In this followup to Integrity
, Yale law professor Stephen Carter continues to meditate upon the "prepolitical" qualities on which a healthy society is based.
Why do people show poorer manners today than in previous ages? How did we come to confuse rudeness with self-expression and acting on our "rights"? Carter looks at these and other important questions with a combination of his personal experiences and an extremely long shelf of reading material, all the while maintaining an informal writing style that continually--but politely--engages the reader, inviting him or her to think about these issues along with Carter.
There are important messages here about generosity and trust, about respecting diversity and dissent, and about resolving conflict through dialogue rather than mandate. Stephen Carter would never be so uncivil as to demand your attention, but Civility most definitely compels.
From Kirkus Reviews
Spirited argument for an uncontroversial position. Complaints about incivility are timeless, but Carter (Law/Yale; The Dissent of the Governed, p. 312, etc.) believes that this time the barbarians really are at the door. Culture warriors promoting their vision of society love this theme, of course, but Carter's agenda is both more specific and more open-minded. His focus on manners is not derived from horror at the thought of using the wrong fork to eat a salad. Rather, he defines civility as ``the sum of the many sacrifices we are called [upon] to make for the sake of living together'' and thereby places manners at the crux of relations between people in social settings. Community life requires that one regularly place the common good above ones own immediate self-interest, even when associating with strangers. Unfortunately, he notes, in today's world, respect for such rules of conduct has been lost in the assertion of individual rights and the growing dominance of the market (with its emphasis on self-interest) in our lives, resulting in an increasingly uncivil social environment. Carter suggests several tonics for this ailment. The most amusing is his prescription for the violent metaphors in our language: ``we must smash them, crush them, track them to their lairs and eradicate every trace.'' The most ambiguous is the family, defined as an act of loving and intimate sacrifice, which still begs the question of who and what constitutes a family. The most important is religion, appropriately identified as the single traditional source of American beliefs not necessarily linked to self-interest. Ultimately, the book comes across as an extended harangue rather than a plan for action, however, leaving Carter's purpose unclear. Some interesting background on manners, but do we really need an argument for not being uncouth? -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.