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Scholars to discuss ‘mere civility,’ moderation

Mar 22, 2017

Political theorist Teresa Bejan, the author of the new book “Mere Civility,” will join Indiana University political scientist Aurelian Craiutu on Friday for a roundtable discussion of civility and moderation at a time when many people argue the conflict over the Trump presidency is putting both at risk.

Bejan is an associate professor of political theory and a fellow of Oriel College at the University of Oxford. Craiutu, professor of political science at IU Bloomington, is the author of “Faces of Moderation: The Art of Balance in an Age of Extremes.”

The discussion, a part of the Tocqueville Lecture Series, will take place from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the President’s Room of the University Club in the Indiana Memorial Union.

“There has been a renewed interest in studying the virtues that undergird the functioning of our democratic institutions,” Craiutu said. “Without such virtues, they could not function properly. Civility and moderation are two such virtues in high demand and short supply in today’s society.

“Both my own book ‘Faces of Moderation’ and Teresa Bejan’s ‘Mere Civility,’ invite readers to take a fresh look at the twin virtues of civility and moderation and discover how they might help bring some much-needed sanity into our political discourse today,” he added.

The discussion will include responses by Allen Wood, Ruth Norman Halls Professor of Philosophy at IU Bloomington; Jeffrey Isaac, James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at IU Bloomington; and Alexander Smith, assistant professor of sociology at Warwick University in the United Kingdom.

Bejan draws on perspectives from early modern political thought to shed light on current questions in political theory and practices. Her work has appeared in a variety of edited volumes and journals, including the Journal of Politics, Review of Politics, and History of Political Thought. Before joining the faculty at Oxford, she taught at the University of Toronto and Columbia University.

Her book “Mere Civility: Disagreement and the Limits of Toleration” looks back to the lack of civility that characterized the Protestant Reformation but draws a positive example from Rhode Island founder Roger Williams, who believed “mere” civility was needed to maintain order in societies with deep and strongly felt differences.

“As practiced by Williams, mere civility was more often an expression of mutual contempt than mutual admiration,” Bejan wrote this month in the Washington Post. “We might recognize it as the virtue governing those unpleasant-but-unavoidable interactions with ex-spouses and bad neighbors, as well as anyone who voted for the other gal (or guy).

“But even mere civility can be quite demanding: In attempting to understand other minds on the model of our own, people make sense of disagreement by concluding that our opponents are stupid, bigoted, evil or even insane. Yet mere civility demands that we keep the disagreement going, no matter how disagreeable, to continue the battle of words without resorting to violence.”

The discussion is free and open to the public. Sponsors include the Tocqueville Program, the Ostrom Workshop, the Center on Representative Government and the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President.

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