History is replete with people who have not compromised. And it seems to be happening again with the far right in this country. Non-compromisers of the last eighty years point to Neville Chamberlain’s compromise on Czechoslovakia as to why you do not compromise. But England was not prepared for war and to have drawn a line in the sand at that point could have been disastrous. He was well and truly caught short—a different lesson altogether—leaving him straddling two very bad options. Chamberlain, however, sealed his fate when he stated, on return to England, that there would be “peace for our time”, a prophecy that lasted less than a year. Chamberlain’s compromise will be forever pilloried.
If we look further back in English history, George III was not prone to compromise on taxes levied on his American colonists. You might have thought that the English would look upon the American colonies as an extension of England for a variety of reasons, from a common language to fighting the French and, most of all, the commercial ties. Extracting taxes from the colonists that the English in England did not have to pay was discriminatory and the basis for enough unhappiness that the American colonists were able to separate themselves, both psychologically and physically, from their English roots and choose independence.
Compromise, as seen by the far right, violates principle. But is principle so inviolable? For example, it is a sin to kill, but is it a sin to kill in war? Transfer that thinking to George III’s principle of not allowing the colonists a break on taxes. For want of compromise, he lost part of his empire—the principle seems foolish in retrospect. And this is what probably was running through Chamberlain’s mind—that the principle of going to war when you aren’t ready is a form of suicide. Casting his compromise as capitulation may be giving him short shrift, after all.
I am certain that we live in parlous times. The disparity between the haves and have-nots is large. Government is not serving the people’s interests. Strictly speaking, the anti-tax issue has favored the wealthy because revenue shortfalls require cuts or new, less visible, taxes. But the anti-tax effort has validity because of government inefficiency and byzantine tax laws—US tax law is insanely complex. Yet I see no heroism in refusing to compromise with mainstream thought as regards revenue and government programs. The hard work is cutting down the size of government in a sensible fashion. Blowing things up may be fun, but it is also very dangerous.