Incivility Now!

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

A virtue of a thing, according to Aristotle, is that which makes it perform its function well.  Sharpness is a virtue of a knife; civility is a virtue of liberal democracy.

Our liberal democracy, like similar regimes nowadays in other capitalist countries around the world, is not particularly democratic.

“Democracy” means rule of the people, the demos, as distinct from elites of one or another kind.  In the United States and elsewhere, the word “democracy” long ago lost this class-specific connotation.   In self-described democratic countries, the undifferentiated citizenry, the people as a whole, rule — in theory.  This is not what the word meant in Greek antiquity, but it is close enough.

Or it would be if theory and practice were more in line.  In practice, the rulers in self-described democracies are economic elites – usually not directly, but through a political class that serves their interests.  The United States is no exception; by no stretch of the imagination is ours a government of, by, and for the people.

However, like the others, the United States does fill some, by no means all, top political offices through nominally free and fair competitive elections.   This is its main, arguably its only, genuinely democratic feature.

Much has been written and said about “American exceptionalism.” The implication is that we are better than other countries, and therefore, presumably, more liberal and more…

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