Persuasion, compromise and politeness are for losers. Do unto others as they have done unto you. And worse.
Those disturbed by this attitude but not entirely sure why should read Peter Wehner’s new book, “The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump.” Wehner — who is the successor to Neuhaus in the moral vigor and clarity of his arguments — makes a strong case for civility as an indispensable democratic virtue.
First, according to Wehner, “civility is central to citizenship.” It is the strong force that makes civic cohesion possible. “When civility is stripped away,” he argues, “everything in life becomes a battlefield, an arena for conflict, an excuse for invective. Families, communities, our conversations and our institutions break apart when basic civility is absent.”
Second, a commitment to civility is an expression of our respect for other human beings. “Undergirding this belief for many of us is the conviction that we’re all image-bearers of God — ‘a work of divine art’ in the words of theologian Richard Mouw — which demands that we respect human dignity.”
Third, civility allows us to discover the elements of truth that may reside in someone else’s version of it. We should not assume, says Wehner, that “those who hold different views than we do have nothing to teach us.” Civility is one expression of an appropriate epistemological humility. This does not mean that truth is relative. But it does mean that elements of the truth are more broadly distributed than we sometimes imagine.