Talks with Authors: The Soul of Civility

Event Video

Listen & Download

In her new book, The Soul of Civility: Timeless Principles to Heal Society and Ourselves, Alexandra Hudson explores the question – how can a reinvigorated dedication to civility help our nation come together despite deep and growing differences? She argues that our difficulties in this arena are not new; luckily, the solutions aren’t either. Drawing wisdom from a host of ancient philosophers and influential thinkers, Hudson encourages Americans to turn inward and commit themselves to live tolerantly. She contends that our Republic depends on it. 

Please join us as Alexandra Hudson sits down with The Federalist Society’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Dean Reuter, to discuss The Soul of Civility. 


Alexandra O. Hudson, Founder, Civic Renaissance; Adjunct Professor, Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Dean Reuter, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, The Federalist Society


To register, click the link above. 


As always, the Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker.

Event Transcript



Sam Fendler:  Hello everyone, and welcome to this Federalist Society virtual event. My name is Sam Fendler, and I'm an Assistant Director of Practice Groups with The Federalist Society.


      Today we're excited to host a Talks with Authors webinar on The Soul of Civility: Timeless Principles to Heal Society and Ourselves. We're joined today by the author Alexandra "Lexi" Hudson.


      Helping to guide our conversation is The Federalist Society's very own Dean Reuter. Dean is Senior Vice President and General Counsel at The Federalist Society. He is himself an author of the 2019 book The Hidden Nazi: The Untold Story of America's Deal with the Devil. Dean is a long-time society leader and public servant.


      If you'd like to learn more about today's speakers, their full bios can be viewed on our website,


      After some initial discussion, we will turn to you, the audience, for questions. If you have a question, please enter it into the Q&A function at the bottom of your Zoom window, and we'll do our best to answer as many questions as we can.


      Finally, I'll note that, as always, all expressions of opinion today are those of our guest speaker and not The Federalist Society.


      With that, Dean, thank you very much for taking the time to be here today, and the floor is yours.


Dean Reuter:  Thank you very much, Sam. I appreciate it, and I appreciate the work of everybody who helped cobble this together.


      As Sam said, I'm Dean Reuter. I'm pleased to welcome you. And I welcome Alexandra O. Hudson. I want to introduce you, Lexi. You go by "Lexi," but if you're looking for this book, it's Alexandra Hudson.


      She's a writer, a popular speaker, and the founder of Civic Renaissance, which is a publication and intellectual community that's dedicated to beauty, goodness, and truth, things we could use more of in this world, right? We'll get to that in a bit. But she was also named the 2020 Novak Journalism Fellow, and she's a frequent contributor to Fox News, CBS News, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, TIME Magazine, POLITICO, Newsweek, and many others.


      Her master's degree came from the London School of Economics in public policy. She's also an adjunct Professor at the Indiana University School of Philanthropy. But most importantly, two more items for our purposes: a friend of The Federalist Society and author of the soon-to-be-released—and when I say, "soon to be released," it is available now for preorder—The Soul of Civility; the subtitle Timeless Principles to Heal Society and Ourselves. It comes from St. Martin's Press. It's available in bookstores, presumably, but certainly on Amazon to preorder, where it is now a number one new release. So it's a hot property.


      But let's, with that, get right to it. I want to say at the outset, I've read it. I recommend it to those of you who are considering a preorder.


      Let me start by asking you, Lexi, as I welcome you, why this book? Why now? How'd you --


Alexandra Hudson:  Thank you, Dean. And thank you, too, so much to Sam and The Fed Soc team for your friendship and partnership.


      I've been working on this book since I worked for Dean at The Federalist Society almost ten years ago. So I interned 2013—summer 2013—with The Federalist Society. Dean was my boss. I helped support him as he launched the Executive Branch Review. So thrilled to have come full circle and now be a guest on something like this. I will also say my husband and I met at The Federalist Society National Convention in 2013 as well, November 2013, so ten years ago, coming up just next month. So it'll be fun to be there at the convention this year to celebrate that anniversary as well.


      I wrote this book because I couldn't not write this book to be quite honest with you. I had been thinking -- I have been thinking about these ideas my entire life, just the principles of human flourishing, how to do life together. My mother is something of an etiquette expert. Her name is Judy, the Manners Lady.


      Over the course of writing this book, I discovered my mother is one of four women who are internationally renowned experts on manners and etiquette named Judy. The most famous of which is Judith Martin, probably, of The Washington Post, Miss Manners, the columnist at The Post. But there are three others, one of whom is my mother. And she's my favorite of these Judys in the manners business.


      And she, in addition to teaching us the ways and means of flourishing with others -- and that is why she cares about manners. She cares deeply about this joint project of life together, and she cares about manners to the extent that they help us -- to the extent that they facilitate friendship and flourishing. But, in addition to that, my mother was this amazing model for my brothers and I growing up, of just the hallmark of true civility, other-orientedness, kindness to the stranger.


      My house was a revolving door growing up of newcomers, of immigrants, of homestays; just my mother was passionate about making the outside the insider; the stranger, the friend, and so just this great model and example to us, in addition to teaching us the formal rules of etiquette and politeness.


      I am constitutionally allergic to authority. Dean probably remembers this from when I worked for him -- that I don't like rules. I don't like --


Dean Reuter:  I don't have a sense of that, Lexi, but go ahead.


Alexandra Hudson:  But my mother told us what to do when and when to do it. And I always kind of questioned these rules and norms and expectations. and I wondered why do we use forks. Why do we set the table this way? Why don't we eat with our hands? Why do we use forks at all? And I never really got satisfactory answers to these questions about why we do things the way we do them. So I've always been -- pondered these kind of questions about the origin of our norms and definitions of propriety.


      But still, despite these questions, I generally followed what my mother taught us. And she promised that they would lead to success in school and in life. and she was right until I got to the United States Department of Education.


      So I served with Secretary DeVos 2017 to 2018, and while I was in government, it was an incredibly disheartening experience for many reasons, the most salient of which is the interpersonal hostility that I both experienced and witnessed during my time in government.


      There were these two extremes. On one hand, there were people with sharp elbows. And they were willing to -- they were aggressive and hostile, willing to step on anyone to get ahead. And I knew to stay away from those people. On the other hand, there were people who, at first, I thought they were my people. They were polished and poised and polite, and these were the people that would smile at me and others and flatter us one moment and then stab us in the back the next, the moment that they no longer needed us for anything.


      And this latter contingent really puzzled me because one thing my mother had said to us growing up was that manners mattered because they were an outward extension of our inward character; that what we did outside reflected an internal reality. And yet, here I was surrounded by people who were well-mannered enough and yet ruthless and cruel.


      At first, I thought these two modes were opposites, the extreme hostility and extreme politeness, polar opposites. But then I realized they're actually two sides of the same coin. Both modes instrumentalize others. They see other people as means to their selfish ends, as opposed to people who are worthy of respect in and of themselves, just by virtue of our shared moral status as members of the human community.


      So I thought deeply about this experience. And this experience helped me -- after I left government, helped clarify for me what I came to realize as this essential distinction between civility and politeness; that politeness is manners. It's etiquette. It's technique. It's behavior. It's external. Whereas civility is a disposition of the heart. It's internal. It's a way of seeing others as our moral equals who are worthy of respect just by virtue of being human. And that sometimes crucially actually respecting someone requires telling them that they're wrong, requires telling hard truths. It requires engaging in robust debate; that this is actually a hallmark of actually loving, actually respecting someone, as opposed to polishing over a difference and papering over a difference.


      The etymology -- I love etymology. Etymology is throughout my book because it's kind of a pneumonic device. The stories about the origin of words helps us remember them better. So the etymology of both civility and politeness supports this distinction I make. The etymology -- the Latin root of politeness is polire, which means to smooth or to polish, and that's what politeness does. It is superficial. It's external. It papers over a difference as opposed to -- polishes over a difference as opposed to giving us the tools to grapple with difference head-on.


      The Latin word of civility is civilitas, which is all things related. It's the etymological root of citizen, of citizenship, and the city. And that's what civility is. It's the duties and the habits and the conduct befitting of a citizen in the civis, which again, especially in a democracy, requires robust debate, telling hard truths. And we can't avoid these conversations about controversial difficult matters.


      So why this book? Why now?


      When I left government, I was deeply discouraged. I was deeply disillusioned. I couldn't not write this book. I just had -- I felt like I -- a deep obligation. I didn't feel like I was part of the solution in government, but I wanted to be because I'd felt so keenly this division.


      And I thought deeply like, "What is the stuff of personhood? What does it mean to be a human being? And what is the bare minimum of respect that we are owed and owe to others by virtue of our shared dignity and humanity? And what does that look like in practice even across deep difference? And I remember I talked to book editors, literary agents, op-ed editors of different magazines, and no one was interested in a book along those lines.


      And I remember I had a conversation with Tyler Cowen at George Mason University at the Mercatus Center. And he told me not to write this book too. He was like, "Only" -- "Like, writing a book is really hard," he said. He's like, "Only write a book if you can't not write a book, like, if you have a disease, and writing the book is the cure." And there's no other explanation for how this book exists other than that was exactly the case. I had to write this book. I couldn't not write this book.


      It feels like just a gift of unmerited grace that it is a thing that is out in the world and about to be released more widely come October 10th, on Tuesday, just four, five days from now. So really, really grateful -- really grateful to be here and to be able to share it with you.


Dean Reuter:  Terrific. Again, you mentioned the publication date. I don't know if I did or not, but it is October 10th. It's St. Martin's. It's available everywhere -- on Amazon. It's also—I didn't mention this—it's available in Kindle for those of you who are inclined to Kindle. I still like the idea of a book where I can leaf through and underline things. Although you can highlight things in Kindle, I know.


      I want to ask you to relate, if you could, some of these ideas to the practice of law. And we can take this in any direction you want to, but I think that would be of interest to our audience. I'm very clear on the distinction you're making between civility and manners or politeness and the depth of it. And it goes to your character, I think.


      This is the reader's copy, so this is an advanced copy I have. I don't have the actual book. The page numbers might be different. But on page 64, you sort of do a recap on what civility is. And you say, "Civility is the disposition of respecting the fundamental dignity and worth of our fellow human beings."


      I think everybody understands manners and politeness, which are born out of civility. They follow from civility. I think you make that point. How do those things—each of them—translate into the practice of law if you've given that some thought? And now I'm envisioning a courtroom scene. We have our rules of procedure. We have our processes. We stand up when we speak to the judge. When you address the court, you sit down. You don't talk over one another. All those things are defined. And they seem pretty straightforward. Where does civility come in in the practice of law?


Alexandra Hudson:  Mm-hmm. I like to zoom out as I ask that question and talk about the social contract. So this is -- I explore this idea in Chapter 3 -- no -- in Chapter 4 of my book, on why civility supports our freedom, our democracy, and human flourishing. So I'll take each one of those in turn.


      We're familiar with this concept of the social contract: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau. It's this conception of the compact between citizen and state. We move from the state of nature to a civil society when we surrender certain rights, certain freedoms to the sovereign, for example, the freedom to exact justice. It's no longer in a state of civil society. If someone steals something from us, we no longer steal it back from them or take justice into our own hands. We surrender that freedom to the sovereign, and they administer justice from, ideally, a neutral viewpoint on our behalf. So we surrender certain rights. We get certain protections. So that's kind of the idea of the social contract -- this vertical relationship between citizen and sovereign, citizen, and state.


      What is underappreciated is that a free society, a civil society, also depends on a horizontal social contract. There's a secondary social contract. And this is the social contract between citizens. And sometimes it's governed by law. Very often, it's not. Very often, it's governed by social norms. These voluntary norms and mores that govern how we interact with one another but that support the social contract. So I talk about how this primary, this horizontal social contract between citizens, supports and sustains the vertical one between citizen and sovereign because, again, the citizen is prior to the state. And there are lots of examples of this.


      I give three stories. And so, the idea is that if we don't choose to act with civility, if we don't cultivate this basic disposition, this respect for our fellow human beings and our fellow citizens, that often sovereigns, autocrats, past and present, can—as they have and will—impose restraints on us. If we don't voluntarily restrain the baser instincts of our nature for the sake of society, for the sake of community, for the sake of the other, that autocrats past and present have and will.


      The story I like to tell is of Michael Bloomberg's politeness campaign in New York City when he was mayor. Apparently, New York had reached a fever pitch of impoliteness, and Bloomberg thought it was a great idea to enact all of these laws, this whole campaign against incivility and basic discourtesy amongst citizens. If you were on the subway and put your feet on the train seat next to you, you could be fined $50. If you were a parent at your child's baseball game and got a little bit too rambunctious or enthusiastic, fined $50. If you were at a movie theater and were texting—you know, discourteous. It's an annoying thing to do—fined $50. There were dozens of these little rules of the state micromanaging common courtesy between citizens.


      And, of course, New Yorkers didn't like being told -- being civilized by their city government, so it did not last long at all. It was also impossible to enforce. And, when you have laws on the books that are impossible to enforce in a consistent way, it leaves open potential of abuse of power, selectively enforcing law.


      And there were other examples like this. In London, for example, when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, there was this whole respect campaign in London. This is also -- both of these occurred in the earlier 2000s. And in the respect campaign, it was very similar, like micromanaging, fining common indecencies, common, just discourteous behavior. The most egregious example in the London context -- the London example—the respect campaign—was that if the state deemed you a "neighbor from hell" -- like your near neighbors ganged up on you and said, "We don't like you anymore. You're acting in ways that are beyond the pale," they could take your property.


Dean Reuter:  Wow.


Alexandra Hudson:  And so, yeah. It really opened up abuses of power, state taking people's property. And so, the point is, if we fail to, in a meaningful way, restrain the baser aspects of ourselves for the sake of this joint project of living well together, this joint project of self-governance that, as a democracy, there will be temptations. Autocrats past and present have and will be tempted to restrain us through law, which is very much a government overreach but also impossible to adequately enforce.


      So it really goes to if we want our government to stay limited in nature and our lives to stay just, we have a role in ensuring that. And that lives and dies in the way that we interact -- choose to interact with our fellow citizens every day.


      And this really goes back to my view of human nature that I outline in the book that has been the dominant view of human nature from Aristotle to the American Founding Fathers, which is this duality of man: that we are deeply social as a species. As long as we've been around, we have flourished in relationship and in community. We become fully human with others. But we're also deeply defined by self-love as well. Morally and biologically, we are driven to meet our own needs before others, and those two facets of who we are are intention. And that is why friendship, why community, why civilization itself is always fragile, why democracy is always fragile. It is never a foregone conclusion because of it.


      That's why I wrote this problem -- I wrote this book today because it is a serious problem: a lack of basic respect for our fellow human beings, fellow citizens, that has consequences in how our institutions are unable to function as we're seeing right now. But also, social and cultural consequences such as the depths of despair, the loneliness epidemic, and other -- and opioid crisis, these other socio-cultural crises that we're dealing with at a micro level too. So there are consequences of this lack of civility, lack of basic respect and warmth and affection for our fellow human beings at all levels of society now.


      But it's also a timeless problem, one we've been grappling with since the dawn of our species. And I think that's an important perspective to maintain because there are no magic bullets. There's no one public policy, one leader, not one book that's going to come along and solve this problem. What did Madison say? If men were angels, we would need no government. That's the kind of ethos of the freedom component of that section as it pertains to -- that chapter as it pertains to law.


Dean Reuter:  Yeah. You mentioned human flourishing. You've covered a little bit the downside of a lack of civility and what comes from that. In earlier parts of your book, you talk about -- you tie human flourishing to civility. You talk about advances in technology that are made possible only through civility. Can you say a little bit more about that for folks who haven't read the book? This is the plus side, the upside of civility, that we're all in community able to achieve things if we're civil to one another that you can't individually or even in small groups.


Alexandra Hudson:  That's right. So the -- again, this is a timeless problem that we've been grappling with since the dawn of our species, this problem of how do we flourish across deep difference? That is the defining question of democracy, of the classical liberal project but also of the human social project.


      But just as timeless as the problem, so is the solution. Did you know, for example, the oldest book in the world is a civility handbook? It's given to us from ancient Egypt, 2700 B.C. It's called The Teachings of Ptahhotep.


      Ptahhotep was an Egyptian advisor. He was advisor to the pharaoh. He had been in the room where it happens his whole life. He had reached the pinnacle of political and earthly power. In fact, he was even offered the job of being pharaoh, which he turned down in order to retire and live a quiet life in relative obscurity.


      But, after he had retired from public life and had reached in the pinnacles of power, he thought deeply about these questions of the timeless principles of human flourishing and what are the mores and norms and habits and practices that promote social life and what detracts from them?


      And, apparently, Egyptian society was not doing so hot because he wrote these practices down. That's another thing. People across history and culture who have written down these practices, these -- and observed human nature, and come to these similar ideals of how to do life together independently of one another, they wouldn't have taken the time to do that if everyone was already following these mores and social norms.


      So he wrote down his 38 teachings, his maxims. And what's fun is that if you go and look these up right now, they are remarkably timeless. They could surface in a Miss Manners' column in The Washington Post today. And they're just as relevant, just as timely.


      For example, Ptahhotep says, "Be kind to your friends, not just when you need help. Be good to them at all times." He says, "Be good to people whom you have power over. Don't exert power on people who are vulnerable and powerless." He says, "Do not gossip."


      There are three or four distinct maxims of his 38. He spends an eighth or whatever of his maxims mandating against gossip because, interestingly enough—I love learning—prohibitions against gossip are so categorical across history and across culture and all of -- in his whole genre of civility handbooks. And, in fact, in the Hebrew Bible, the word for gossip is etymologically linked to the word for leprosy because, just as leprosy corrodes the body physically, that's what gossip -- gossip corrodes the body of human community, and it corrodes social trust. I think it's a really beautiful visual again. Etymology telling a story that is evocative and memorable. So Ptahhotep wrote these maxims that are remarkably timeless today.


      And that's an interesting thing that I discovered that while the timeless principles of civility, like actual respect for the other, restraining the baser aspects of ourselves for the sake of community, those tend to stay the same across history and culture.


      The norms of etiquette and manners that the domain of fashion and politeness, those change a lot within a culture and across culture as well, which is a really interesting kind of feature of the book. But the whole idea is to refocus on what are the norms and practices that actually support this joint project of living well together that a society -- and how do we make the ones that are just the trimmings, the ephemera that aren't necessarily good or bad, but how do we make them matter less, not assign moral worth to them, not allow them to look down on other people for not dressing a certain way, not having the certain polish, certain refinement, certain manners from our own culture or others?


      So I hope the book is like a reorientation, a refocus on the norms that actually support a free society in flourishing.


Dean Reuter:  Yeah. I think it is.


      And, again, the title of the book, The Soul of Civility, it does include it—and I think you're making it clear—this, among other things, it has a broad sweep, a long sweep of history through the arc of history, some of the things that you were just discussing about Homer's epic poem, Gilgamesh.


      And I had not really -- it had not really struck me that the fact that these people and these scholars, these big thinkers, intellectuals, are repeatedly returning to the idea of what keeps society together, what we must do. And there's some sense of urgency in these instructions, in these admonitions, in these prescriptions. It does -- I don't know if that's -- does it make you feel better that this has always been an issue, that we've always struggled as a species to live in community? Does that give you more optimism? Or does that just say, "Oh, it's the same stuff again and again and again and again?"


Alexandra Hudson:  I love that question, Dean. You and I are both students of history. We love the study of the past and the wisdom of those and the experience of those who have come before us. And one great thing about history is it's both a caution and a comfort.


      Looking back at American history, for example, it's easy to say without question this is not the most uncivil moment in America's history, even with the Speaker just ousted. There have been murders, literal murders on the steps of Congress. We are not -- and canings and brawls on the Senate, on the House floors. Thankfully, we're not quite there.


      But, again, society is fragile. And it's a comfort on one hand that we're not as bad as it has been, but it has been bad before. We fought a civil war before, so it can quickly devolve. Again, that democracy is fragile. Civilization's fragile. It is not a foregone conclusion. And what is the role of each of us in sustaining and maintaining that?


      The second part of my chapter on freedom and flourishing is flourishing, that our everyday small sacrifices, to consider the needs of our fellow citizens alongside of ourselves, that supports a free society, as was included in that Bloomberg/Tony Blair example of the politeness campaigns in New York and London. But I talk about why it's also these daily sacrifices are necessary for our flourishing as well. And I invoke Larry David.


      Do you watch Seinfeld? Or have you watched Curb Your Enthusiasm, Dean? Do you know the show?


Dean Reuter:  I know the show. I know Larry David.


Alexandra Hudson:  Yeah. Yeah.


Dean Reuter:  Go ahead and tell the story.


Alexandra Hudson:  Yeah. It's a -- I love Curb. I'm not a -- I haven't started Seinfeld, but I love Curb Your Enthusiasm. It's a comedy of manners. That's really what it is. It always starts with Larry David. He calls himself, in the show, a social assassin, yet he is the one that sees people committing faux pas or common discourteousness. And he's everyone's inner ego, inner id, where we see people doing this all the time, but we're like, "Okay. We're going to let that go." Like, "I don't want that fight today."


      But Larry David does that in every situation -- always, if someone double parks, someone cuts in line. I love the story of the people violate these just norms of decency that people just tend to follow without thinking, but we notice them when people don't, and Larry David calls them out for it.


      So I love the example of the chat-and-cut he talks about. So he's in line for a buffet, and -- Larry David. Someone comes up out of nowhere and starts talking with the person in front of him, pretending to know this person, like invoking a long-lost connection to the person in front of him, hoping that no one in the back of the line will notice that they are cutting in line in front of everyone else. And Larry David says, "Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh," to the woman who cut in line, like, "I know what you're doing. Like, "To any other person, that would have been fine, but not here. Not today. I know what you're doing. This is a chat-and-cut. Nice try, but back to the line."


      She denies it. She denies it, but eventually she goes to the back of the line. But, like most of us, we would let small things like that go, be like, "You know what? I'm not going to worry about it." He always -- he always calls it out.


      And I say in the book that we need a few Larry Davids in the world, those social assassins that are watching out that everyone follows these unspoken, unwritten rules of propriety. That's what keeps us in check and makes it so people like Michael Bloomberg don't try and legislate common courtesy in this way.


      Too many social assassins—too many Larry Davids—would not be fun -- a callout culture where everyone is exactingly looking at everyone else's social infractions. But a few of them they're good accountability in society. That peer-to-peer accountability, again, helps sustain that horizontal social contract that supports the vertical social contract, the one between citizen and state.


Dean Reuter:  Yeah. I get that. And you do talk about -- in the book, The Soul of Civility, you do talk about voluntary compliance with social norms, and that's essential. That's true also in terms of law. We don't have law enforcement officers at a level sufficient to make perfect compliance with the law. The law assumes -- or society assumes that you and I are going to comply with the law by and large.


Alexandra Hudson:  Right.


Dean Reuter:  That's essential to the social contract -- this notion of voluntary compliance. And it's interesting. And being what you're talking about, the Larry David show, in that one example, that's more manners and politeness it feels like to me than civility; is that right? Is that how you would characterize that?


Alexandra Hudson:  It is. And the whole idea of disambiguating manners from politeness -- politeness -- sorry -- politeness from civility is that there have been a lot of really laudable initiatives in recent decades who have tried to get Americans in Congress and at the local level to talk nicely to one another. They kind of bridge the divide. They get us to talk.


      And often -- but the point is that talking nicely together that's not enough to really help us grapple with some of the important conversations and differences that we have, and that manners alone are not enough to help us flourish across deep difference.


      Again, as I learned in government, it's entirely possible to have very nice manners and be very cruel and disrespecting of others. And what matters more is to have that orientation of actually respecting and having affection for our fellow citizens, our fellow humans, because that's where manners ideally follow from. Manners and politeness can, at their best, perfect that inner disposition. But the technique, the behavior, the external alone without that inner disposition of respect is a recipe for dysfunction socially. But, also, one thing I talk about is instability hurts both parties. When you lack that basic respect for others, it hurts others. It degrades their dignity.


      When you use others -- this is Martin Buber and his I-It, I-Thou distinction. When you see other people as its, as objects, and you instrumentalize them, that degrades them. That degrades the dignity of their personhood. If you see them as a thou and respect them and know them and love them and see them fully as a thou, as a person in the fullness of who they are, that ennobles them but also the self. We're inherently interconnected, as a species, as a society.


      And I also get this from Dr. King's letter from a Birmingham jail, his argument about segregation. He says segregation is evil because it deform -- it hurts both segregated and segregator. It hurts the segregated because it gives them a full sense of inferiority. It hurts the segregator because it gives them a full sense of superiority, and it deforms their own soul.


      This was a whole debate in American history during -- leading up to the Civil War. People in the North were very concerned that slaveholders in the South were not fit for self-governance. They thought that owning other human beings literally deformed the souls of slave owners -- of slaveholders. And they were -- it enflamed what St. Augustine called the libido dominandi, the lust to dominate within every human soul.


      Again, this duality to our nature -- we're profoundly social but also defined by self-love. Augustine's conception of that self-love was the libido dominandi, and he called it the incurvatus se, the inward curve, upon the self that we all have. And, again, so Dr. King said segregation hurts both parties. The same is true for incivility. When we use others, when we're cruel and malicious to others, it, of course, hurts and is harmful to others. But it also deforms our own soul as well.


      And this is concerning and important now because we live in this moment where people -- we hear people on all sides of the political spectrum say, "The stakes are too high in our public life to have decency with the other side. The other side is too evil and too wrong to be reasoned with or to be respected. So all bets are off, and we need to just do whatever it takes to win." And Dr. King and Socrates, who was a deep intellectual influence on Dr. King, would say, "But are you really winning if it's at the cost of your own soul, if you are literally becoming less human, less humane, and less human, degrading your own soul by being cruel and malicious to a fellow human being even when you disagree?"


      So incivility, again, hurts both parties, but civility, graciousness, kindness, compassion, empathy to our fellow human beings, that is mutually ennobling and uplifting. It helps both parties and supports a free and flourishing society.


Dean Reuter:  So you're making a nuanced argument now that civility actually does serve your own interests. If I'm being civil, I'm not corroding my soul. I'm not corroding my sense of inner worth. I'm elevating it.


Alexandra Hudson:  Right.


Dean Reuter:  I think there's a lot of truth in that. And when I say, "a lot of truth," I don't mean to say it's untrue in any sense at all. But it's interesting that could be demonstrated to a certain level. It feels to me like people should then become more civil because it's in their own individual best interest.


      Before you answer that, I'm going to remind the audience that I think you can enter -- you can ask a question at any point in time now by using, in the bottom middle of your screen, the Q&A button and type a question in.


      We do have one question, and that is -- I didn't mention that the book is available on audiobook as well as hardback and Kindle. "Do you read" -- this is the audience question. "Do you, Lexi, read the audiobook? Or does somebody else read it?'


Alexandra Hudson:  This is a funny story because, yes, I will be reading it, but I haven't read it yet. So Amazon and Audible bought my audiobook, bought the rights to it six months ago. And bless them, they -- for whatever reason, I'm recording it this week. They're like, "Hey. Can you record this publication week?" and I'm like, "No," but I'm doing it. So I'm literally in New York all next week, hopefully. I have press interviews and parties and things, a bunch of parties lined up.


      Speaking of which, anyone in New York next week that wants to come to the launch party October 10th, Reason magazine is hosting it in New York City. Editor there, Nick Gillespie and I are having a conversation about this book and this idea. Come join us. Have a champagne toast and join us. Join us there.


Dean Reuter:  Do you need to -- Lexi, but do people need to sign up for that in New York? Or do they go on the website? How would they find that?


Alexandra Hudson:  They are selling tickets, but anyone who wants to be my guest at the party, feel free to contact, and we'll get you on the list. We'd love to have as many people there to celebrate as possible.


      But the audience's question -- audience member's question, yes, I am reading it, but have I read it yet, the answer is no.


Dean Reuter:  I was asked if I wanted to read the audiobook version of my book, and I did not. I declined.


Alexandra Hudson:  Okay.


Dean Reuter:  It just --


Alexandra Hudson:  It's going to be exhausting. It'll be a miracle.


Dean Reuter:  That was my sense -- that it would be exhausting. And I will say this, though: It's very, very interesting to hear somebody else read your book because, as you know, as an author, if you emphasize one word over another in a sentence, it can change the meaning quite dramatically.


Alexandra Hudson:  Right.


Dean Reuter:  And in some of the ways -- some of the parts he read were read a little differently than I had intended but very, very interesting still.


Alexandra Hudson:  Yeah. That's funny.


Dean Reuter:  So go back, if you could, to the idea of civility, at an individual level, being civil serves your own interests. Why don't we see that? Is there an easy way to make people realize that?


Alexandra Hudson:  I love that question. It's such a thoughtful question. Thank you, Dean. I argue that civility is both an inherent and an instrumental good.


      So, as you mentioned, it is an instrumental good because it is mutually ennobling. It helps others, but it helps ourselves. It makes us more human but more humane as well.


      It is also an instrumental good because -- and I have a whole chapter in my book dedicated to civil disobedience. I reclaim the whole tradition of civil disobedience in my conception of civility; that sometimes -- so this is how I conceive of civility: sometimes it demands action. For example, it doesn't allow -- the stuff of politeness is to sweep a conversation—an uncomfortable conversation or a difference—under the rug, polish it over, as the etymology suggests. Whereas civility demands that you have difficult conversations about uncomfortable controversial things because that's -- instead of patronizing someone by pretending there's no disagreement, it's giving a -- it's respecting both parties to say, "No, there is a difficult conversation here that we need to have."


      So sometimes civility demands action. But at the same time, it takes certain action off the table, for example, violence or ad hominem attack -- anything that dehumanizes and degrades the dignity of the human person.


      So all that to say, civility is both an instrumental good. It's good for yourself because it's, again, mutually ennobling. It is good for society and social progress because it can be a tool of hashing out, of exposing injustice, and of hashing out really important disagreements that need to be had and to help us progress and move forward as a society.


      And I talk about Gandhi. I talk about Dr. King in this context: that for Dr. King, for example, anyone who wanted to be a part of his movement for peaceful, nonviolent resistance to his era of segregation and racism that define that era, he made them undergo this process of purification where every single person who wanted to be part of his movement had to cultivate within themselves a profound love and affection and respect for the dignity and personhood of the racists and the bigots that they were protesting.


      So, first, they cultivated that affection. And then that respect and affection that -- what they had cultivated -- that demanded, and that informed their protests, that informed their marches, and their sit-ins. So it both demanded it, but then it also, amid that, it took certain conduct off the table. For example, it didn't devolve into violence. And, even in the face of violence, they were not violent back because, again, they had cultivated, they had purified their motives, and cultivated that love and respect for the people whom they were protesting. They were saying, "I love you. I respect you, but I also see the error in your ways, the injustice, the malignant monstrous opinions you have about African Americans, about segregation in society, and lack of rule of law. And I'm not going to abide by that. Loving you is not allowing you. I'm not going to coddle you in that misperception of the world." So, again, it demanded action but also took some action off the table. Civility is both an inherent and an instrumental good.


Dean Reuter:  Yeah. And in your book -- we do have an audience question; another one, I'll get to in a second. In your book, you make contrast between that and something you call "essentialism." And it's a way to describe—an interesting way, I think—to describe cancel culture. And that is reducing a person --


Alexandra Hudson:  Yes.


Dean Reuter:  -- forgetting about the person and reducing that person to one act or one series of acts, sometimes acts that are 10 years old or 15 years old that were perfectly fine by the standards of 15 years ago, although we've -- we're naturally improved today as opposed to 15 years ago.


      I wonder if you want to say more about that and, as you do that, talk about where you think we are today as a country, as a world, as a society, wherever you want to describe society, whatever level.


Alexandra Hudson:  So --


Dean Reuter:  And I'm sorry. Before you answer --


Alexandra Hudson:  Yeah.


Dean Reuter:  -- I appreciate you invoking the Civil War and the story of Kincaid and Taulbee or the shooting at the Capitol.


Alexandra Hudson:  Yes.


Dean Reuter:  People are very fond of saying, "We've never been more divided."


Alexandra Hudson:  Yes.


Dean Reuter:  I just think that's not true. I think there are sharp divisions. I think they're at the edges, frankly. Most people are somewhere nearer the middle -- but anyhow. Go on.


Alexandra Hudson:  Well, let me tell that story quickly --


Dean Reuter:  Yeah.


Alexandra Hudson:  -- for the audience, and then I'll answer your question about unbundling people and the era of strange perfectionism that we're living in now. I think that's the section of the book that you were referencing.


      So the story of Taulbee and Kincaid: So William Taulbee was a congressperson who—surprise, surprise—was having an affair—an illicit affair—that a member of the media, Charles Kincaid—I think his first name was Charles—exposed, so found out about his affair and exposed him. Taulbee never, ever forgave Kincaid. He was absolutely miserable. He was forced to resign. It was a huge scandal, so lost his standing, his position, and went from the pinnacle of Washington to nothing because this journalist had exposed him in his illicit affair.


      Kincaid was a hailed reporter and was on the Hill all the time. And Taulbee haunted him, literally stalked him, stalked this reporter, harassed him, every opportunity to berate him, to push him into a wall, to step on his feet. He was just a monstrous bully to this journalist who had exposed him and ruined his career.


      One day Kincaid had decided he had enough, and he shot his harasser on the steps of Congress dead. Killed him.


Dean Reuter:  In the head.


Alexandra Hudson:  In the head. Like, dead.


Dean Reuter:  Yeah.


Alexandra Hudson:  And I think he was exonerated. He ended up not being acquitted. People were just very well aware of --


Dean Reuter:  He ended up being acquitted.


Alexandra Hudson:  Yes, exactly. Yeah, exactly.


Dean Reuter:  Yeah.


Alexandra Hudson:  People were well aware that Taulbee was this unbelievable bully and had provoked and invited that sort of retaliation.


      But yes, to Dean's exact point, that we think we're divided today; we don't have blood on the steps of Congress right now. And then, hopefully, we don't anytime soon. But that is a cautionary tale. We think that the division between politicians and media journalists are bad, but we don't have murders between those two parties either, thankfully. Thankfully. Not laughing about it.


Dean Reuter:  Yeah. And that was the 1890s, so that --


Alexandra Hudson:  That's right.


Dean Reuter:  -- was even after the Civil War.


Alexandra Hudson:  That's right.


      So, to answer your question about essentialism, and so I have this concept that I unpacked in the book. It's a mental framework of unbundling people.


      So we live in this era of strange perfectionism where we expect everyone to emerge fully formed, like Athena from Zeus's head: fully formed in their thinking and just perfect in every way. And we are exacting when people make mistakes, when they error, when they misstep, or when they change their mind.


      And even when people -- comes out that people had a bad opinion 15 years ago or did something bad 15 or more years ago, that we want to destroy them, cancel them, make sure they're never welcome into polite society ever again. Alexander Pope, the English poet, said to err is to be human, to forgive is divine. And yet, we are graceless as a society. We are not inclined to forgive at all.


      Some thoughtful writer—that is not me—said really insightfully that in this post-Christian world that we live in, we have maintained certain aspects of Christianity and religion, like condemnation and conviction and judgment. But we've lost important other aspects of Christianity, like compassion and forgiveness and grace. And I think that really is emblematic, and it defines our current culture.


      So I unpacked this concept, this mental framework, of unbundling people. How do we see the part, the mistake, the misjudgment, the bad idea in light of the whole, and the whole being the inherent dignity of the human person? Instead, we're so quick to reduce people, to essentialize them to one aspect of who they are. They think this thing on this issue, that defines the whole. They've done or said that one thing: they deserve to be canceled and executed like full part and parcel.


      So what does it mean to separate the -- I was -- just yesterday, I had a wonderful conversation with Daryl Davis, who's one of my guests at the Civility Summit happening October 9th that I'm hosting with some really wonderful people: Jonathan Haidt, George Will, Tyler Cowen, David French, Russell Moore, Kim Scott, Chloé Valdary, just some really thoughtful people. Maybe Sam can put a link in the chat in case people want to check it out and maybe join us. It's a virtual summit happening October 9th, right before our publication day on October 10th.


      But Daryl Davis is someone who has made -- he's African American, and his life's work -- he's an African American jazz musician, but his life's work and his true passion, his obsession in life, is sitting down and befriending members of the KKK and conversing with them, having dinner with them. And, to date, he talks about how he has converted, facilitated, through his friendship and kindness to members of the KKK, the moral conversion of well over 200 members of the KKK, where they've left and given Daryl their robes and left and abandoned their monstrous and dehumanizing prejudice against African Americans and other ethnic minorities and religious minorities as well.


      And so, Daryl is an exemplar of this. He says, "I separate racism from the racist. I hate racism. I don't hate the racist," he says, "that the racist views of one of these people," the members of the KKK, "that's just one aspect of who they are."


      And so, his approach is to have a beer with them, have a meal with them, find out they're both passionate about music or both passionate about something else. And, often, these people have never even had an experience with an African American person. So just him being -- sharing a space with them, sharing a meal with them, is transformative. And it causes them to be like, "Okay. Well" -- and to reevaluate why they hold these prejudiced and horrible views.


      So this idea of unbundling is something that Daryl Davis embodies really well, seeing the part in light of the whole and not being quick to essentialize and reduce people to one mistake, one bad view. But instead -- yeah, seeing the part in light of the whole and staying curious about how people -- and appreciative of the fullness and the multifaceted nature of what it means to be human -- that we all come to our views for a reason. And what does it look like to stay curious about those views, even when they're morally abhorrent?


Dean Reuter:  Yeah.


Alexandra Hudson:  People come to their views for a reason.


Dean Reuter:  Yeah. That's so hard to do, but I feel like we are called to do that. And when I say it's hard to do in the modern world where everything you know about a person is that tweet, or it is that YouTube video.


Alexandra Hudson:  Right.


Dean Reuter:  That's all you're seeing of them. That's all you'll ever see until the trial, until the cancellation, or whatever. But you're not imagining their parents or their children or their spouse or their volunteer work or anything like that. I suppose we're called to allow for that, even though we can't necessarily see it.


      Let me go to an audience question, which I think you've sort of discussed, at least around the edges. The question is: Would you agree that political correctness, wokeness, is incompatible with civility?


Alexandra Hudson:  It's a great question. I've just finished writing an article that will come out in The Globe and Mail—it's one of the predominant Canadian outlets—about Canadian politeness. Canadians -- there's this international perception that Canadians are nice, and they're polite. And Canadians love to define themselves as a polite and nice culture and country, especially when compared to vulgar Americans down south.


      But, as a result, there is such an emphasis on politeness and tone policing and using the right words that it has had -- and I'm a dual citizen. I'm Canadian and American, so I'm allowed to criticize. I grew up in Canada, so I'm allowed to criticize -- make this argument. But that as a result, if we're so worried about the right words being used and the tone in which words are used, which is often demand of politeness and political correctness, then we're not going to be able to have the robust disagreements that we actually need to have. So it's actually kind of handicapped Canadian public discourse, what we're able to -- what they're able to talk about, and how they're able to move past injustices in the past. It's tempting to want to -- again, that's the demand of politeness. You want to sweep things under the rug and diminish their importance, as opposed to having painful and difficult conversations head-on.


      So I agree with you that the demand of following the rules and being focused on tone and the proper words being said, if that suppresses important conversation and silences people, then absolutely it's incompatible with respecting people, which is the domain of true civility.


Dean Reuter:  Right. And I suppose sort of an over-the-top obsequious politeness and set of manners can cloud incivility from person to person to person.


      Anyhow, another audience question. We're running out of time already, believe it or not. And this goes -- this is a forward-looking question: "Beyond practicing civility, ourselves, what are some of the things" -- and you do talk about that in the book. "Beyond practicing civility ourselves, what are some of the things we can do to promote civility, whether in our responsibilities as leaders or as citizens?"


Alexandra Hudson:  I love this question because it perfectly bookends our conversation and my story. So I started this, our conversation today, sharing about my story in government in a very divided Washington.


      I left government and fled to Indianapolis, Indiana, where my husband -- my husband's from Indiana originally, and it was my idea to move here. I was like, "I'm just so done with Washington, sick of the vitriol, sick of the division." And I just longed for these -- the rolling hills and bucolic pastures of the American Midwest. That was in my -- that was the image in my mind.


      And we moved to Indiana five years ago, April of 2018. And one of my first friends here was named Joanna Taft. She came up to me one day and said, "Hi. I'm Joanna. Would you like to 'porch' with us sometime?" And I'd never heard the word "porching" -- "porch" used as a verb before.


      But curious—and we didn't know that many people in town—we decided to go to her porch that day. And I realized that Joanna was staging this quiet revolution from her front porch. She had curated people on her porch across culture, across religious background, across race, across geography in town, across political background, and preferences as well, not to talk about differences but to just inhabit the same space and to have conversations about, not differences, and just to have dialogue and to build trust and basic affection and friendship across these differences, friendship that would maybe one day allow for productive conversation across those differences to occur.


      But I realized that this was Joanna's quiet revolution. I call it "the porching revolution." That she realized that she can't change who's in the White House or what's happening in Washington or who's getting ousted from office, or what the scandal or tweet of the day is. But she is reclaiming her civic sphere and choosing to make her family, her community stronger, better, and more beautiful. And there is power in that. And it's her civility, her basic respect for seeing the basic humanity in others and not seeing the labels and the superficial differences first, is what enabled her to -- enables this porching revolution.


      I received a Novak Journalism Fellowship to study this porching revolution happening across our country. And I've reported on people, like Joanna, across America who are part of this quiet revolution that is -- this is a story that's insufficiently told in our country, but it's people with or without front porches who are, like Joanna, reclaiming their civic sphere and choosing to recontrol what they can control and healing our world from the bottom up.


      So, for some people, it's their front lawn. For some people, it's a stoop if they're in a big city. It could be a coffee shop. I've talked with people that hold court in their coffee shop—their local coffee shop—and they just -- it's a place for people to come and be seen and known in this very divided and very lonely time. And that we can each do that too, have the disposition of porching and civility that fundamentally wants to -- that makes the most of every human interaction that goes above and beyond.


      Joanna didn't have to reach out to me, to approach me, to invite me into her home. That was like an above-and-beyond thing that changed the trajectory of our experience here in Indianapolis. She sat us down, got to know my husband, Kian, and I. And she asked us who we were, what we loved in life. And we left her porch that day knowing ten new friends. And she introduced us to ten new people to help get us plugged into the community. It helped. Knowing her helped make this place feel like home. It helped us carve out our little niche for ourselves. And so, she was a really transformative person in my life and our experience here in Indianapolis because of her above and beyond kindness that she does wherever she goes. She sees every interaction with others is an opportunity to bridge. And we can too.


Dean Reuter:  That's great. That seems like almost a reimagining of Tocqueville's civic institutions -- a substitute a little bit.


Alexandra Hudson:  Right.


Dean Reuter:  And it's funny. I notice in my neighborhood we have small front porches, and everybody has a deck and a patio. So it's being out front and being part of the community or retreating to your own backyard --


Alexandra Hudson:   Oh, I can't --


Dean Reuter:  -- and isolating yourself.


Alexandra Hudson:  I can't -- yeah, exactly. I can't let that go.


      So there's this famous essay written in a now-defunct outlet called The Palimpsest by Richard H. Thomas. It's called "From Front Porch to Patio." And he says a hundred years ago, homes were built with these great big front verandas, and that marked a cultural statement that people used their front porch, and they were part of their community. And it was a quasi-public living room where you sat there. You waved to your neighbors, to strangers -- and strangers alike. In Jane Jacobs' conception, it was eyes on the street, just paying attention to your community, who's there, and watching out for your neighbors.


      But slowly, Thomas says, over the course of one hundred years, the big front veranda moved to the back of the house, to the side, then to the back of the house into the modern-day patio. And that architectural shift marked a cultural shift: one from being present and other-oriented and invested in your community to one that is more individualistic, more curated. You're not just seeing strangers and whoever's passing by on the front porch anymore. You're inviting neighbors and friends, family, people you want to see into your orbit, to your sphere behind high fences, and maybe even into your house, where it's air-conditioned and where there's television. How we have become increasingly inward-focused and individualistic as a society.


      And that's what's so beautiful about what Joanna is doing now as part of this porching revolution. She's reclaiming that her physical porch and the symbolism of it and what it has symbolized in American history of this other-orientedness, this outward focus to community, and, again, making our communities better and our neighborhoods stronger and recovering friendship in these fractured and divided times.


Dean Reuter:  Interesting.


      Well, this has been terrific. We never do these for more than an hour. It feels like we need more than an hour.


      I want to highlight that Sam has put in the chat the link to the October 9th virtual Civility Summit that features George Will and Fukuyama and so many others, many of whom have blurbed this book, so congratulations on that. Congratulations on the publication. Thanks for being with us.


      It's my job now to turn things over to Sam to close us out.


Sam Fendler:  Well, Dean, thank you, as always, for your leadership and for lending us your time today.


      Lexi, thank you for a very enlightening introduction to your new book. Congratulations to you again. We look forward to the release next week.


      I want to thank our audience as well for joining us. We greatly appreciate your participation. Please check out our website,, or follow us on all major social media platforms @fedsoc to stay up to date with announcements and upcoming webinars.


      Thank you all once more for tuning in, and we are adjourned.