I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice.
—Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)
I wish you were either hot or cold; if I had my way you’d be one way or the other, all the way, but you lukewarm types, you passionless types, you make me want to vomit.
—John of Patmos, speaking for God (late first century)
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
—Edmund Burke (1770)
The well-known quote attributed to statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke (1729–1797) perfectly describes the role played by moderates and political independents in any society—good people who do nothing to stop the triumph of evil.
The persistence of evil in a nation is more due to the inaction and inattention of political and religious moderates than it is to the actions of dedicated white supremacists and authoritarian politicians. Throughout history, those who consider themselves moderates, centrists, and independents have, by their silence, been complicit with the rule of autocrats and evil regimes. Whether they realize it or not, they are often collaborators with tyrants and despots. They have historically allowed racism, misogyny, antisemitism, ethnic cleansing, war, poverty, and oppression to flourish by their self-centered lack of attention and action.
In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (1929–1968) wrote:
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God.
Today, political moderates and centrists like to portray themselves as common-sense people who keep an open mind on issues, are willing to listen to different viewpoints, think for themselves, and are not extreme in their beliefs. These are the so-called independent voters who do not strongly affiliate with either major party or their ideologies. They often feel themselves to be above the partisanship that afflicts the rest of us.