This article belongs in the area of what Karl Jaspers calls “existential elucidation.” It is concerned less with political ideals than with the relationship of the person to those ideals and to the realities that often contradict them.
During recent centuries political activity has been increasingly governed by the confidence that history is under human control. The tragedies and disappointments of the twentieth century, however, cast serious doubt on this confidence. Thus it is incumbent on us to reconsider man's whole stance in relation to history. The core of the article is the definition of an alternative stance, which I call “civility.”
The clue to civility was provided by Plato when he suggested, in The Republic, that although the ideal city probably could not be realized in history, its form might be reproduced here and there in the souls of individuals. In pursuance of this clue, civility is defined, on the one hand, as partial detachment from action, and from the ideological preoccupations frequently accompanying action, and, on the other hand, as concentration on governance of the self. Although such governance entails historical independence, it does not set one apart from others; on the contrary, its fundamental principle is openess to the totality of the human.