Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Carter not only defends the legitimacy of religious argument but provides an impressive example of how a believer may engage in civil debate with fellow citizens who do not share his faith. . . . Stephen L. Carter [is] one of America's leading public intellectuals.
Chicago Tribune
Carter's passionate plea for the 'we' over the 'me' is most welcome and constructive. . . . Such honesty is rare from an American scholar today.
Marian Wright Edelman
Civility, Stephen Carter reminds us, matters. Its foundations is in the heart and in our love and respect for our fellow human beings. Our institutions, culture, communities, and country cannot long survive the loss of this basic and essential ingredient of civilization. Nor can any of us.
Amitai Etzioni
Perceptive, insightful, erudite, timely, and yet profound—books just do not come any better.
John Cardinal O'Connor
Stephen Carter has become one of the most provocative analysts of American life since de Tocqueville, and one of the easiest to read. Civility will raise hackles, but always with civility. It's the rare writer who makes you like him even when you disagree. Stephen Carter is a rare writer.
Chicago Tribune
Carter's passionate plea for the 'we' over the 'me' is most welcome and constructive. . . . Such honesty is rare from an American scholar today.
New York Times Book Review
Carter not only defends the legitimacy of religious argument but provides an impressive example of how a believer may engage in civil debate with fellow citizens who do not share his faith. . . . Stephen L. Carter [is] one of America's leading public intellectuals.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060977597
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/28/1999
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 577,797
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen L. Carter

Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University.

Born in 1954 in Washington, D.C., Professor Carter was educated in the public schools of New York City, Washington, and Ithaca, New York. In 1976 he received his bachelor's degree with honors from Stanford University, where he majored in history, and in 1979 he received his law degree from the Yale Law School.

Following his graduation from law school, Professor Carter served as law clerk to Judge Spottswood W. Robinson III of the United States Court of Appeals in Washington D.C., and, the next year, as law clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme Court of the United States. After practicing law for a year, Professor Carter joined the Yale faculty in 1982. Three years later, he became one of the youngest members of the faculty ever voted tenure.

His critically acclaimed books include The Culture of Disbelief and Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby. He is currently at work on Civility, the sequel to Integrity. Professor Carter lives with his family in Connecticut.


Stephen L. Carter has helped shape the national debate on issues ranging from the role of religion in American political culture to the impact of integrity and civility on our daily lives. The New York Times has called him one of the nation's leading public intellectuals.

Born in Washington, D.C., Stephen L. Carter studied law at Yale University and went on to serve as a law clerk, first on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and later for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

In 1982 he joined the faculty at Yale, where he is now William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law. His critically acclaimed nonfiction books on subjects including affirmative action, the judicial confirmation process, and the place of religion in our legal and political cultures have earned Carter fans among luminaries as diverse as William F. Buckley, Anna Quindlen, and former President Bill Clinton.

Carter's first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, draws heavily on the author's familiarity with the law and the world of highly placed judges, but he didn't begin by attempting to write a "judicial" thriller -- Carter earlier tried the character of Judge Garland out as a White House aide, and also as a professor like himself. He has said that in the end "only the judicial role really fit."

With Emperor Carter has moved (for the moment) from writing nonfiction to fiction -- a shift which he downplays by noting "I have always viewed writing as a craft." But, while he has also indicated that another novel like this one is in the works, he sees himself as "principally a legal scholar and law professor" and plans to continue publishing nonfiction as well.

Good To Know

An avid chess player, Stephen L. Carter is a life member of the United States Chess Federation. Although he says he plays less now than he once did, he still plays online through the Internet Chess Club. For The Emperor of Ocean Park, Professor Carter says he had to learn about "the world of the chess problemist, where composers work for months or years to set up challenging positions for others to solve."

Carter lives with his wife, Enola Aird, and their two children, near New Haven, Connecticut.

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    1. Hometown:
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 26, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Education:
      B.A. Stanford University, 1976; J.D., Yale Law School, 1979

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Barbarians Running Late
After being cut off by another driver in traffic and slamming on your brakes, you stop at the next service station for gas, your adrenaline still pumping, only to be made to wait by a clerk who is busy flirting with a girlfriend but who finally, after finishing a cigarette, emerges from his grimy booth and saunters sullenly to your car and stands outside the window, not speaking, barely glancing your way, waiting for you to state your needs, which he fulfills silently, neither cleaning your wind-shield nor checking your oil, and when he is done, he speaks his first words, "Sixteen-fifty, " and glowers at you when you lack exact change, but at last, after a period of further flirtation, drops a few greasy, torn dollars and some dirty coins into your palm, and now your blood is boiling, so you pull out of the station a little too fast, narrowly missing another motorist, who raises his middle finger and mouths an obscenity at you . . .

In the middle of the unruly nineteenth century, there were no automobiles, but America was a gog over railroads. For the first time in human history, horseback was not the fastest way to travel. An entrepreneur named Leland Stanford hammered a golden spike into a rocky Utah plateau, and the coasts were connected by three thousand miles of track. Everybody wanted to ride. Everybody suddenly had someplace to go. The owners of the railroads grew wealthy. Naturally, the passengers were divided into classes; that was the American way. The first-class coaches often had gold fittings, and the third- or fourth-class cars might have nomore than hard wooden benches, but all the trains were full.

Travel in those days was necessarily in groups. Nobody but the very rich could afford to travel alone. One bought a ticket and sat down in a train car full of strangers. Doubtless the excited passengers jostled each other for space, but although the Europeans were already looking down on American manners, it was not yet the nation's fashion to be rude. On the contrary, this remarkable new technology worked as well as it did, moving the citizenry from city to city, because the travelers understood their obligation to treat each other well. They purchased guides to proper behavior, like Politeness on Railroads by Isaac Peebles, and tried to follow its sensible rules: "[Whispering, loud talking, immoderate laughing, and singing should not be indulged by any passenger" was one. "Passengers should not gaze at one another in an embarrassing way' ran another.' Conductors were soon cracking down on passengers who "indulg[ed] personal preferences at the expense of other passengers. "°

Well, of course: to travel so far together, packed shoulder to shoulder like chess pieces in their little box, everybody had to behave or the ride would become intolerable. Everyone followed the rules for the sake of their fellow passengers, and they did so, as one historian has noted, out of a spirit of "self-denial and the self-sacrifice of one's own comfort for another's." Alone of God's creation, human beings can make those choices, setting aside their own needs and desires for the sake of living in society with others. And so this nineteenth-century understanding captures two of the gifts that civility brings to our lives: First, it calls on us to sacrifice for others as we travel through life. And, second, it makes the ride tolerable.

But nowadays we have automobiles, and we travel both long and short distances surrounded by metal and glass and the illusion that we are traveling alone. The illusion has seeped into every crevice of our public and private lives, persuading us that sacrifices are no longer necessary. If railroad passengers a century ago knew the journey would be impossible unless they considered the comfort of others more important than their own, our spreading illusion has taken us in the other direction. We care less and less about our fellow citizens, because we no longer see them as our fellow passengers. We may see them as obstacles or competitors, or we may not see them at all, but unless they happen to be our friends, we rarely think we owe them anything.

When I ponder the shape of this incivility crisis, I think of a boy wearing droopy pants (whom we encounter in chapter 4), the link between the New York Yankees and Levittown (which we discuss in chapter 3), and the obsessive Danish chess genius Aron Nimzovich (whom we will meet in chapter 17). But, perhaps because I am speaking of the way we travel, I most often think about the man at Houston Intercontinental Airport who skipped his security check and literally shut the place down.

You may remember the story. In July yes, a man raced past the security gates in Houston without bothering with such formalities as walking through the metal detector or having his carry-on luggage screened. The guards, taken by surprise and perhaps not as well trained as they should have been, were unable to stop the man--let us call him Selfish Passenger--who swiftly disappeared into the crowd. Probably Selfish Passenger was simply being selfish, but the airport authorities, rather than risk the chance that the man was armed, decided to evacuate both Continental Airlines terminals, requiring every individual in the two buildings-some seven thousand people-to leave and then to be screened again before reentry. This process took the better part of four hours. Selfish Passenger's rush through the gates delayed at least forty flights, caused thousands of fellow passengers to miss connecting flights, and generally made lots of people's day miserable. Civility. Copyright © by Stephen L. Carter. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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