Last night, I attended a lecture from Sir Salman Rushdie. His lecture, “On Civility,” was an impassioned defense of freedom of speech regardless of one’s opinions. The speech also made a call for civility. What Sir Rushdie misses, however, is the cause of incivility. Rushdie believes that the gift of democracy is the ability of people to disagree. This simply is not the case. While Rushdie’s heart is in the right place (he was a victim of censorship and state-sanctioned violence), we must have an honest conversation about the decivilizing effects of democracy and government.
Democracy: My Way or the Highway vs. Civility
In a democracy, the minority gets to speak. They can make their case for whatever they support. Then the vote occurs and they lose. In a democracy, the majority will is the direction society must take. There is no legitimacy for separating from the majority so that everyone can have it their way. What good is speech if there is no action?
Civility does not come from democracy. The truth is quite the opposite. When democracy teaches us that only one way can exist, then society makes enemies of those that dissent. We lose the diversity of thought when we valorize the majoritarian whim. Democracy is the enemy of civility whereas it degrades the human capacity for coexistence, cooperation, and peaceful disagreement.
Depoliticization: The Cure to Incivility
Government is force. It does not require the consent of all parties involved, just the parties in power. Government, when formed into a democracy, takes the whim of the majority and forces it upon the minority. As the scope of government expands, conformity becomes the key to survival. In other words, everything the government touches turns to appeals to force instead of reason.
This is why the solution to the great polarization and incivility of our world is the depoliticization of society. With the government, there can only be one answer. With the market, people are capable of living in accordance with their own values. We are able to peacefully disagree whereas we will not be forced to submit to the power structures of society. This is why the local community, not the centralized state, is an indication of civility.
Sir Rushdie saw firsthand how the government handles their problems. The Iranian government put a bounty on his head because of his novel, The Satanic Verses, offended the sensitivities of their leader. Government is incivility. It is the enemy of civil society. Voluntaryism, however, allows for civility to thrive. You do not hurt me for living my life. I will not hurt you for living your life. This agreement is essential to the survival of humanity. It is the step forward that allows us all to live in peace.