What Happened to Civility
The Promise and Failure of Montaigne’s Modern Project
190 pages, 6.00 x 9.00
Paperback | 9780268202330 | April 2022
Hardcover | 9780268202323 | April 2022
eBook (Web PDF) | 9780268202347 | April 2022
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268202316 | April 2022
What is civility, and why has it disappeared? Ann Hartle analyzes the origins of the modern project and the Essays of Michel de Montaigne to discuss why civility is failing in our own time.
In this bold book, Ann Hartle, one of the most important interpreters of sixteenth-century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, explores the modern notion of civility—the social bond that makes it possible for individuals to live in peace in the political and social structures of the Western world—and asks, why has it disappeared? Concerned with the deepening cultural divisions in our postmodern, post-Christian world, she traces their roots back to the Reformation and Montaigne’s Essays. Montaigne’s philosophical project of drawing on ancient philosophy and Christianity to create a new social bond to reform the mores of his culture is perhaps the first act of self-conscious civility. After tracing Montaigne’s thought, Hartle returns to our modern society and argues that this framing of civility is a human, philosophical invention and that civility fails precisely because it is a human, philosophical invention. She concludes with a defense of the central importance of sacred tradition for civility and the need to protect and maintain that social bond by supporting nonpoliticized, nonideological, free institutions, including and especially universities and churches. What Happened to Civility is written for readers concerned about the deterioration of civility in our public life and the defense of freedom of religion. The book will also interest philosophers who seek a deeper understanding of modernity and its meaning, political scientists interested in the meaning of liberalism and the causes of its failure, and scholars working on Montaigne’s Essays.
Ann Hartle is professor emeritus of philosophy at Emory University. She is the author of numerous books, including Montaigne and the Origins of Modern Philosophy and Michel de Montaigne: Accidental Philosopher.
“The insistent point of What Happened to Civility—that civility is collapsing as enlightenment ideology’s relentless advance swamps the premodern, traditional sources of nobility and mercy that Montaigne relied upon to create civility in the first place—is new, true, and significant.” —Benjamin Storey, co-author of Why We Are Restless
“No other book-length treatment of Montaigne’s notion of civility exists. Hartle succeeds admirably well in showing that Montaigne’s conception of civility helped to shape modern self-understanding in significant ways.” —John C. McCarthy, editor of Modern Enlightenment and the Rule of Reason
"Time spent with this book will be rewarded, both with a heightened sense of the importance of civility to human happiness and wonder for the artistry of a great essayist like Montaigne." —The American Conservative
"The book is a good contribution to a troubling debate, and one with which Montaigne himself would have been pleased." —Church Times
“Ann Hartle analyzes the reasons for the contemporary decay of civility, which was given its modern formulation 'out of the fragments of the shattered classical-Christian tradition' in Montaigne’s Essays. She goes on to consider 'what has been lost in the movement from sacred tradition as the social bond' to its secular form, notably a 'public standard of moral virtue.'" —Choice
Ann Hartle’s What Happened to Civility offers an inviting proposition: civility should be understood as a human invention and therefore is ultimately doomed to failure. -Perspectives on Politics