Civil discourse generally exists as a conversation on an interpersonal and national scale aimed at discovering ethical and practical solutions in politics. The phrase “we don’t have much of it in America” provides a simpler, if exaggerated definition. Despite the hyperbole, a brief look at Election 2016 lends credit to the idea. This national trend proves troubling because civil discourse exists as a prerequisite for liberty in a given society.
On a personal level, civil discourse provides an opportunity for the cultivation of virtuous behavior. Individual participation in civil discourse presupposes an attitude that respects all people and the natural right they have to express their ideas so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. Note that this attitude does not require acceptance, but rather dedication to hearing each individual and treating them with common decency regardless of what they believe. This sort of attitude certainly recognizes the right of individuals to say offensive or shocking things, but a person who adheres to the ideals of civil discourse will eschew such demagoguery in favor of rational, reasonable discussion. The author of this piece has no delusions about his own occasional failings in this area, but would nevertheless posit that the ability to engage in civil discourse exists as a primary mark of personal virtue and emotional maturity.
Perhaps more importantly, civil discourse proves useful because it provides an avenue to good governance. A conversation on a societal level will ideally lead to the acknowledgment of the best form of government—freedom, broadly speaking. After discerning the best and most ethical course of action, decision makers may then craft public policy. Although the results will depend on the conversation’s participations, properly executed civil discourse will spread an understanding of the best course of action. A national conversation thus provides a means for citizens to gradually agree on how they ought to govern themselves. Politics in the absence of civil discourse becomes little more than a socially acceptable screaming match. One need only check Facebook or Twitter for proof of this statement.
Political rancor and digital misbehavior have existed long before last year’s tumultuous election. However, our nation’s unwillingness to dedicate itself to civil discourse should worry those who subscribe to the ideals of freedom. Without participating in civil discourse, we will fail to discover the best solutions to political problems and continue to witness widespread anger and polarization instead of unity and a refined culture. Thus, if we as a nation cannot maintain this bare minimum within individual interactions and our national conversation, it seems unrealistic to expect a future of social tranquility and good governance.