Stephen L. Carter, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University, has a deep and abiding interest in the moral and ethical health of America. In CIVILITY: MANNERS, MORALS, AND THE ETIQUETTE OF DEMOCRACY, he shares his ideas about the causes for the decline of civility in modern America, sorts through some possible solutions for the dilemma, and tries to encourage religion to take its rightful place in the public debate. Civility, in Carter’s view, is not synonymous with manners or etiquette, although it invariably involves these, but it is a much deeper commitment to respect or even love fellow citizens in a way that will govern actions towards them.
Carter locates the genesis of the lack of civility in American life in the turmoil of the 1960’s, when serious questions arose about the roles of family, religion, race, gender, and education in civic life. The 1960’s introduced a kind of cultural relativism into the American experience, which tended to tear down all the old fundamental verities without supplying anything really meaningful in their place. Somewhere in the chaos, civility got lost.
Given the popular trend towards ego gratification and winning at all costs, Carter’s simple, but demanding, remedies for reintroducing true civility into American life will be difficult to achieve. Carter’s civility, for example, requires citizens to sacrifice their own ease and convenience, not just for those in their...
(The entire section is 398 words.)
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