“[We are on the verge of] degenerating into savages or devouring each other like beasts of prey.” This quote from Benjamin Rush dates back to the 1780s, but felt startlingly timely when Keith Bybee came across it during the start of a heated 2016 presidential primary.
If civility can be understood in relation to standards of appropriate public behavior and we accept the principle that individuals in a society will have differing standards, then we must explore the intersection between our capability to be civil and our motivations to do so (or not). In Bybee’s newest work, How Civility Works (Standard Briefs, 2016), he considers society’s never ending fascination with the concept of civility, our ongoing efforts to achieve it, and why we should ultimately embrace it.
Bybee writes, “it is true that many people today feel that civility has vanished, and true that the cause can be traced to contemporary factors like political polarization and the rise of the internet. Yet it is also true that generations of Americans have felt threatened by escalating incivility and they had no trouble finding causes in their own time. Given such a long history of rudeness, why should we believe that people are capable of getting along now?”
Keith Bybee holds tenured appointments in the College of Law and in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and directs the Institute for the Study of the Judiciary, Politics, and the Media (IJPM). Bybee’s areas of research interest are the judicial process, legal theory, political philosophy, LGBT politics, the politics of race and ethnicity, American politics, constitutional law, and the media.