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Alexandra Hudson was raised to be hospitable and kind to all. But her experience in politics showed her how people can weaponize “niceness” to achieve their own selfish ends, which led her to an important realization: there is a fundamental difference between politeness and civility. While politeness smooths over differences with superficial good manners, true civility means recognizing the innate dignity of others—which sometimes means respecting people enough to tell them they’re wrong.
In The Soul of Civility, Hudson scours the human experience, offering a sweeping history of social norms and giving readers insight from hundreds of civility handbooks across history and the globe. She discovers that while the challenges to civility today are dire, they are not new. And the solution is just as timeless as the problem: the principles of civility and human flourishing are remarkably unchanging and have been discovered and rediscovered across time and place.
Hudson harnesses the power of storytelling—sharing gripping and endearing narratives of heroes of civility both familiar and forgotten—to illuminate how civility can help bridge our social, cultural, and political divides.
Drawing from ancient philosophers such as Socrates, Epictetus, and Confucius to more contemporary thinkers such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Henry David Thoreau—as well as her own experience working in the federal government during one of the most politically fraught eras in our nation’s history—Hudson explains why civility is not a luxury: it’s a necessary for the survival and flourishing of our species.
Life with others is the highest and best life, and civility makes this life possible. Civility can help us transcend our important differences and flourish amidst them.
It’s easy to look at the divided state of the world and blame our leaders, the media, or our education system. But the joint project of human community begins with each individual’s decision to act with respect and decency toward our fellow man. Instead of looking outward, we should focus on what we can control: ourselves. The Soul of Civility empowers readers to live tolerantly with others, and respect them because of our shared humanity, despite deep differences. We can’t change others, but if enough of us choose civility, we might be able to change the world.
Provocative and personal, The Soul of Civility is timely and timeless. It is sure to be an instant classic.