Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Dante Condemns Moderation

Some weeks ago, we had a conversation about "moderation" vs "the extremes" which reminded me of this passage from Dante's Inferno. Generally, we value "moderation" in the United States, but Dante has a different view.

Inferno: Canto III
"Through me the way is to the city dolent; Through me the way is to eternal dole; Through me the way among the people lost.

Justice incited my sublime Creator; Created me divine Omnipotence, The highest Wisdom and the primal Love.

Before me there were no created things, Only eterne, and I eternal last. All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"

These words in sombre colour I beheld Written upon the summit of a gate; Whence I: "Their sense is, Master, hard to me!"

And he to me, as one experienced: "Here all suspicion needs must be abandoned, All cowardice must needs be here extinct.

We to the place have come, where I have told thee Thou shalt behold the people dolorous Who have foregone the good of intellect."

And after he had laid his hand on mine With joyful mien, whence I was comforted, He led me in among the secret things.

There sighs, complaints, and ululations loud Resounded through the air without a star, Whence I, at the beginning, wept thereat.

Languages diverse, horrible dialects, Accents of anger, words of agony, And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands,

Made up a tumult that goes whirling on For ever in that air for ever black, Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind breathes.

And I, who had my head with horror bound, Said: "Master, what is this which now I hear? What folk is this, which seems by pain so vanquished?"

And he to me: "This miserable mode Maintain the melancholy souls of those Who lived
withouten infamy or praise.

Commingled are they with that caitiff choir Of Angels, who have not rebellious been, Nor faithful were to God, but were for self.

The heavens expelled them, not to be less fair; Nor them the nethermore abyss receives, For glory none the damned would have from them."

And I: "O Master, what so grievous is To these, that maketh them lament so sore?" He answered: "I will tell thee very briefly.

These have no longer any hope of death; And this blind life of theirs is so debased, They envious are of every other fate.

No fame of them the world permits to be; Misericord and Justice both disdain them. Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass."

And I, who looked again, beheld a banner, Which, whirling round, ran on so rapidly, That of all pause it seemed to me indignant;

And after it there came so long a train Of people, that I ne'er would have believed That ever Death so many had undone.

When some among them I had recognised, I looked, and I beheld the shade of him Who made through cowardice the great refusal.

Forthwith I comprehended, and was certain, That this the sect was of the caitiff wretches Hateful to God and to his enemies.

These miscreants, who never were alive, Were naked, and were stung exceedingly By gadflies and by hornets that were there.

These did their faces irrigate with blood, Which, with their tears commingled, at their feet By the disgusting worms was gathered up.

And when to gazing farther I betook me. People I saw on a great river's bank; Whence said I: "Master, now vouchsafe to me,

7 comments:

liberal for life said...

I feel that Dante is trying to express here that moderation is the easy way out and if you do so in life and do not take a stand for anything than in death you will be seen as not even a person deserving of hell. Not a person deserving of anything but horror and shame. I feel a certain way about moderates and no it’s not this extreme but I feel as if it’s cowardly. I feel that if you don’t have the guts to stand up for something tooth and nail than no respect shall be given to you. Yeah its easier to sit on the fence and refuse to take a side but this really shows your character and how you lack one. If you cannot take a side on something than in reality you have no passion for it and your opinion should not even count. Maybe the idea that moderation is good is what is wrong with this country. So many people lack passion for anything and in that sense they are dead inside and if you are dead inside why are you living at all?

retro_liberal said...

Moderation, like all else, has its benefits. The key to understanding the moderate ideology is to understand a concept of “middle ground.” This can be seen as a cop out by many, obviously including Dante, but in reality it’s more of an admission that there needs to be some sort of resolution to the arguments proposed by the two sides of the extreme. Humans have a tendency to look at things from a black and white perspective. That is to say that most people believe there is a solid, palpable solution to most issues.

That’s not always the case, take for example gay marriage. Most people automatically take an extreme view of the issue. They’re either very strongly for it, or very strongly against it. There are strengths and weaknesses to both sides of the argument, however, if looked at from a moderate point of view a solution might present itself. It could be as simple as saying that same sex couples have the same legal privileges that married men and women do, but that their union is not the same as a marriage from a religious stand point. Removing religion from the equation definitely weakens the conservative argument; the sanctity of marriage is not at issue anymore. However, that would require the left to also compromise, because a large part of the debate does stem from the religious connotations of marriage. The gay Christians want to sanctify civil unions as marriage in the eyes of god. However, again, if we make the issues purely a legal one, as was intended by the framers of the constitution, then a moderate solution is viable.

All in all, moderation is not such a bad thing at all.

voice_of_reason said...

I think retro_liberal is absolutely right. Moderation is indeed not a bad thing at all. The fact is that most things in life are far from black-and-white; there are many nuances and shades of gray. Take, for example, the belief that "Thou shalt not kill". That principle may sound black-and-white at first but, when you look at the situations I will point out below, is really not black-and-white at all. If we took a black-and-white approach to that law, we would not be able to shoot a person in self-defense, use the death penalty on a serial killer, or launch a war on a country that attacked us (ex: Afghanistan under the Taliban). Moderation is not necessarily cowardice; in fact, moderation often means being able to face the hard truth that the world is not black-and-white. Taking a black-and-white stance often leads to inconsistency when you come face-to-face with the hard truth. Take, for example, an issue brought up in President Bush's second inaugural address. Bush said that the US would no longer tolerate any government that was oppressive. However, not only has he tolerated some such governments, he has actually AIDED several such governments. For example, under Bush, the US has given $500 million to the government of Uzbekistan which, according to the State Department, employs "torture as a routine interrogation technique".

Anonymous said...

No_names_available

I don’t see what is so bad with moderation. I do not think that moderation is the easy way out; sometimes you don’t have an opinion on something. If everyone was completely one side or the other on every issue, how the heck are we supposed to get anything accomplished? Neither side can agree and each side thinks the other is wrong. Moderation is compromise, is the center to the leftist and the rightist. It is a common ground where people can at least find something good and something bad about each argument.
I consider myself to be closer to the left side of the political ideology, but not on all issues. There are some things I just do not have a stance on so I stay moderate in that case. That doesn’t make me weak or mediocre, I just do not really have a powerful stance on the issue at hand.

Anonymous said...

Dante's Inferno... one HELL of a show!

Anonymous said...

I think Dante's Inferno took place in a political theory class

clockwork_watchmaker said...

“liberal for life” is right on, and the rest of you need a schooling in the geography of Dante's Hell. don't worry, I’m not damning you there. I want you all to know I don't believe in damning outside the context of who would and wouldn't be in Dante's Hell. Any other hells you might be damning yourselves to is none of my business, I have quiet a few of my own. But the point Dante’s trying to make is if you follow a path of moderation, which by coincidence a lot of you do, then you're allowing your morality to be designed by consensus. You’re abdicating you're free will to mob mentality. And it's disturbing that so many of you would just hand over you're opinions of right and wrong like that. You’re damning yourself there by following the crowd chasing after a blank banner. Look at what Virgil says when Dante asks him where they are in the above Canto:

"This miserable mode Maintain the melancholy souls of those Who lived
withouten infamy or praise.
Commingled are they with that caitiff choir Of Angels, who have not rebellious been, Nor faithful were to God, but were for self.
The heavens expelled them, not to be less fair; Nor them the nethermore abyss receives, For glory none the damned would have from them."

Dante makes an import point through Virgil. Hell is a glorious place. Not in the sense that it's nice. It's not, believe me. It's glorious in the sense that those who are inside deserve to be there. The souls here aren't allowed in either Heaven, Hell, Earth, Limbo, or Purgatory. They must stay here forever.

And I: "O Master, what so grievous is To these, that maketh them lament so sore?" He answered: "I will tell thee very briefly.

This is key. Virgil occupies a nice mansion in Upper Limbo. But He's not comfortable down here, and he doesn't want to spend much time amongst these people telling Dante who they are and what they're doing.

These have no longer any hope of death; And this blind life of theirs is so debased, They envious are of every other fate.
No fame of them the world permits to be; Misericord and Justice both disdain them. Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass."

It’s almost as if he's eager to get into Hell proper. Take note of this banner that Dante see before they approach the Gates of Hell.

And I, who looked again, beheld a banner, Which, whirling round, ran on so rapidly, That of all pause it seemed to me indignant;
And after it there came so long a train Of people, that I ne'er would have believed That ever Death so many had undone.

Some of you argue the point that moderation is required to cope in a world without black and white. We do live in a gray world, no question. But we all believe in right and wrong, at least to the extent that you are able to express what you think is right and wrong. That's what this blog is for. Dante is saying that to express right and wrong is both human and divine, which is why there are humans and angels in this part of Hell. He thinks it's good to express right and wrong. To do neither, to preach moderation, is just as bad as being wrong. In fact, you can tell by the last line that this is the most populated section of hell: just outside it's gates. That might seem quixotic, but remember that Dante's Hell is circular and downward-spiraling, narrowing to the final sinner, with Lucifer at the bottom.

When some among them I had recognised, I looked, and I beheld the shade of him Who made through cowardice the great refusal.

All of you to preach that moderation is best, that right and wrong must be conclusions to be arrived at, all of you are making a great refusal. You are refusing you're responsibility to decide what you think is right or wrong. Even in Hell, there is glory in conviction. Moderation is just a small piece of the greater sin of conformity.