Blogs > Liberty and Power > T. H. Kerry and "civility."

Jul 26, 2004 4:14 pm

T. H. Kerry and "civility."

So Teresa Heinz Kerry has been busted for telling a reporter to “shove it” after delivering a speech on the need for civility. Her mistake, in my opinion, was not to say “shove it,” but to preach for civility. The constant calls for civility by politicians and other self-righteous prigs have grown tiresome. We see it not only in the news but on HNN as well. For instance, see In this entry, Dr. Jonathan Dresner calls for a “New Liberal Vision" that values—you guessed it—“civility.” He goes on to demand that liberals (he means the big government kind) “hammer” conservatives and corporations with labels like “irresponsible,” “inhumane,”"dishonest,” and, of course, “uncivil” until they “cry for mercy.” Why is it that those who preach the most about civility often practice it the least?

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Common Sense - 7/28/2004


I appreciate your comments. I’m sorry we got off to a bad start. We have more in common than you think. During a graduate fellowship I was at the same university at the same time as you north of the Charles.

I once again suggest that we refrain from commenting on each other. There are plenty of other things to talk about besides you and me.

I admire your website. I cannot link to it right now, but I recall photos of your family and especially your child’s bris. I’m glad you are at a department at which an assistant prof feels he can express the most important parts of his life without intolerable amounts of flak.

You rightly reserve your right to response should I comment on your posts. I have no intent to do so. We are neighbors, but neighbors with a personality conflict should keep their distance in the interest of peace.

Respectfully yours,


Jonathan Dresner - 7/28/2004

Regarding my rejection of the 'cease fire', see

There is a gray area between vigorous disagreement and incivility, between attacking a position and attacking the author. I did not intend to be incivil or to attack you as a person, but to disagree vigorously with what seemed like a careless misappropriation of an historical voice. But clearly I failed to make the necessary distinctions, gave offense, and for that I apologize.

I would, however, point out that this is a discussion, not a war, and disagreement is not combat. At least, it needn't be.

Common Sense - 7/27/2004

First of all, I made no "cheap shot." I highlighted the text that supported my point and provided a link to the full paragraph so readers could see the full quote for themselves in its context. Second, having read virtually everything that Paine ever wrote--at least the material that survives to this day--I think I know more than you do about what Paine would or would not do. You started this blog-war when you attacked me out of the blue. I fight back when I am attacked. Let’s end it. I suggest that from now on we both refrain from mentioning the other person’s name or commenting on his posts. Fair enough?

Jonathan Dresner - 7/27/2004

Well, I'm an American, that's true. And, I suppose, from the perspective of a libertarian, I'm in favor of 'big government' in the sense that I do think government has valid social and regulatory functions that go beyond infrastructure, defense and dispute adjudication. But that's like me putting 'Christ worshipper' in every time I reference a non-Jewish American; as a Jew, I know I'm on the margin, and the libertarian should realize that just about everyone else is a 'big government' something by comparison.

Common Sense - 7/27/2004

I have a book proposal due. Let's discuss the issues you raise soon through this comment section as to not take up space on the big boards. CS

I R Krubner - 7/27/2004

I recall New York had a civility campaign at the end of the 1990s. I thought it was a good thing, as far as such things go. Government has a limited ability to effect the culture, but since it has some influence it might as well use that influence for good causes. I think civility campaigns are similar to anti-corruption campaigns, a few of which (Hong Kong in the 70s) have been famous for improving the conditions of a country or city. An important focus for any government sponsored civility campaign should be, I think, government workers. How government workers treat citizens is one of the many indexes that help establish exactly how democratic a nation, or city, is.

I R Krubner - 7/27/2004

"I'm not entirely sure where you draw "big government" from"

He meant that you were a liberal in the American sense, as opposed to the original John Locke/Adam Smith/Jeremy Bentham, small government is good, sense of the word. The older sense of the word "liberal" is still in widespread use everywhere but in America. Fredreich Hayek had some interesting thoughts on the use of the word "liberal" which I quote here:

Jonathan Dresner - 7/26/2004

I like the way you left out "every time they deserve it" and my call for increased civility on the side of liberals as well. Nice cheap shot, but I don't think Tom Paine would have approved.

I'm not entirely sure where you draw "big government" from, either, except that I think politics should be about policy: what government does and does not do. What do you think it's about?

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