portada de BMM

Josep Ramoneda

These post-modern and post-political times are given to worshipping minor gods. In the name of tolerance, people speak of "multiculturalism" as a form of recognition of cultural relativism but, at the same time, we are being swamped with codes of ethics and urbanity handbooks. So, where do we actually stand? Because, our society seems to renounce truth but not clericalism; personal judgements are denied any claim to universality, but we are not meant to renounce the establishment of shared prejudices. Thinking seems to have grown feeble, but the will to keep general order remains strong. The doctrine of consensus brings a corresponding catechizing of civism. Considering that there is nothing new to be said or done about major issues, let's now deal with small matters, as Escrivá de Balaguer would have said. Let us help old people to cross the streets safely, let's be quiet so as not to disturb our neighbours, let's refrain from dropping litter in the streets, etc... And we build up a whole poetical theory about such behaviour, because we just have to get on with our life as smoothly as possible. When we were children, that was called urbanity. It was part of our school curriculum and there were books that told us that everyday matters were also of concern to God and Franco. At home, our parents kept on hammering a similar message : son, watch your table manners; son, clean up whatever you've messed up; son, don't be rude. But, nowadays, it seems as if we should consider it a turnup for the books! Civism must be the first consequence of modern parents' failure as educators.
However, civism is a virtue. And one should not trifle with virtues. Civism - or so they say - is mainly respect for other people, as well as respect for all the things we have in common. Which is to say, respect for the public good. Interaction with other people is always very complicated because it oscillates between the need for - mutual - recognition and the right to indifference. We all want the others to bow to us, to recognize us as citizens, as possessors of a certain dignity and, as we call it nowadays, an identity. However, at the same time, we would all like to go unnoticed whenever recognition is bound to cause us unhappiness and problems. When the looks others give us are meant to make us aware that we are different. So civism formalizes our relationship with the others, releasing it from any form of tension or undue intensity. (...)
Why do we still feel the need to talk about civism if civic virtues are already included in the republican virtue which embodies the ideal of democratic behaviour? Because civisn tastes like watered-down wine, whereas republican virtue implies a much stronger commitment. But these are times with a preference for substitutes. And civism is a substitute. But we cannot make elementary duties - keeping city streets clean or refraining from making unpleasant noise - into a social ideal, even though - the occasional unpleasantness caused by litter notwithstanding - this is a more comfortable course of action than to face up to social conflicts and incite the citizens to make a commitment whenever necessary, which is what we should properly expect from an active democracy. However, given that nothing upsets both rulers and ordinary citizens more than to have to take action, we prefer to turn to the narcotic virtues of Christianity applied to small matters. So we pledge ourselves to civism and other codes of ethics because the society of indifference still wishes to proclaim that it has its own pathways to sanctity.