I am neither surprised nor upset by the divisive partisanship of current times. Emotional partisanship is nothing new in the world. But we certainly must condemn the bad manners it now engenders.
David Hume, the great philosopher, economist and historian, reflected calmly on partisan passions in 1741, in his Essays Moral and Political. Here are some relevant excerpts (with ellipses deleted):
“There are enow of zealots on both sides who kindle up the passions of their partisans, and under pretense of public good, pursue the interests and ends of their particular faction.
“Those who either attack or defend a minister in such a government as ours, where the utmost liberty is allowed, always carry matters to an extreme, and exaggerate his merit or demerit. His enemies are sure to charge him with the greatest enormities, both in domestic and foreign management, and there is no meanness or crime, of which in their account, he is not capable. On the other hand, the partizans of the minister make his panegyric run as high as the accusations.
“When this accusation and panegyric are received by the partizans of each party, no wonder they beget an extraordinary ferment on both sides, and fill the nation with violent animosities.”
Hume included this excellent and timely advice for us, reading it 277 years later:
“For my part, I shall always be more fond of promoting moderation than zeal. Let us therefore try, if it be possible to draw a lesson of moderation with regard to the parties into which our country is at present divided.”
Good manners should control our behavior, whatever our feelings may be inside, and moderation frees the mind to think. Like Hume, let us be fond of promoting it.