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View Diary: George H.W. Bush's Letter of Resignation from the NRA (78 comments)

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  •  Here's what's fundamentally wrong with our (14+ / 0-)

    government right now:  many from that "dedicated group of individuals that are not committed to civil discourse" who "see any regulation as being indistinguishable from tyranny", are currently serving in the United States House of Representatives.    

    You know what?  That second amendment that they prize so much, was written by eighteenth-century men committed to civil discourse.  Those men framed a Constitution that took civil discourse among "we, the people" as the absolute starting point for any guarantee of the rights enshrined in the Constitution.  

    From the eighteenth century onward, dialogue with those you disagree with-- that is, civil discourse among "we, the people"-- is a prerequisite for the functionality of any of our rights in this great nation.  The Constitution isn't meant to be a document that lays out fixed rules from on high along the lines of the Ten Commandments; rather, it's meant to be a blueprint for self-government by a people setting out on a path of commitment to engaging one another around the work of government.  We are not supposed to cherry-pick the one or two amendments that we think are important, and say to hell with the rest of the framework that generated the Constitution.  It makes no sense to proclaim the supposed inviolability of the second amendment, while at the same time refusing to participate civilly in discourse around our national problems.  And to the Founding Fathers, it would have seemed not just hypocritical, but a threat to the security of civil society.

    That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

    by concernedamerican on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 08:37:24 PM PST

    •  Civility was absent from their discourse too (6+ / 0-)

      A review of the campaigns and comments of those founding fathers reveals they were not only better thinkers than the current crop leading us, they were far better at insults too.  

      •  But insults are not tantamount to a refusal to (6+ / 0-)

        negotiate, engage, compromise.  Those are what are essential for civil discourse.  

        That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

        by concernedamerican on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 05:57:59 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  July 11, 1804 on the Heights of Weehawken (0+ / 0-)

          Consider the Hamilton-Burr duel.  With Hamilton's death, the Federalist Party essentially collapsed.  That seems to have been a tipping point achieved by means other than negotiation, and compromise, although I think they were definitely "engaged."  That was Hamilton's 10th duel, I believe.  Charges against Burr were either dropped, or he was acquitted.  By any reasonable standard, duels are uncivil.   They were in the process of being outlawed at the dawning of the 19th century, but they were far from uncommon.  Nihilists were not among the founding fathers, to be sure, but "hard edged" was not merely a metaphor for the arguments of the era, it was literally true of the weapons they used against each other.

          •  I'm not sure what your point is. You seem to be (0+ / 0-)

            saying that because there was dueling, and because guys insulted each other, and because they published screeds against each other in pamphlets and newspapers, that this means that there was no commitment to civil discourse.  You seem to think that "civil discourse" implies a kumbaya situation in which there are no disagreements and everyone loves each other.  That is certainly not what I said, or what 18th-century people would have understood to take as its implication.

            I think you are missing my point.  My point is that civil discourse requires a commitment to engaging the other side, and not unilaterally shutting down any possibility of negotiation or dealmaking.  Civil discourse requires that at some point you agree to disagree and yet still both show up to the lawmaking table to craft legislation or hammer out policy.  

            The example you give, of Hamilton-Burr, is a particularly famous one; and yet it's something of an outlier as far as the founding fathers are concerned, and as far as Enlightenment values around civil discourse are concerned.  

            That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

            by concernedamerican on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 08:15:44 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Quite to the contrary (0+ / 0-)

              For purposes of this discussion, I suggest we use Wikipedia's definitions:

              "Civil discourse is engagement in discourse (conversation) intended to enhance understanding.
              [1] Kenneth J. Gergen describes civil discourse as "the language of dispassionate objectivity", and suggests that it requires respect of the other participants, such as the reader. It neither diminishes the other's moral worth, nor questions their good judgment; it avoids hostility, direct antagonism, or excessive persuasion; it requires modesty and an appreciation for the other participant's experiences.[2] In Book III of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), John Locke contrasts between civil and philosophical discourse (or rhetorical discourse) with the former being for the benefit of the reader, and the public good:[3][4][5] "First, By, their civil use, I mean such a communication of thoughts and ideas by words, as may serve for the upholding common conversation and commerce, about the ordinary affairs and conveniences of civil life, in the societies of men, one amongst another. ..."  

              There are others, but that seems to capture the spirit of the words.

              I take your response to mean that you agree Hamilton, and Burr, did not bring dispassionate objectivity, but instead explicitly were hostile, questioning each other's moral value and judgement.  No part of their exchanges conformed to common conversation and commerce.  So far, so good.  Hamilton's dueling career is a little cloudy, but there seem to have been at least 10 of them.  So the author of the Federalist Papers and the first Secretary of the Treasury, whose political maneuvers made Thomas Jefferson the President, an enormously influential man in the founding of our nation, was uncivil to his political opponents.  He was clearly an unusual man, but were those uncivil interactions the norm?

              Violence was very much a part of politics.  My direct ancestor was part of Shays' Rebellion and we remember the Whiskey Rebellion.  The Great Awakenings swept across America as a repudiation of liberal theology and created a significant upsurge in evangelical fervor.  I am reasonably sure that those newborn Calvinists who soon turned to causes like abolition, and their political representatives, weren't any more given to civil discourse than evangelicals are today.  It appears that dueling was unusual in the Northern states, but political discourse was nevertheless harsh, uncivil.  

              Dueling within the cavalier culture in the South was not unusual (https://uarkive.uark.edu:8443/...), and the really great insults from that period all appear to have Southern roots.  I remember a particularly creative one from John Randolf, and came upon this through Google: "“In our early years a man’s political opinions were inseparable from the self, from personal character and reputation, and as central to his honor as a seventeenth-century Frenchman’s courage was to his. He called his opinions “principles,” and he was willing, almost eager, to die or to kill for them. Joanne B. Freeman, in Affairs of Honor, writes that dueling politcos ‘were men of public duty and private ambition who identified so closely with their public roles that they often could not distinguish between their identity as gentlemen and their status as political leaders. Longtime political opponents almost expected duels, for there was no way that constant opposition to a man’s political career could leave his personal identity unaffected.’” -GB" (http://artofmanliness.com/...).  It turns out that Randolf made more than one uncivil remark, and he was hardly unique.  In short, uncivil political discourse was normal, even though it appears to have been relatively risky because duels too were normal among the young Republic's elites in the South.

              As to my point, other than noting that civility was not the norm as our founders put this nation together, is that we should look to how those compromises were hammered out.  Competing sides were unafraid to state their case and demand whatever policies they favored.  The bargaining by all accounts was hard nosed.  They got a deal done when they could not impose their will because they had to.  The contrast with today's Democratic negotiating tactics is striking, and not in a good way.

              •  I think we're on the same page, then. Because (0+ / 0-)

                civil discourse in the eighteenth century in the newly-created American context meant willingness to get a deal done.  It's what's called "good faith negotiating" today.  The part that was very much a value in the eighteenth century was the "good faith" part-- enforced as much by ideals around honor and reputation as by peer pressure and enlightened self-interest.  All these things were brought to the table of civility.  All these things were bound up in the necessary labor of working together in self-governance.  And these things were sorely tested throughout the first 80 or so years of the Republic.  But recognition of the need to compromise so as to govern, was something essential to civility/civil government.

                That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

                by concernedamerican on Mon Dec 24, 2012 at 06:55:46 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

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