The Right has not cornered the market on civility, as witness the aptronymic Michael Savage, not to mention the irrepressible Ann Coulter. I take a dim view of both, and I don't excuse them the way some conservatives do, by saying that they counterbalance the likes of Al Franken. But in my experience, liberals and leftists are worse in the civility department than conservatives. If you don’t agree with me on this, then this post is not for you. To try to prove my assertion to liberals and leftists would be like trying to prove to them that such major media outlets as the New York Times tilt leftward. To achieve either goal, I would have to possess the longevity of a Methuselah, the energy of a Hercules, and the dogged persistence of a Sisyphus – and I still would not succeed.
So, given that conservatives are more civil than their opponents, why is this the case? That alone is the question. Two things come to mind.
The first is that civility is not conducive to achieving the sorts of ends at which leftists typically aim. Civility is by its very nature conservative: it operates within the status quo and tends to preserve it; leftists, however, are out to shake things up. Eric Alterman of the The Nation, for example, writes, "By insisting on 'keeping things civil,' in polite society, repressive powers may suppress ugly truths about their conduct merely because raising them requires bad manners." According to leftist blogger Thomas Feakins, "there is an 'excess of civility' today in North America."
Why be civil when faced with:
-the creation of "no-go" zones at peaceful demonstrations
-new legislation to stop panhandling on street-corners
-by-laws to crack down on homeless and squeegee kids
-the Patriot Act and other "anti-terror" legislation
-severe cuts to income assistance and services for families and children
-xenophobia at Canadian, Mexican and U.S. borders
Is this civility? In this harsh new world we are putting politeness and decorum above substance. Our attention is focused on how the homeless person smells, as opposed to looking at the issue of affordable housing. (Ibid.)
By the way, note Feakins' egregious misuse of 'xenophobia.' Border control is a legitimate government function. To insist on it is hardly xenophobic. A phobia is an irrational fear, and xenophobia is an irrational fear of foreigners or things foreign. Friendly advice to you leftists: stop misusing words like 'fascist,' 'theocrat' and 'xenophobe' if you want to be taken seriously.
Feakins thinks that the Patriot Act and border control and laws protecting innocent productive citizens from squeegee extortionists are uncivil. I disagree and would argue that they or something like them are necessary for civil society. The main point, however, is that we can debate these issues productively only if we remain civil. Leftists, however, apparently think that they cannot win the debates except by becoming uncivil.
A second, albeit related, point is that conservatives, for whom there is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional ways of doing things, are more civil due to a natural piety with respect to received modes of human interaction. Civility works, and conservatives are chary about discarding what works. They were brought up to be civil by parents and teacher who were themselves civil, and they see no reason to reject as phony or ‘precious’ something that is conducive to good living. They understand that since we live in a world of appearances, a certain amount of concern with them is reasonable. They also understand that by faking it a bit, one brings oneself actually to feel the emotions that one began by faking. For example, by saying ‘Good Morning’ when I don’t quite feel like it, I contribute to my own perception of the morning as good.
Leftists, however, many of whom are of a rebellious and adolescent cast of mind, have a problem with what they perceive to be phoniness. They are always out to unmask things, to cut through the false consciousness and the bourgeois ideology. Connected with this hatred of phoniness is a keen sensitivity to hypocrisy. So when Bill (William J.) Bennett was caught wasting money on the slot machines in Las Vegas a while back, his opponents on the Left pounced and denounced: "Hypocrite!" they cried.
So pouncing and denouncing, they proved that they do not know what hypocrisy is. Although Mr. Bennett’s behavior was suboptimal, it was neither illegal nor immoral: he’s got the dough to blow if that’s his pleasure. Given his considerable accomplishments, is he not entitled to a bit of R & R?
A hypocrite is not someone who is morally imperfect or who fails to engage in supererogatory acts. Nor is a hypocrite one who preaches high ideals but falls short. Otherwise, we would all be hypocrites. But if everyone is, then no one is. A hypocrite is someone who preaches high ideals but makes no attempt at living up to them. The difference is between failing to do what one believes one ought to do and not even trying to do what one says one ought to do.
Among some liberals and leftists, the obsession with perceived phoniness and perceived hypocrisy seems to stem from an innate hatred of moral judgment, a hatred which itself seems fueled by a confusion of moral judgment with judgmentalism.
So perhaps the answer is this. Leftists are less civil than conservatives because they do not see civility as a value. They don't see it as a value because it is by its very nature conservative of the status quo and smacks of a bourgeois moral ideology that to them is nothing but a sham. Adroit unmaskers and psychologizers that they are, incapable of taking things at face value, they think that none of us who preach civility’s value really believe what we are preaching. It really has to be something else, just as the desire for democracy in Iraq really has to be something else: a desire for economic and military hegemony or a lust to grab oil fields.