The Decline of Civility

by Jul 5, 2016

As the culture wars continue to rage, civility is on the decline. At root the battle for our culture pits those trying to save Western civilization against those seeking to replace it with a secularized vision of utopia. It should be noted that Western civilization itself embraces the religious principles of Judeo-Christianity. Western society simply cannot be separated from this religious origin. This is why secularists must oppose Christianity. In fact, the proponents of secularization embrace the lyrics of John Lennon’s famous song Imagine as fundamental to their vision of society. In that vision there is no religion and people are left free to engage in any behavior they wish. The supposed outcome of such a world according to Lennon would be peace and harmony among all people. But will this vision really bring peace and harmony?

I suspect that instead of peace on earth, this vision is most likely to result in some of the greatest divisions among people imaginable. In fact, this is already happening. The reason that this is true is that the vision itself dispenses with any notion of an objective moral reality. That is, according to this vision any choice is possible. But what if that choice conflicts with the choices of others? Who decides which choice is best and ought to be respected? The vision of utopia provides no base whatsoever for answering the question. As a result, the person with the greatest power will most likely prevail. This, in turn, can only promote greater conflict amongst people as everyone vies to pursue his own passions over and against everyone else. Though they may present their own passions as being for the common good, people embracing such a view of life are most likely to be self-centered, selfish, calculating, and jealous. Whenever anyone has a different idea of what might be best, they are likely to be given to fits of anger and to treat them as mere objects to fulfilling their own desires. The truth is that morality matters.

To put the matter bluntly, the secularist has been far too willing to toss the values of Western civilization to the curb in his pursuit of what he conceives to be utopia. Such people may well discover that their utopia is actually only hell on earth. As I’ve written in my book on Western civilization, because the word civil is the root of the word civilization, we ought to consider what it means for someone to be civil. That is, what characteristics does such a person possess? A civil person is someone who is courteous, kind, and complacent. He aims to live at peace with other people as best he can. Moreover, he seeks to treat others the way he wants to be treated. He knows that we will all be better off if we deal with everyone in an honest way. Furthermore, he realizes that having respect for the lives of all others, and respecting their liberty and property is to his benefit. Such a person is never a threat to other people.

Beyond his general cooperation with others, he will take a stand for justice and for truth. That is, he knows when he must battle against the false ideas and actions of others to promote the general welfare and to protect the rights of the least powerful people among us. There are times when the civil person simply cannot go along with the crowd. He must take a stand for righteousness. But he does not do this haphazardly. He is wisely willing to overlook the failings of others because he recognizes his own failings.

It should be noted that these values are inherently Christian. They are expounded throughout the Scriptures. For example, in his letter to the Galatians the Apostle Paul encouraged his Christian readers to be filled with the Spirit noting that, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) Those who reject the Christian religion out-of-hand naively assume that good behavior will continue without any reason being given for it. This is surely not likely to be the case.

In fact the opposite is on the rise in Western culture. The growing lack of civility can be seen in the rudeness that more and more marks the relations among us. Uncivilized people will lie, cheat, and steal to promote their own ends. Such people are often sullen, ill-disposed, hostile, impolite, and belligerent. They are self-assertive and arrogant. Indeed, the rising tide of secularism has produced more than a few uncivilized human beings. Perhaps the time has come for the person of good will to take a look again at Christianity and the hope that it offers for peace.

Paul Cleveland

Boundary Stone was started by Dr. Paul Cleveland. Working as a professor for over 35 years has allowed him to study and think deeply about issues of political economy. He has discovered ways to communicate these sometimes illusive concepts to today's students, often through story telling, which makes understanding these principles more accessible to all of us.

1 Comment

  1. Julee Neathery

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