There has been a lot of talk in the media this year about compromise on Capitol Hill. The cries of “Republicans should compromise!” “Democrats should compromise!” “We all need to compromise so that we can get something done!” ring out from every corner. There are two observations I think should be made about the call to compromise.
First, compromise in and of itself is not a virtue. One can compromise on a number of issues, but any virtue from the compromise comes from the moral dimension of the issue itself, not from the compromise. Compromise can be morally neutral, but only if the issue is morally neutral. If my wife and I are debating where to spend vacation time or go to dinner, I don’t mind compromising to please her. I enjoy making her happy, so to compromise pleases both of us. But there is no moral dimension to the questions of where to go or what to do on such occasions.
This leads immediately to the second observation, that to compromise with evil is to do evil. If two people disagree over an issue that is morally wrong, abortion, for example, the person who opposes abortion compromises their moral character if they compromise with the person who favors abortion. They move away from that which is good in the direction of that which is evil.
Any discussion of compromise must, therefore, be framed within the larger of discussion of right and wrong. We must not compromise simply for the sake of compromising or simply to get something done. If something can truly be said to be wrong, no one should compromise in that direction, ever.