As the country examines the tone of political dialogue, the National Constitution Center presents an interactive, interdisciplinary forum titled “Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America.” The forum explored the current state of public discourse and the issue of civility in the context of the roles that dissent and protest play in American politics.
Participants, drawn from such fields as history, political philosophy, political science, law, sociology, journalism, and communications discussed key themes such as the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, the concept of civic virtue, the importance of dissent and deliberation in America’s constitutional democracy, and the ways in which political actors and the media can contribute to or detract from productive public discourse.
In this excerpt from the Can We Talk: Ethics and Political Philosophy breakout session, participants question whether it’s okay for political debate to be intense and combative. They also address the risks and benefits, if it’s necessary for advocates to recognize opposing viewpoints, and whether compromise between two opposing sides is the best route to a solution.
Participants include: Rogers M. Smith, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science – University of Pennsylvania; Carl Ackerman, educator – Constitution High School; William B. Allen, Professor of Political Philosophy – Michigan State University; Ann Fisher, “All Sides with Ann Fisher” – WOSU; Amy Gutmann, President and Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science – University of Pennsylvania; Stephanie Jasky, Founder and Director – FedUpUSA; Andrew March, Associate Professor of Political Science – Yale University; Dennis Thompson, Professor of Government and Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy – Harvard University; and John Yoo, Professor, School of Law – University of California at Berkeley.
The symposium was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Bridging Cultures program, which awarded grants in August 2010 for a series of national conversations on civility. The Center’s conference was the culminating event of the series. PBS was the official media partner.