicalism for decades as if it were elevator music.

“Moderation” should not be confused with style. Either it is an idea with political content or it is a useless concept.

My suggestion is this: the moderate is the one for whom the means are as important as the ends. The realization of political ideas is essential, but the nature of the process or environment that allows this realization is no less so. A moderate may want as much as a radical to bring about a certain political change. The difference is that, while for the former the conditions under which the change takes place are relevant, for the latter the ends always justify the means.

On the subject of “populisms”, this test translates as follows: for a moderate, democracy and civil, political and economic freedoms are fundamental; for a radical, they are a means that, in the name of ends, can be subordinated or subverted.

Maybe it’s just the old distinction between revolutionaries and non-revolutionaries, dressed up differently. Whatever: bringing language back to known categories is also a way of giving it meaning.

The European left, allegedly more democratic than its counterparts on other continents, tends to offer us typical radical moments, under democratic guise, with the support of the Portuguese cheerleaders.

An example is the Catalan question, where apparently a democratic and liberal constitution, approved by national consensus and with a clear revision procedure, must yield to the will of the mob in the street.

Another is what happened in Greece, in the summer of 2015, when Alexis Tsipras called a referendum, with a week’s notice and a long incomprehensible question, for the people to pronounce on a bailout program. As is known, the result of the consultation fell into the dustbin of History, like Tsipras’ own bravado. From the textbooks, however, there are still those who applauded this shameful subversion of a democratic expedient with the aim of political chicanery.

Sadly, the proto-revolutionary virus has also made its way to the right. I will write about this next week.