Incrementalism and Compromise

by Timothy Lane   5/22/15

There was a nice article by Scott Klusendorf on TownHall which pointed out the harm that can be done when seeking the perfect, ultimate solution to a problem prevents a partial solution that can actually be attained.

Most of the article deals with an unnamed Arab state in which there was an effort to ban the female slave trade for native-born girls. The main supporters would have preferred a total ban, but this was a lesser step that was attainable, and would have stopped most of the slave trade in that nation. But it was blocked because a few sympathizers thought it didn’t go far enough. So, in the meantime, thousands of native girls will continue to be sold into slavery. Purity has a price, and in this case it’s paid by thousands of girls.

Klusendorf then discusses a debate on abortion between two pro-life activists. One was a purist, the other was willing to make incremental changes that are at least feasible. (Outright bans on abortion won’t be approved by SCOTUS for quite some time to come, after all, and are much harder to pass than small changes.) The pragmatist pointed out that incremental changes are saving lives today, and asked the purist if those lives should be sacrificed to ideological purity. He never answered — which was an answer in itself.

Although Klusendorf didn’t use the phrase, what he demonstrates is an example of how conservatives can sometimes use the Overton Window to improve conditions instead of making them worse (as liberals and other state-worshippers routinely do). We’re talking here about compromises in which one accepts half a loaf now, knowing that a whole loaf is not currently attainable. But getting the half makes it more feasible to get the whole one later.

Liberals are well aware of this concept, as they show in their gun prohibitionist efforts. Conservatives presumably have some idea of the concept, at least defensively, which is why they’re increasingly reluctant to accept any gun restrictions at all. But they need to start using the concept offensively as well, to roll back the corruptions and degeneracies wrought by modern liberalism.

The link to the article, for anyone who wants to read it, is: When Perfection Kills


Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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4 Responses to Incrementalism and Compromise

  1. Rosalys says:

    You’ve heard the old saw, “perfectionists never finish anything.” Progressives have been destroying our country incrementally for over a century. We have to use the same approach. In fact, many are trying to do just that, educating through the writing of books and articles, through day to day conversation. The left understands this and that is why they are so desperate to stop all conversation through intimidation, ridicule, and even, when they can get away with it, making certain kinds of speech illegal. When one of these little tyrants tells you to shut up, scream all the louder!

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    In theory, there’s nothing to be said against going for half a loaf. In practice, this idea of “perfectionism” typically is trotted out by Establishment Republicans and pseudo-conservatives as a way to stem off facing real change and making tough decisions.

    Note the the strategy of going for half a loaf works well for the Left. If they can’t get complete socialized medicine today, they’ll take Medicare. And then part C. And the part D (thanks George Bush). And then Medicaid. And then this and then that and then Obamacare. And then…

    The thing is, the Left has a taste for bread. They’re not just taking half a loaf because they lack an appetite. But in the case of Establishment Republicans and pseudo-conservatives, they don’t have a taste for bread. They have a taste for bread crumbs, at most.

    So every few months we’re regaled with an article by some Establishment Republican (or intellectual Republican) who says “See what happens when you don’t accept half a loaf?” But you and I know that most of these Establishment Republicans do not have a strategy for eating the whole loaf. This “half a loaf” baloney is just that. It’s a way to avoid the hard work of reform.

    Yes, of course, we conservatives would take banning abortion, for instance, after 3 months if that was all that was political feasible at that very moment. But the whole loaf is to ban it altogether. I don’t believe there is that motivation and vision amongst Establishment Republicans and pseudo-conservatives.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The key to incrementalism is striving for the goal but accepting that you can’t always get it, and must sometimes (even usually) settle for less. But those who don’t really share the goal are happy to settle for no progress at all. That’s how one can tell the difference.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Another valid question is, Where is anyone anywhere in the United States obstructing reform because they want too much?

    Again, I find such articles to be little more than pseudo-conservative mental masturbation. Yes, you can surely cherry-pick some event in the world where you can find “perfectionism” acting seemingly as a preventative to reform (although without that drive, would there have been any push for reform at all?). But is there anything like this going on in the politics of the West concerning most of the major issues?

    No. But we keep getting this theme trotted out that “perfection” is the grand enemy of reform. No, it’s this kind of dishonest or muddled intellectualism that is the enemy of reform.

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