In Praise of Polarization

English: I took photo of William Lloyd Garriso...
English: Photo of William Lloyd Garrison at National Portrait Gallery. (Photo credit: Billy Hathorn)

Wikipedia defines political “polarization” as “the divergence of political attitudes to ideological extremes,” asserting that “when polarization occurs in a two-party system, like the United States, moderate voices often lose power and influence.”

According to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, American politics is currently extremely polarized in the sense that “Republicans and Democrats are further apart ideologically than at any point in recent history.”

Most political analysis assumes that polarization and “extremism” are bad things and that the best solutions to social problems lie somewhere in the “moderate” middle. I disagree.

Politics is, in large part, a process through which some people’s wealth is forcibly taken and given to other people.

Democratic “extremists” want to take your wealth and give it to “the poor.”

Republican “extremists” want to take your wealth and give it to “defense” contractors.

Democratic and Republican “moderates” make a show of “reaching across the aisle” to “compromise.” Their solution is to take your wealth and give it to “the poor” AND “defense” contractors.

If the “moderate” solution seems worse than either “extreme,” that’s because it is. The “moderate” middle is the worst of both worlds. Progressive populist Jim Hightower titled one of his books There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos. I don’t agree with Hightower on a lot, but he certainly nailed it with that title.

Answers to political problems, if they are to be found, will be found on the “extremes,” because all problems eventually break down to binary distinctions: Yes or no? Right or wrong? Trying to mix the two options via “moderation” and “compromise,” as Ayn Rand (a philosophical political opposite of Jim Hightower) wrote, fail because “[i]n any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.”

But what if BOTH “extremes” are wrong, as is the case in modern American politics? Better that the extremists be forced to publicly wallow in their errors than that they be allowed to disguise those errors in “moderate” rhetoric. Polarization is good because it exposes truth. And in this case the truth sends us looking for a third, better set of “extremists.”

William Lloyd Garrison, the namesake of the advocacy journalism center for which I write, exemplified this approach. He stood full force against chattel slavery for decades as the Democrats, Whigs, Free Soilers and Republicans floated multiple compromises, provisos and other schemes that culminated in the Civil War … and in complete victory for Garrison’s cause.

Libertarians are the third, correct “extreme.” We don’t want to take your wealth and redistribute it. Not to “the poor.” Not to “defense contractors.” Not to anyone. We think you’re a better judge than “extremists” or “moderates” of either major political party when it comes to how to spend what you earn.

So forget “moderation” and “compromise.” Time to get “extreme.” But search out the genuine libertarian article and accept no substitutes.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.