Following on Marc’s recent posts on skepticism and knowledge, here is an interesting-looking new book from Notre Dame Press: What Happened to Civility: The Promise and Failure of Montaigne’s Modern Project, by philosopher Ann Hartle (Emory). As Donald Frame once observed, Montaigne expressed skepticism about customs and culture (“Que sais-je?”), but never about the ultimate authority of the Church and its teachings about eternal life. In fact, accepting certain background assumptions about eternal truths may have allowed Montaigne space to tolerate diverse opinions about wordly things. In her new book, Hartle suggests that what she calls Montaigne’s project of “civility” depends on taking “sacred tradition” for granted. Perhaps, as a practical matter, liberal tolerance requires that a society accept certain assumptions without debate, so that doubt can be expressed on other subjects. What do I know? It’s worth thinking about.
Here is the publisher’s description:
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.