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 20th 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 civil society in its modern cultural and historical contexts.
The book was a disappointment. Assertions were made without bothering to cite any relevant data or statistics to support the assertions (e.g., about rampant racism and low levels of racial intermarriage in United States). Statements were made and simply left there (e.g., about the inevitable failure of austerity measures, while failing to make a counterproposal about where the loaves and fishes would come from to support the social spending). Failure to understand crucial social trends were also made (e.g., statements about ethnic groups moving into Western countries and not being allowed to assimilate in and not seeking social safety net supports, when in fact many individuals within such groups not only actively seek social support but also actively avoid assimilating and prefer to remain within their cultural enclaves and maintain traditions that are at odds with the cultural values of the country to which they have moved). Overall, a book of assertions without a great deal of support.