Spring 2013
Publication:
Daedalus

Pursuing the common good in a pluralist democracy is not possible without making compromises. Yet the spirit of compromise is in short supply in contemporary American politics. The permanent campaign has made compromise more difficult to achieve, as the uncompromising mindset suitable for campaigning has come to dominate the task of governing. To begin to make compromise more feasible and the common good more attainable, we need to appreciate the distinctive value of compromise and recognize the misconceptions that stand in its way. A common mistake is to assume that compromise requires finding the common ground on which all can agree. That undermines more realistic efforts to seek classic compromises, in which each party gains by sacrificing something valuable to the other, and together they serve the common good by improving upon the status quo. Institutional reforms are desirable, but they, too, cannot get off the ground without the support of leaders and citizens who learn how and when to adopt a compromising mindset.