Civil Solidarity

К оглавлению
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 
17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 
34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 
51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 
68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 
85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 

For a long period of time the concepts of civility and civilization referred

to “the self-image of the European upper class in relation to others

whom its members considered simpler or more primitive” (Elias 1978:

39). Civilization was thought of as the privilege of the elite, and civilized

behavior was viewed as the distinctive characteristic of the upper classes.

In the nineteenth and the first decades of the twentieth century those

at the bottom of society, the poor and the unemployed, were the object

of initiatives aimed at their “civilization.” Against this background it is

understandable that in the 1960s talking about civility was seen as tantamount

to being a snob or a reactionary. With the growth of democratic

culture and the rise of a more informal style of behavior during the past

decades, the concepts of civilization and civility lost their elitist stigma.

Civility came to be understood as the “the civil treatment of others and

respect for their sensibilities” (Misztal 2001: 72). Nowadays an increasing

concern with civility can be observed. Civil society, modern citizenship,

and the respect toward fellow citizens are thought to be diminishing.

In the United States the decline of civility is bemoaned by scholars like

Bennett (1993), Carter (1998), Lane (2000), and Putnam (2000).

Coming back to AlanWolfe’s warnings about talk of decline and problems

of definition, it seems worthwhile to study the notion of civility in

some more detail. One of the meanings of civility – manners, politeness –

can be traced back to the seminal work on the civilization process in

Western societies by Norbert Elias (1978). He showed that this meaning

of civility has its origins in medieval courtesy, the behavior required at

the court. In the course of the civilization process the former external

social constraints were converted into self-control and self-regulation of

spontaneous impulses. Self-control emerges here as an important aspect

of civility, in addition to manners.However, civility has deeper meanings

than the rather superficial one of courtesy and manners. Edward Shils

(1991), for instance, considers civility an essential virtue that implies our

recognition of the humanity of self and others and a willingness – based

on an awareness of mutual dependency – to develop communality with

others. Respect and care for fellow citizens are important elements in this

conception (see also Dekker 2000). Conceived this way the concept of

civility is closely related to solidarity. Indeed, various scholars conceive

of civility as a form of solidarity, taking shape in concrete local settings

in which citizens interact with one another (Cahoone 2000a; Misztal

2001). According to VirginiaSt raus (2000) civility and civil society are

founded on a minimal dignity for all citizens: “Civility in civil society

means regarding others as members of the same inclusive collectivity

and respecting them as such. Even one’s enemies must be included in

this same moral universe. In addition, civility describes the conduct of

ap erson who has ac oncern for the good of the whole society” (Straus

2000: 230).

Because of the similarity between the concepts of civility and solidarity,

in what follows I use the concept of “civil solidarity,” which comprises

the following four characteristics: self-restraint, or the control of spontaneous

impulses and of the desire for immediate gratification; good manners,

or not being rude; being aware of other people as fellow human

beings and treating them accordingly; and willingness to subordinate

private concerns to public interests.

If we look at solidarity thus conceived, a variety of behaviors indeed

seems to indicate a decline of civil solidarity in either one of these meanings,

or a combination of them. The increase in (criminal and other)

violence is perhaps the best illustration.As in most other European countries,

in theNetherlands statistical data unequivocally point to an increase

in criminal violence during the past decades (SCP-Report 2000). Two

decades after 1975 the number of violent crimes has increased by a factor

of three; in the same period also physical ill-treatment shows a rise.

In particular, violence by youthful perpetrators has increased. Vandalism

has quadrupled between 1975 and 1995 (van den Brink 2001). The amount

of destruction has increased since 1990, both in the perception of citizens

themselves and in police records. There is more aggression in schools, in

traffic, in the office of the general practitioner, in hospitals, and in social

service departments. At ColumbineHigh School in theUnited States and

also in Erfurt in Germany, pupils cold-bloodedly shot their teachers and

fellow pupils to death out of anger and frustration toward the school. To

explain this type of violence, we might again refer to the overwhelming

centrality of the need for self-recognition in modern citizens. As a consequence

the vulnerability to narcissistic offenses, and thus the tendency

to respond with aggression, have risen considerably. Unfortunately no

longitudinal data are available to substantiate the assumptions about the

grown ego and the assertive self. Dutch data from a research done in 1997

do, however, show that citizens think personal qualities such as independence

and standing up for yourself are more important than being able to

take the imaginary position of other people and to cooperate with them

(SCP-Report 2002: 60). If we add to this the numerous special issues of

newspapers and weekly magazines about public impertinence that have

appeared in theNetherlands over the past years, we can conclude that the

need for recognition and assertion of the self has become a predominant

motivation among many contemporary citizens, leaving no room for the

recognition of others.

Modern traffic, with its anonymity and high potential for developing

aggressive feelings, is another domain where the diminishing civil solidarity

can be observed. Raising the middle finger as an expression of one’s

anger and contempt for other people, tailgating and honking incessantly,

ignoring the red light oneself and being angry at others who start driving

when the light is green, obstructing ticket control in public transport by

becoming violent – all these examples show a decline in civil solidarity.

An extremely disconcerting development is the increase in the number

of people who drive on after having caused an accident. Figures from

the Dutch Ministry of Internal Affairs show that between 1990 and 1999

the number of police warrants related to driving on after an accident has

doubled. We can only guess at the motives of the perpetrators: lack of

consideration for the victim and alcohol abuse are candidates, in addition

to the relatively low chance of being caught anyhow.

Arelatively new phenomenon connected to the spread of the cell phone

is the habit of conducting overly loud private conversations in public, for

example, in trains or other public spaces, thereby preventing other people

from continuing their silent reading, thinking, or sleeping. Although not

as aggressive as the earlier mentioned examples, this practice nevertheless

shows a lack of civil solidarity as we have defined it earlier: the possible

needs and wishes of fellow citizens are ignored.

Yet another sign of declining civil solidarity is the disrespect shown

in dealing with public space: leaving rubbish in public parks and on the

streets instead of using the dustbin, or urinating in public instead of

using the public rest room. In many big cities, and not exclusively in the

Netherlands, the signs of pollution and neglect of the public space are

clearly visible.

Itmust be emphasized at this point that these developments should be

seen in the historical context of the second half of the twentieth century.

The supposed decline of civil solidarity only pertains to the period since

the 1950s. We should have no illusions whatsoever about civil solidarity

in former ages when robber bands were terrorizing the countryside and

the big cities were far from safe and clean.