Tuesday, May 08, 2012


There are so many ways I could go with this one, not sure which one I want to take:
What does civility have to do with civil society?  What place do good manners, courtesy, etc.,have in a civil, i.e., pluralistic society of many, partially autonomous and competing individuals and associations?  What does the civility of good manners have in common with the civility of civil society?  Let me begin by saying that both postulate a minimum dignity of all citizens.  The dignity which is accorded to a person who is the object of civil conduct or good manners is dignity of moral worth.  Good manners postulate the moral dignity of the other person who is seen face-to-face, and in public discourse about individuals and groups who are not immediately present.  It makes no reference to his merit or dignity in general, in all other situations. Civility as a feature of civil society considers others as fellow-citizens of equal dignity in their rights and obligations as members of civil society; it means regarding other persons, including one's adversaries, as members of the same  inclusive collectivity, i.e., a members of the same society, even though they belong to different parties or to different religious communities or to different ethnic groups.  Civility in the  former sense is  included incivility in the latter sense.  But in the later sense, it includes concern for the good of adversaries as well for the good of allies.  Therein lies the difference between civility understood as good manners or courtesy and civility as the virtue of civil society.
--Edward Shils, "The Virtue of Civility," in id., 320-355 at 338-9 (1997)

In lieu of this post, I was going to write something snarky about Romney claiming credit for the auto bailout.  Maybe I'll save it for half an hour.

1 comment:

Jimbo said...

Speaking as a citizen, civic virtue does not extend to the cynicism and mendacity towards his fellow citizens that are the foremost characteristics of Mittens as well as his Kittens. Though perhaps not all of them, still the vast majority of Republican politicians and not a few Democrats have nothing but contempt for their fellow citizens so our political culture, especially at the national level is wholly lacking in civic virtue.

On the other hand, in a country as large as ours, it is probably realistic to expect to cultivate the kind of civility described in your quotation at the local government level.