Stephen Post tells Science & Religion Today that civility isn’t the solution to the problems of modern politics:
civility rests ultimately on deeper notions of respect for and love of humanity. Love is an affirming love of the other’s being, respect is a modulation of love, and civility is an expression of the respect, as is etiquette.
The problem in our politics, and across our culture, is deeper than the loss of civility. It is a problem of the loss of those things deeper than civility upon which civility rests. The sad thing about American politics today is that our politicians have given into a vicious ingroup-outgroup demonization that is entirely dysfunctional. We will need new role models to overcome this, and those individuals will need to be grounded in a sense of the dignity of all persons.
I think that’s right. Civility is not an end unto itself. There are people who, through concerted and consistent effort, have proven themselves unworthy of respect. There are ideas which have failed to earn respect, or which having earned respect, then failed to justify it. And civility towards those people and ideas is unnecessary.
But people are inherently worthy of respect, and disrespecting the ideas of those we respect (even if those ideas are iffy) can easily blend into disrespect for the people. All of which produces not only incivility, but unjustified incivility. But Post is right that it isn’t worth trying to increase civility for its own sake. Incivility is a symptom, not an end unto itself.