It is a sign of the political and cultural times in America that I even have to write a post about the subject of the aforementioned title of this post. And it is especially disheartening to me as a conservative that the distinction between incivility and passion must be made to my fellow conservatives, but here we are. The impetus for this treatment of the subject came last night as I listened to Mark Levin's radio program. Of late that task has become more difficult as the host has become more self-absorbed, self-righteous, and destructive of the conservative cause.
Last night Mr. Levin was quoting from an article written by a Reagan biographer who proffered the notion that what we need in our political discourse is more incivility. That incivility is the cornerstone of change and the larger the change that is needed, the more uncivil the political rhetoric needs to be. This is an odd concept coming from a man who has spent so much time delving into the life of one of the most civil (and most successful) politicians of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan.
Mr. Levin struggled to make his argument for more incivility in our public discourse by saying that men such as Patrick Henry and Nathan Hale were not civil in their responses to the incivility imposed on them by their times. I beg to differ with Mr. Levin. Patrick Henry was impassioned when he stated, "Give me Liberty, or give me death," but nothing in his statement could be construed as uncivil. He did not say, "Get out of my life King George you big dummy." And Nathan Hales' gallows proclamation that he regretted having "only one life to give for his country," was likewise not uncivil. Mr. Hale did not say, "Curse you, you big jerks."
There are very few examples in history, especially the history of the United States of America, where an uncivil statement has been made memorable and has been written into the heart of our culture. What Mr. Levin, et al fail to realize in this era of radicalization is that there is a difference between passion and incivility. One can express passion without being uncivil, in fact it is more highly effective in winning the hearts and minds of one's fellow countrymen to do so.
No change of any lasting value has ever been achieved through incivility. The Founders of this great nation were passionate men, with many competing ideas of how the new nation should be organized, but they were civil. As heated as the debate was to get in Philadelphia in the Summer of 1787, during the constitutional convention, one would be hard pressed to find much, if any, incivility in the copious notes of the historic occasion taken by James Madison.
Of course the case could be made that the War for Independence, as any war is, was illustrative of incivility. Which may be true enough, however the war was not the linchpin of this country's freedom and Liberty, the constitution was. And that most unique and exceptional document of all human history was created through a process, impassioned yes, but certainly civil.