Beyond Civility

The Competing Obligations of Citizenship

By (author) William Keith, Robert Danisch

Paperback - £18.95

Publication date:

06 July 2020

Length of book:

200 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271087306

From the pundits to the polls, nearly everyone seems to agree that US politics have rarely been more fractious, and calls for a return to “civil discourse” abound. Yet it is also true that the requirements of polite discourse effectively silence those who are not in power, gaming the system against the disenfranchised. What, then, should a democracy do?

This book makes a case for understanding civility in a different light. Examining the history of the concept and its basis in communication and political theory, William Keith and Robert Danisch present a clear, robust analysis of civil discourse. Distinguishing it from politeness, they claim that civil argument must be redirected from the goal of political comity to that of building and maintaining relationships of minimal respect in the public sphere. They also take into account how civility enables discrimination, indicating conditions under which uncivil resistance is called for. When viewed as a communication practice for uniting people with differences and making them more equal, civility is transformed from a preferable way of speaking into an essential component of democratic life.

Guarding against uncritical endorsement of civility as well as skepticism, Keith and Danisch show with rigor, nuance, and care that the practice of civil communication is both paradoxical and sorely needed. Beyond Civility is necessary reading for our times.

“In a much needed and thought-provoking study, William Keith and Robert Danisch examine the concepts of civility and incivility, offering both critique and justification for civility as a norm of political discourse. They reconceive civility as a kind of discourse that can help us solve political problems in a way that is more equal, less conditioned by economic, political, or social power, and more respectful of mutual humanity. This study offers a timely assessment of our broken public sphere.”

—Jennifer Mercieca, coeditor of The Rhetoric of Heroic Expectations: Establishing the Obama Presidency