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Mere Civility


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About the Author

Teresa M. Bejan is Associate Professor of Political Theory in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Oriel College.


Mere Civility is centered in the years after the Reformation, when the emergence of myriad Protestant sects splintered communities across Western Europe. That splintering was magnified, just as in our own time, by the explosion of a new means of communication--the printing press--which allowed people who had never before had a public voice to spread their ideas far and wide. Invectives and broadsides were the order of the day, as members of different religious denominations fought for each other's souls, and incivility became a central concern of political thought. I doubt that for most readers of Mere Civility, this account of social disarray in the Reformation years is a huge surprise. But by keeping a tight focus on the concept of civility, Bejan manages to make that old story feel new--or at least to draw new lessons from it, lessons that are particularly interesting within the context of contemporary political theory... [Mere Civility] does not purport to solve the problems of incivility, but it unknots them, making the nature of the problems--both in general and in this time of numbing nostalgia--more evident. Would that more of us might learn to look into the past with such gravity and humility. We might end up with a more (or mere) civil society, yet.-- (01/20/2017)
Mere Civility is a terrific book--learned, vigorous, and challenging. Bejan makes Roger Williams the hero of this story and the thinker who provides a principled justification for America's exceptional permissiveness toward 'uncivil' speech. Justifying the American status quo isn't easy. Doing it with arguments that are often surprising is even harder.--Alison McQueen, Stanford University

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