Monday, May 08, 2006


Civility and Discourse

As I commented at Eschaton in more detail, it used to be that incivility was seen as the sine qua non of democratic, republican discourse (both by the supporters -- who welcomed it -- and opponants -- who feared the coarseness of democracies -- of the liberal democratic republic as a form of government). Now civility is seen as the sine qua non of democratic, republican discourse, albeit with some double standards about who is civil.

When did this change occur? And why? Was it when the supporters of liberal democratic republics won at least the rhetorical battle over their opponants (who now claims to be against democracy? even those who are against it argue that they are in favor of it and those of us who support it are trying to keep liberal democracy from spreading, however false their characterizations of our opinions, e.g., on the Iraq war, are) so they had to argue that we who come from the incivil authentic democratic tradition ought to reform our discourse (even as they are more uncivil than ever in theirs) to save democratic discourse rather than arguing that incivility was just characteristic of that discourse and why it's so bad -- a badness they don't claim anymore? Or was it something else?

My suspician is that the change is part of the reaction against the civil rights movement: "how dare 'those people' be so rude as to demand their rights?" -- that sort of thing sublimated and applied to the discourse as a whole. Of course this illustrates the problem with the "be civil" imperitive that some, e.g., the DLC, would enforce: when you have the right to something and it is not honored, well, you ought to demand it, eh?

I guess the Founding Fathers would have called this "the Tyranny of Civility". Did they mention such a thing? It sounds like something that would have concerned more than a few of them ...

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