A Rare Virtue

Michael Gerson on “The Rhetoric of the Rant”:

The advocates of this approach often describe it (and themselves) as courageous. [Al] Franken explains, “My dad did say, If you stand up to bullies they usually back down.’ ” But those who make their living beating up others to take their lunch money must eventually be categorized as bullies themselves. They take perhaps the most common human vice — self-indulgent anger — and cloak it as a rare virtue. But it is a strange moral inversion to talk of the “courage” of the raised middle finger. Perhaps adolescent rudeness. Maybe boorishness. Not courage, which involves standing up for a belief, not dehumanizing those who don’t share it. America doesn’t need another scolding lecture on the importance of civility. Well, apparently it does. So here goes.

The practice of civility is important to democracy. In his book, “Civility: Manners, Morals and the Etiquette of Democracy,” Stephen L. Carter defines civility as “the sum of the many sacrifices we are called to make for the sake of living together.… We should make sacrifices for others not simply because doing so makes social life easier (although it does), but as a signal of respect for our fellow citizens, marking them as full equals, both before the law and before God.”

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