BY 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
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