The Importance of Being Civil: The Struggle for Political Decency

Overview

"This highly original book is a major contribution to the study of civility and civil society, as well as sociological theory, nationalism studies, the history of ideas, and political theory. With impeccable scholarship, great erudition, rich prose, and a rare ability to integrate sophisticated historical and sociological analysis with specific recommendations, Hall provides a new understanding of civility."—Siniša Malešević, University College Dublin

"Instead of going down the well-established route of analyzing...

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The Importance of Being Civil: The Struggle for Political Decency

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Overview

"This highly original book is a major contribution to the study of civility and civil society, as well as sociological theory, nationalism studies, the history of ideas, and political theory. With impeccable scholarship, great erudition, rich prose, and a rare ability to integrate sophisticated historical and sociological analysis with specific recommendations, Hall provides a new understanding of civility."—Siniša Malešević, University College Dublin

"Instead of going down the well-established route of analyzing the institutional networks of civil society, this book puts civility at the center of inquiry and, from there, moves outward to its changing relations with state, nation, and empire. Admirably comparative, it makes a major contribution to the subject and current debate. I know of no book quite like this one."—Frank Trentmann, Birkbeck College, University of London

"This important and engaging book explores the surprisingly diverse range of issues in which civility plays a key role. The book will be immensely useful to both specialists interested in developing new theories and general readers trying to make sense of an evocative but elusive concept."—Bernard Yack, Brandeis University

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this insightful, well-argued examination of civility (defined as a tolerance and respect for different points of view), McGill University sociologist Hall (Powers and Liberties) argues that civility is the crucial foundation for a successful civil society. For the author, civility involves “respect for the rule of law, attention to empirical evidence, and abhorrence of violence,” while those who practice it have “ironic and affectionate amusement at the foibles of humanity.” He utilizes the works of several philosophers to bolster his thesis, including Montesquieu, whose Persian Letters shows how everything in society, from food and sex to religion and politics, comes from custom with no grounding in philosophical fact; therefore, differences in these are insubstantial and should not be attacked. Some of Hall’s claims will certainly provoke controversy: for instance, his claim that only the West developed the idea of respecting difference, a history not shared by Islamic, Chinese, and Indian civilizations, and which therefore have not cultivated this idea of civility. He also examines several ideas he believes are opposed to civility, among them the demand for “authenticity,” the belief that every person has a “real self” that ought to be actively engaged at all times; this “unrestricted openness… would lead to confusion and distrust.” This is a much-needed book for today’s contentious world. (June)
ForeWord
The Importance of Being Civil is a meandering tour through centuries of Western history in the company of Hall, a guide who has led such excursions for decades. As a narrative well-stocked with quotes from carefully chosen thinkers—Machiavelli, Adam Smith, and Tocqueville—and analytic observations that Hall has polished to brilliance through repeated delivery, the book will please both political scientists and casual readers with an interest in the tribulations, triumphs, and prospects of civility.
From the Publisher
"In this insightful, well-argued examination of civility (defined as a tolerance and respect for different points of view), McGill University sociologist Hall argues that civility is the crucial foundation for a successful civil society. . . . This is a much-needed book for today's contentious world."—Publishers Weekly

"The Importance of Being Civil is a meandering tour through centuries of Western history in the company of Hall, a guide who has led such excursions for decades. As a narrative well-stocked with quotes from carefully chosen thinkers—Machiavelli, Adam Smith, and Tocqueville—and analytic observations that Hall has polished to brilliance through repeated delivery, the book will please both political scientists and casual readers with an interest in the tribulations, triumphs, and prospects of civility."—ForeWord

"Tracing Western socio-structural development that created multiple centers of power, Hall ably presents the work of various theorists in ways that support the book's central theme: the utility and, indeed, the necessity of providing suitable alternatives to extreme reactions in various junctures of social stress and crises. . . . Hall is careful to continually note the fragility of civility, not only as a chosen practice, but also with regard to the cultural and socio-structural backgrounds of various actors, ideologies, and philosophies diminishing the potential for civility. Of particular interest is Hall's skill in melding the micro- and macro-sociological."—Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691153261
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 5/5/2013
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John A. Hall is the James McGill Professor of Comparative Historical Sociology at McGill University. He is the author of "Powers and Liberties, Liberalism, International Orders", and "Ernest Gellner", and the coauthor of "Is America Breaking Apart?" (Princeton).

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Introduction 1
Part One: A Composite Definition
1. Agreeing to Differ 19
2. Sympathy and Deception 38
3. How Best to Rule 62
4. Entry and Exit 83
5. Intelligence in States 105
Part Two: Enemies
6. Down with Authenticity 129
7. The Disenchantment of the Intellectuals 152
8. The Problem with Communism 176
9. The Destruction of Trust 201
10. Imperialism, the Perversion of Nationalism 226
Conclusion 247
Index 255

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