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Importance of Being Civil: The Struggle for Political Decency

by John A Hall Princeton University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 272 pages
AU$82.00 NZ$84.35
Product Status: Not Our Publication - we no longer distribute
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Civility is desirable and possible, but can this fragile ideal be guaranteed? The Importance of Being Civil offers the most comprehensive look at the nature and advantages of civility, throughout history and in our world today. Esteemed sociologist John Hall expands our understanding of civility as related to larger social forces--including revolution, imperialism, capitalism, nationalism, and war--and the ways that such elements limit the potential for civility. Combining wide-ranging historical and comparative evidence with social and moral theory, Hall examines how the nature of civility has fluctuated in the last three centuries, how it became lost, and how it was reestablished in the twentieth century following the two world wars. He also considers why civility is currently breaking down and what can be done to mitigate this threat.

Paying particular attention to the importance of individualism, of rules allowing people to create their own identities, Hall offers a composite definition of civility. He focuses on the nature of agreeing to differ over many issues, the significance of fashion and consumption, the benefits of inclusive politics on the nature of identity, the greater ability of the United States in integrating immigrants in comparison to Europe, and the conditions likely to assure peace in international affairs. Hall factors in those who are opposed to civility, and the various methods with which states have destroyed civil and cooperative relations in society.

The Importance of Being Civil is a decisive and sophisticated addition to the discussion of civility in its modern cultural and historical contexts.

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

Part One: A Composite Definition

1. Agreeing to Differ 19

2. Sympathy and Deception 38

3. How Best to Rule 62

4. Entry and Exit 83

5. Intelligence in States 105

Part Two: Enemies

6. Down with Authenticity 129

7. The Disenchantment of the Intellectuals 152

8. The Problem with Communism 176

9. The Destruction of Trust 201

10. Imperialism, the Perversion of Nationalism 226

Conclusion 247

Index 255


''This highly original book is a major contribution to the study of civility and civil society, as well as sociological theory, nationalism studies, the history of ideas, and political theory. With impeccable scholarship, great erudition, rich prose, and a rare ability to integrate sophisticated historical and sociological analysis with specific recommendations, Hall provides a new understanding of civility.''--Siniša Maleševic, University College Dublin

''Instead of going down the well-established route of analyzing the institutional networks of civil society, this book puts civility at the center of inquiry and, from there, moves outward to its changing relations with state, nation, and empire. Admirably comparative, it makes a major contribution to the subject and current debate. I know of no book quite like this one.''--Frank Trentmann, Birkbeck College, University of London

''This important and engaging book explores the surprisingly diverse range of issues in which civility plays a key role. The book will be immensely useful to both specialists interested in developing new theories and general readers trying to make sense of an evocative but elusive concept.''--Bernard Yack, Brandeis University
John A. Hall is the James McGill Professor of Comparative Historical Sociology at McGill University. He is the author of Powers and Liberties, Liberalism, International Orders, and Ernest Gellner, and the coauthor of Is America Breaking Apart? (Princeton).