Articles From the April 1995 Unification News


Civility: A Worthwhile Cause

by Haven Bradford Gow

For us to love our country, said Edmund Burke, our country must be lovely. If Burke meant that only a country which is lovely is loved by its people, then he was mistaken. For many Germans loved Nazi Germany, a nation which could not at all be considered lovely. But if we understand Burke's remark to mean that for a country to be worthy of our admiration, it must be lovely, then Burke certainly made a valid observation.

But what causes a country to be lovely? The eminent 18th century British statesman and political philosopher had a ready and trenchant reply. The country that is lovely, declared Burke, is permeated with the spirit of religion and the spirit of civility, qualities without which no civilized society can endure.

The "spirit of religion" is a complicated phrase. What Burke meant is a reverence for God and a corresponding acknowledgment of an authority higher than the state. For Burke, it also meant the recognition and protection of God-given rights and the performance of corresponding duties. And for Burke, the "spirit of religion" meant a dedication to shared values and the religious foundation for those values such as tradition, liberty under the law, courage, love, integrity, honor, decency, civility, the intrinsic moral worth and dignity of the individual because he is made in God's image and likeness, personal freedom and responsibility.

When Burke spoke of the "spirit of civility," he was talking about qualities like courtesy, kindness and unselfishness that make civilized social life possible. Dr. Clifford Orwin, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, tells us in his contribution to Civility and Citizenship (PWPA Books, 2700 University Ave. W.; #47, St. Paul, MN 55114) that "Civility, . . . as contrived dilution of both citizenship and charity, resembles neither friendship nor love nor any sort of intense attachment. It more resembles neighborliness. Good fences do make good neighbors, and in the case of civility these fences are rights . . . To treat someone civilly means to remain a respectful distance from encroaching on his rights, and to accord him the dignity appropriate to a bearer of equal rights." Dr. Orwin adds: "Civility is one glue of community of a specific kind, a community of bearers of equal individual rights . . . Civic education, accordingly, (is) to aim primarily at civility, at a habitual respect for the rights of others which would serve to temper one's assertion of one's own."

Unhappily, were Burke alive today, he would find little of the spirit of religion and the spirit of civility in our country. He would discover little respect for the canons of civilized and rational discourse; and he would find little observance of the norms and traditions of decency and civility.

Rather, Burke would find the spirit of religion and the spirit of civility considered "effeminate" by those most doubtful of their own sexual identity. He would encounter widespread indifference, if not hostility toward religion in both private and public life.

Burke would find increasing numbers who think in slogans, who shout down speakers, who refuse to listen to or consider views contrary to their own; he would see a denigration of the concepts of personal freedom and responsibility; he would witness in our society a vicious assault by those without a sense of community upon the delicate balance between freedom and order, between liberty and license, between tradition and change. And Burke, to his dismay, would discover a violent and tragic rupture of the bond of human affections, that is to say, the ties that promote unity and communion rather than division, that bind a person to his neighbor, to his family, to his community, to his church, to his country.

To fight today for the resuscitation of the spirit of religion and the spirit of civility would seem to be in a lost cause; but no great cause ever is truly lost; consequently, for so worthy a cause we must continue to struggle until these qualities prevail: Qualities which cause a country, as well as an individual, to be lovely.


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