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Civility: ‘We the People’

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Our hosts Nicole Anderson and Julian Knowles dive in once again to discuss the deep connections between civics, democracy, elections, and especially in this episode, citizenship. 

This episode starts with Nicole speaking about what democracy meant in the age of the Ancient Greeks. Their notion of democracy notably did not include slaves, women, foreigners, or peasants. 

This led our hosts to ponder how democracy can function in such a large and diverse society like the United States. To answer these questions, our hosts contacted Richard Amesbury, the Director of the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. Amesbury is an expert in religion and contemporary political thought. 

When speaking about what challenges we face when crafting a shared or common idea of democracy in today’s world, Amesbury says, “I think one of the striking features of our time is that that line between friend and enemy no longer circumscribes the political community, it cuts right through it. It sort of bisects what used to be the political community anyway.” 

Another topic of discussion for our hosts was the decline of moral capital in the U.S. and how this might be affecting democracy as a whole. Nicole asks if this “failure in trust contributed to a decline of common and shared social practices?” 

To help answer this question, our hosts spoke with Joan McGregor, an expert in moral and legal philosophy. They asked if recent declines in civility are reflected in threats to democracy. 

“I think civility plays a role in so far as that people are willing to listen to others,” says McGregor. “They’re willing to be open minded about the kinds of reasons that people give, that we accept certain kinds of things as evidence for positions, we think that there are reliable facts out in the world, that there is something to expertise, that when you want to know something, you don’t just Google it and find anything, that you actually go to reputable sources.” 

What does it mean to be a citizen in a democracy? Where is the line between peaceful protest and civil disobedience? For more complex questions about the state of our current democracy, be sure to check out this latest episode of The Futures of Democracy.

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