Concepts of a Civil Society

What constitutes a Civil Society? The number of possible definitions surrounding a civil society makes one wonder if it has a definite and equitable meaning. Locke referred to it as a “peaceful place in which people respect each other, and where respect for property claims is a key principle.” In his inauguration address, President George W. Bush stated that: “A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness.” Philosophers, including Aristotle, Lock, and Ferguson’s civil society indicate it means a civilized, political society in contrast to barbarism, paternal authority, and the state of nature (Honderich, 2005). A Civil Society is also defined as a “public space between the state, the market and the ordinary household, in which people can debate and tackle action.” (Weeks, 2019)

            Christianity teaches us that God created us in his image, although we wonder why there are so many different images of human beings on earth. However, both teach us that we are to be respectful of everyone regardless of their outward appearances and differences. Examples include: The Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12; Loving others more than oneself, Romans 12:10; Show proper respect to everyone, 1 Peter 2:17; and Honoring your Father and Mother, Ephesians 6:1-3 (Bible Study Tools; Maxwell). The Bible Concordance contain 34 different verses with a basis of respect toward others, loving others as we love ourselves, treating others as we would prefer to be treated, and the Ten Commandments that outlines the laws of nature we should follow in our relationships and interactions with other people (Strong & Vine, 1999).

Natural Law as opposed to The State of Nature

Prior to the teaching of Christianity, the ideal and philosophy of a Civil Society of people begins with the rights, moral values, and responsibilities inherent in human nature, that those rights can be understood through simple reasoning. As humans were created in the image of God, all humans were inherently embedded with the Natural Law of God – being and doing good, reasoning to make sound decisions and behave accordingly, and a natural respect for the belief and nature of others. Natural Law is defined as “The belief that certain laws of morality are inherent by human nature, reason or religious belief, and that they are ethically binding on humanity.” Therefore, the law of nature is universal, meaning that it applies to everyone in the same way (Legal Dictionary).

Natural Law is the foundation of all ideals of moral and ethical behavior. Natural Law theory is a label that has been applied to theories of ethics, theories of politics, theories of civil law, and theories of religious morality. (Stanford.edu) Ethics and ethical behaviors are based on morals, which originate from the Natural Law. Proponents, i.e. Naturalists, of the belief and validity of the purpose of natural law proclaim that it is inherent in human nature regardless of government insistence on creating laws that are inconsistent with the natural law concept in humans. Furthermore, natural law ideals and beliefs are supposed to be incorporated into the legal system in order to maintain justice for everyone individually and citizens as a group (Free Dictionary).

They Theory of Natural Law is based on the idea right and wrong, knowing the difference and acting accordingly. Theories of natural law are viewed from three concepts: Divine providence; practical rationality; and historical application. The focus of this paper and presentation will be on the divine nature of a civil society, the reasoning used by the Founders in the creation of the American Government and the tool of the Speak your Piece Civility Project (Nine Tools of Civility). From these perspectives, one can see the advantages of civility among humans far outweighs the state of nature ideal of practical rationality, which has resulted in the uncivil state of nature and uncivil practices of communication, uncivil behavior, and, in some cases, unjust legal rulings and practices in America today.

            The Society of the American Culture was established by the Founders from their reading of great philosophers – Aristotle, Demosthenes, Seneca and specially Cicero. Additionally, they knew about Anglo-Saxon common law, and they had studied the European and English philosophers – Sir William Blackstone, John Locke, and Sir Edward Coke. Additionally, they were intimately familiar with the theories of St. Thomas Aquinas’ two theses, which were from a God’s-eye divine providence point of view, and from a human’s-eye point of view with its incompatibility with atheism and deism (NCCS, Plato.Stanford). Therefore, from the very beginning with the Declaration of Independence, the Founders felt that natural law theory was essential to America’s “freedom and unity.” The first two paragraphs refer to the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God that entitles everyone to the Creator’s unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (NCCS; National Archives – Declaration of Independence).

            Cicero defines Natural Law as “true law.” True law is reasonably aligned with nature, it has a universal application and that it is unchanging and everlasting. Blackstone said, “Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator…..they are eternal, immutable laws of good and evil.” Massachusetts patriot James Otis defined Natural Law as “the rules of moral conduct implanted by nature in the human mind, forming the proper basis for and being superior to all written laws; the will of God revealed to man through his conscience.” When the Constitution was completed, the Founders believed it was an expression of higher law. Madison believed it was a product of “the transcendent law of nature” and Hamilton called it “a fundamental law” of which no legislative act contrary to it could be valid (NCCS).

            America was created to be a “civil society” based on the “moral law” (according to Jefferson) by which all persons are subjected to by their Creator. For over one hundred years Congress used the basis of Natural Law and the reasoning behind all legislative actions. The belief that existed maintained the behavioral characteristics of honesty, painless fair play among others, and that people should render to everyone their just do. Reasoning felt that laws of nature were binding to the whole world at all times, and that no human law was valid when inviolate to natural law. In addition to an understanding of natural law theory, as well as the several writing on the subject, the King James Bible, and other versions, are based on the Natural Law (Oxford Scholarship Online). Additionally, John Adams regarded politics “the divine science” based on the Holy Bible, and he visualized a nation whose citizens would regulate their conduct on the precepts therein (NCCS). “One Nation Under God” was later added to the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag as an indication of the basis upon which America is founded.

Many today believe that the current cultural ideals override the idea of the consistency of Natural Law in that as individuals, organizations and governments progress it is acceptable to change the law of nature to accommodate the present state-of-affairs – the state of nature. Therefore, only the present matters, no consideration of past laws and/or philosophical ideals need to be considered in today’s decisions. For example, some of today’s politicians believe that the U. S. Constitution is a living document, and as such, changes in meaning as the country progresses. Under this theory, it is permissible to dismiss the state of nature during the time the Founders lived and wrote the Constitution, which also tends to exclude Natural Law theory as well.

            Social contract theorists described it – the state of nature – as a condition without government, characterized by deficiencies of which only governments could rectify. Philosopher Thomas Hobbes characterized it as a lawless state with no conception of right and wrong, justice and injustice. He believed that the only kind of authority was one with total and unlimited political control, preferably an absolute monarchy. Philosopher John Locke believed differently. He characterized a state of nature prior to a political authority, but that was still subject to the law to nature for government. Locke’s concluded that the proper remedy was the type of government ruled by the will of the majority who elect representatives to govern in a manner that promotes the common good. And, if those elected violate the trust given them, they can be removed from their office. (Oxford, pp. 894-895).

So, the question arises, “What happened to the Civil Society of the Founding of America?” Why does there exist in America today so much uncivility in behavior, in speech and in some of the Supreme Court rulings such as to favor abortion, gay societal behaviors, and other extremely liberal attitudes in the U.S? In the late 1800s and in the 1900s, the courts began to no longer consider natural law philosophy in rulings. In the 1920s, Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes denied judicial reasoning on the natural law (nlnrac.org). In 1947, Justice Hugo Black urged abandoning the natural law formula and argued that it was “a violation of our Constitution (NCCS). These statements from members of the Highest Court in America set the tone for subjectivity in make legal decision. It also became the beginning of the decline in civility, morality, and ethical standards in America, departing from the once objectivity of abiding by Natural Law precepts and standards of civility.

            In a recent article by Walter E. Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University and renown speaker and writer, he quoted Attorney General William Barr from his October 2019 speech at Notre Dame Law School in which Barr said, “attacks on religious liberty have contributed to a moral decline that’s in part manifested by increases in suicide, mental illness, and drug addiction.” Barr also stated that it is intentional “organized destruction” namely: “secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.” He quotes John Adams, 1798, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. Williams also wrote that it is just the tip of the iceberg in our nation’s moral decline (walterwilliams.com).

These statements and comments are similar to writings of Edward Gibbons on the Roman Empire as The History of the Decline and fall of the Roman Empire. According to Gibbons, the root cause of Roman societal collapse was their loss of civil virtue and individual morality. Gibbons believed the laws of morality were as unchanging as the laws of mathematics and physics (thetrumpet.com). In other words, the laws of nature, Natural Law.

Return to “Freedom and Unity” – Civil Society

            To prevent what Gibbons described in the decline of Rome, the civility and morality of citizens in any form of government, the people must decide to return to the ideals of Natural Law and the resulting civil nature of people in their relationship with each other. The modern secular ideals that are propagated through media, movies, music, and public officials must be overcome using the same technological advances to reinstate the ideals of civility in the citizenship. The National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS) promotes several seminars and ideal to return to a moral society, with God-fearing statesmen who lead using the natural law principles upon which America was created. NCCS promotes a return to following the laws of scripture as a basis for civility, lasting peace, and happiness. Families and communities need open discussion on civility, natural law, and the precepts of the U. S. Constitution as the foundation of freedom and unity – e pluribus unum. There needs to be a return to the studies of the Holy Scriptures, which is the natural law basis of a free society. Prayer needs to be more openly practiced and promoted as a right under the Constitution (NCCS).

            All schools need to discuss, teach, and promote behaviors associated with various civility projects such as the Speak Your Peace Project to encourage civil treatment of all citizens in all forms of communication and organizational leadership. Teachers need an understanding of Natural Law Theory and teach the precepts and meaning of Natural Law morals and reasoned behaviors of ethics of moral laws. The following outlines and briefly describes the attributed and concepts of the Speak Your Peace Project. This is only one of the many efforts nationwide promoting civility.

            The following briefly describes the Nine Tools of Civility promoted by the Project whose vision is to urge the citizens of Duluth/Superior area to communicate in a more respectful and effective way. The idea is to enhance the ability to avoid unhealthy debate and conversations. The Project promotes their program using P. M. Forni’s book Choosing Civility.

Civility Described: polite, reasonable, respectful behavior, courteous, pleasantry, honorable and gracious. Quite naturally, uncivil is just the opposite.

Pay Attention: Observe surroundings, don’t interrupt without thinking first, listen intently, make an effort to remember (especially names), Others First.

Listen to Better Understand: ID the “Will” of the speaker, to what “Is” and what “Is Not” said, suppress the inner voice to speak, listen with empathy, reflect on conversation.

Be Inclusive for Greater Good: Civility Knows No – ethnicity, level of leadership, forum, religion, enemies, generation, bounds, and exclusiveness.

Don’t Gossip: Gossiping – hurts, accomplishes nothing, is childish, bad-manners, negative, divisive, destructive, racist, and lowers esteem.

Show Respect: Observe Golden Rule, everyone deserves respect, being uncivil lowers respect, honorable behavior.

Seek Common Ground: Collaborate, compromise, work for good of all, be a Builder, promote success – yours, others, and the organization.

Repair Damaged Relationships: swallow your PRIDE, seek to apologize, forgiveness heals, affirm success of others.

Use Constructive Language: no foul language, stick to the issues, don’t attack personally, no “yea-buts” or “we’ve always done it that ways.”

Take Responsibility: hold yourself accountable, don’t blame others, accept faults, clean up language, speak positively, respect everyone – Be the Example.

            Civility helps build strong and lasting relationships. Civility leaves memories of positive interactions and experiences. Civility binds people to each other and new ideas. Civility is an innate behavior based on the Golden Rule and 34 other biblical scriptures. Civility, by nature, is an innate behavior of respect for others.

            A movement needs to take place to instill the positive, relationship building, e Pluribus Enum ideal back into the respectful, compassionate and American civil society of which we were known throughout the world; which is quite the opposite of what we see and hear from our current governmental leadership. A good way to start is with a “Letter Writing Project” based on the ideals of the Speak Your Peace Project noted herein. Citizens need to choose to be Uncommon, which means do not follow the uncivil, ego-based behaviors espoused by Academia, the Media including Hollywood propagations, and social media. Lastly, peaceably, and compassionately confront uncivil behavior, with teachable and reasonable language.

Be “The Example of Civility.”

References

1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/people/highlights/010705_civil.shtml

2. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_american_context_of_civil_society#

3. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-law-ethics/

4. https://nccs.net/blogs/articles/natural-law

5. https://legaldictionary.net/natural-law/

6. https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/natural+law

7. https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/preamble

8. http://www.nlnrac.org/critics/oliver-wendell-holmes

9. https://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/natural-law.htm

10. https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-respect/

11.https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199535293.001.0001/acprof-9780199535293

12. https://www.http://walterewilliams.com/us-in-moral-decline/

13. https://www.thetrumpet.com/15831-why-moral-decline-matters

14. Weeks, Marcus editor, 2019. How Philosophy Works, The Concepts Visually Explained. DK Publishing, New York, p. 204.

15. Honderich, Ted editor, 2005. The Oxford Guide Philosophy. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 142-143.

16. Strong, Dr. James & Vine, W.E., 1999. Strong’s concise and Concordance & Vine’s Concise Dictionary of the Bible: Two Bible Reference Classics in One Handy Volume. Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville.

17. Morris, Benjamin F, 2007. The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States. American Visions, Inc., Powder Springs, Georgia.

18. Maxwell, John C., The Maxwell Leadership Bible: Lessons in Leadership from the Word of God. New King James Version (NKJV), Thomas Nelson, Nashville.

19. Nine Tools of Civility – Speak the Peace Civility Project. http://www.dsaspeakyourpeace.org/about.html.

Published by Compass Leadership

Retired Navy Officer; Retired Navy Junior ROTC Manager & Instructor. Professional Public Speaker: Focus is Servant Leadership Principles and Practices, Organizational Development - Leadership Circle of Success, Customer Service, Mentoring, Team-Building concepts and personal life coach. Vision: Recognized as a "Making a Difference" Leader. Motto: Developing & Equipping Leaders who Develop Equipped Leaders. Lead by the "Law of Service", which says if one want to live long, one must serve.

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