Book Notes: The Case for Civility
Os Guinness, The Case For Civility. HarperOne, 2008. As an Englishman born in China, and as an astute sociologist and social critic, Guinness offers a wise and compelling vision for civilizing the public square and moving beyond the machinations of endless culture wars.
While writing as a Christian, Guinness charts a course for "a civil public square" in which citizens of any religion or of none are allowed and encouraged to let their voices be known and to respect those of others. He argues against both "the sacred social square" (where pluralism is defrocked and one religion dominates at the expense of others) and "the naked public square" (in which religious citizens are not allowed to participate socially and politically on the basis of their deepest convictions) .
Guinness grounds his reflections on a profound understanding of The First Amendment and its entailments. Contrary to many, he argues that civility is a higher virtue than mere tolerance. Moreover, civility requires knowledge and discipline; it is not the fruit of relativism, which despairs of objective moral knowledge and the pursuit of objective truth.
Readers of Guinness's previous and much larger work, The American Hour (1992), will find echoes in The Case for Civility, but the latter is far more than a digest of the former; it is, rather, a timely and clarion call to principled pluralism tied to the essence of the American experiment.