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Katie van Schaijik

Rules of civility

Jul. 7, 2009, at 10:56am

David Brooks mars an otherwise excellent column about the relation between rules of etiquette, personal dignity and the public good with a gratuitous dig at Sarah Palin and strange admiration for Obama.

Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity. The cultural effects of his presidency are not yet clear, but they may surpass his policy impact. He may revitalize the concept of dignity for a new generation and embody a new set of rules for self-mastery.

To me, Obama comes across as detached, unserious and full of self-regard. On several occasions, most conspicuously toward his predecessor in office, he has been egregiously, cringe-makingly discourteous. I find in him none of the marked moral seriousness and conscientious respect for others that are the core of personal dignity.

You can find George Washington’s “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation” here.

It would be interesting for the Personalist Project to develop a 21st century code of etiquette. Proposals in this direction are welcome. I’d also like to know who readers sees as exemplars of true personal dignity in our day. I’ll mention a few who have influenced me. Each one has made me feel the “apostolate of being” that is personal dignity, and made me regret painfully my own sloppiness.

Alice von Hildebrand and Tom Howard, the encounter with whom more than twenty years ago caused a radical revision in my aspirations for life.
Cardinal Schonborn.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom I heard speak and met briefly at a Brandley Foundation Symposium. It came through in her height and stunning beauty, her way of carrying herself, the gentle strength and musicality of her voice, and above all her moral fearlessness.
Samuel Alito. Jules and I got to hear him speak at an ISI dinner in April. He was thoroughly unpretentious. There was nothing particularly great in his speech. But his physical bearing radiated rectitude, piety, modesty, moral seriousness, self-control.


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