Civic Renaissance is a newsletter and community dedicated to ennobling our public discourse with the wisdom of the past, curated by award-winning writer Alexandra Hudson, whose forthcoming book on civility will be published by St. Martin’s Press.
Civic Renaissance exists to create a public forum for conversation, civility, grace, and conversation dedicated to the betterment of the human condition.
Civic Renaissance explores the building blocks of human community and the conditions of human flourishing. It is a place where the best of the old is revived and applied to the challenges we are facing here and now. It will focus on what civic renewal is, why it matters, and how we can achieve it by looking at examples of where it is being done in our world today, as well as throughout history.
There are two components to the vision, purpose, and title of Civic Renaissance: civic, and renaissance.
Civic Renaissance explores the concept of the civic in its fullest sense. We’re all familiar with many conceptually and etymologically interrelated concepts pertaining to the civic: civility, civil society, civic engagement, civil discourse, civic leadership, among others.
We rightly intuit that these concepts are connected. After all, they all share the same Latin root civis, which refers to the conduct and duties pertaining to citizenship. Yet frequently the discourses that that invoke these terms are narrow and segmented, and don’t appreciate the fullness of the concept.
Civic Renaissance does.
It recovers the meaning of the civic in its fullest sense, including the benefits and duties of citizenship to our nation, our communities, and most importantly to one another, our fellow citizens and fellow man.
Civic Renaissance draws inspiration from the long tradition of civic humanism. Civic humanism emerged during the Italian Renaissance and extolled a high view of humanity while reviving the ideas of classical Greece and Rome.
Civic humanists weren’t content with a contemplative life of reading and translation alone. They were inspired by human excellence and sought to cultivate the fullness of our human potential—through a pursuit of beauty, virtue, goodness, and truth—in every realm, particularly the public square.
When we hear the term “Renaissance,” often our minds jump to the age of Petrarch, DaVinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. But Civic Renaissance is not just about civic humanism or Italy’s golden age. While there is much we can learn and benefit from in a close study of these individuals and the broader era of European renewal to which the Italian renaissance led, the concept of renaissance is far too rich to be limited to one era alone.
Civic Renaissance aims to learn from golden eras of human achievement across time and place. History shows again and again that recognizing human potential and investing in cultural institutions such as art and education—especially from a society’s political or educated elite—leads to a flourishing of human achievement.
The Bronze Age (3000-800 BC) was followed by the renaissance of the Greek Archaic period, which produced the first Olympic Games, the first use of a Greek alphabet, and the creation of Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. In fact, the word archaic itself means something similar to what we understand as renaissance: it comes from the greek work arkhē, meaning the beginning of something new.
Or consider the Carolingian Renaissance (led by Charlemagne’s investment in culture and mass education), the renaissance of the 12th century, the Bengali Renaissance, the Harlem renaissance—and so many others.
Many nations have “golden eras” to which they harken back. But we cannot be content with nostalgia. This is why Civic Renaissance is explicitly present and forward thinking: reviving the best of the past to make our life here and now, and our future, better.
We each have a role in this.
Thank you for being here, and for helping to create a more intellectually and civically vibrant future together.