Saturday, July 23, 2005

Gotta Remember This One

Ran across a really apt quote last night cited in the essay "Pragmatism, Pluralism, and the Healing of Social Wounds" by Richard Bernstein, a philosophy professor at the New School of Social Research. It's originally from a book entitled We Hold These Truths by noted liberal Catholic theologian John Courtney Murray and concerns the relevance of civil discourse. Since I imagine some might scoff at me for caring about something so supposedly trivial, I thought it'd be good to show that I'm not the only one who thinks it's important.
Barbarism . . . threatens when men cease to talk together according to reasonable laws. There are laws of argument, the observance of which is imperative if discourse is to be civilized. Argument ceases to be civil when it is dominanted by passion and prejudice; when its vocabulary becomes solipsist, premised on the theory that my insight is mine alone and cannot be shared; when dialogue gives way to a series of monologues; when the parties to the conversation cease to listen to one another, or hear only what they want to hear, or see the other's argument only through the screen of their own categories . . . When things like this happen, men cannot be locked together in argument. Conversation becomes merely quarrelsome or querulous. Civility dies with the death of dialogue.
Not to play the alarmist, but I've often wondered how badly the national discourse can deteriorate before people stop merely slandering and insulting each other and start getting violent. One of the things I like best about this country is that no matter how much we disagree with our political opponents, we generally don't take up arms against them unless provoked. And I keep harping on the significance of maintaining honest inter-ideological dialogue precisely because I'd really like that state of affairs to continue for as long as possible.