Civility in civil society is good as party manners are good, they keep a decent situation tolerable, but are dangerous in a bad one. Calls for civility usually come when the folks get uppity, either urban or rural poor, and express their anger through crudity.
The polite put-downs of decades of educated opinion seem civil compared to the crudity of the obvious tyrants, but the underclass gets it. They are “heard,” but fundamentally ignored. Nobody considers that their deepest ideas might be true and the goal of education is to change them to the “better point of view.” If you endure decades of this polite condescension, polite incivility, then the crudity of the populist, the “honest” graft of the open jerk, seems better.
The polite, the ruling class, get rich in political office, but do so by giving “speeches” in acceptable venues, including colleges, while the populist grifter simply asks for a payoff: dollars for favors. The rest of us might come to prefer the bombastic robber barons to the ostentatiously honest public servant who somehow becomes a multi-millionaire in service to the state, but knows to spend his money properly. His very coffee is socially aware in ways only the rich can afford.
When the Clintons can become centi-millionaires in government “service,” then people see the system as rigged and more open enrichment fails to enrage. Which is worse? Crude graft that breaks rules or rule makers who create systems that make their enrichment legal?
Insult a man with calm condescension and your incivility will be called civility by the powerful. Shout crude names at him and people will worry about the tone. Plato in his masterwork Republic understood these truths: the aristocrat, democrat, and tyrant rule to their advantage hiding this self-service in different ways. The aristocrat serves himself while talking about “honor” for the nation. Democrats act as the humble servants of the people while jetting to academic seminars in beautiful locales. Tyrants lend their strength to the people: I am strong and you are in my image.
This is hopeless, but if true, we must face the truth. Our masters are just, if they act in their own interest. What the rulers do, any kind, are justified by their ability to do it!
In Republic, the sophist Thrasymachus, a rent-a-brain, put it bluntly:
Justice is what advantages the interest of the ruling class. Since the ruling class is also the strongest class, the conclusion should be evident to anyone who reasons correctly: justice is the same in every case-the interest of the stronger.
Ugly? Yes, but mayhaps true. If true, then ugliness must be acknowledged and the courage to live openly as we must live (for power) is the good that there is.Be brave and live for your own self-interest.
If this is what we must do, then saying what is true is worthy of praise. Yet what if this is not the truth, but an excuse to keep us in our place? Unnecessary selfishness boldly stated would simply be sin at volume 10. Thrasymachus would be holding us back from something better.
Is something better possible?
Christianity says “yes.” We are not content with self-interest: not in aristocrats, democrats, or tyrants. We demand no graft, not legalized corruption. Brown shirts? Red shirts?
*I begin an informal summer reading of Republic using Scott/Sterling (a new translation for me). Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20. Part 21. Part 22. Part 23. Part 24. Part 25. Part 26. Part 27.