"I have come not to bring peace, but a sword." These words of Christ echo in our current times. In recent years, a growing number of commentators have decried a lack of civility in public discourse. Considered in isolation this concern is innocent enough, but no call for civility happens in a vacuum, and there is good reason to be suspicious of civility in our current political context. Calls for civility can encourage passivity and blunt prophetic action against injustice; truly heinous policies can be pursued under the guise of civility. And yet civility should not be dismissed outright, especially as presented by its more nuanced defenders—when it is presented as a limited good in a pluralist society.
In The End of Civility, Ryan Andrew Newson analyzes the development of the concept of "civility" as we know it in modern discourse and names some of the criteria Christians can use to judge between healthy and toxic appeals to civility. The challenge, Newson contends, is discerning when civility is called for and when its pursuit becomes vicious. Pleas for civility cannot be assessed without considering the context in which they are made. Some appeals to civility merely seek to lessen conflict, even conflict necessary in the struggle for a more just world. But when issued by people struggling for justice on the margins of society, calls for civility can name the types of conflict that might lead to liberation.
One must be attentive to what counts as "civil" in the first place and who gets to make that determination. Which bodies are considered civil and "ordered," and which people are under suspicion of being "uncivil" before they ever say a word? For Christians, civility can never be an ultimate good but remains subordinate to the call to follow Christ—in particular, the Christ who is not always "civil" but who calls people to an ethic of resistance to injustice and solidarity with people who are suffering.
Preface Introduction 1. The Genesis of Civility 2. Whose Etiquette? Which Christ? 3. Civil Rites and Uncivil Bodies 4. The End of Civility 5. Agonism, Abolition, Absolution
Ryan Andrew Newson is Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics at Campbell University. He is also the author of Cut in Stone: Confederate Monuments and Theological Disruption and co-editor of the three-volume set The Collected Works of James Wm. McClendon, Jr.
Amid continuing calls for 'civility' in our political and ecclesiastical life, Ryan Newson asks us to consider the complex, often varied, meaning of civility itself. In so doing, he has produced an insightful, carefully documented, and creative analysis of the often-conflicting approaches to the issue in biblical, theological, ethical, historical, and political realms. The book offers an important challenge to and for our times.
~Bill J. Leonard, Founding Dean and Professor of Divinity Emeritus, Wake Forest University
The End of Civility confronts its readers with erudite, urgent thinking that cuts against the grain of some of our seemingly most unshakable contemporary political proprieties. In an era riven by intractability, such entrenched proprieties become obstacles we most need to think through and beyond, toward genuinely transformational forms of engagement. Those who read and follow along will find their intuitive presumptions about good order, common sense, and respectable political behavior challenged, and perhaps, even their virtues burned away.
~Jason A. Springs, Professor of Religion, Ethics, and Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, and author of Healthy Conflict in Contemporary American Society: From Enemy to Adversary