The project 'Civic Virtue in Public Life: Understanding and Countering Incivility in Liberal Democracies' brings together philosophers and social scientists to better understand the threat that incivility poses to key liberal democratic values such as liberty and equality, as well as to liberal democratic institutions. This is an urgent task given the growing presence of right-wing populist and far-right extremist groups that threaten the very foundations of the liberal democratic order. The project has four aims. First, it will provide a systematic analysis of the concept of ‘civility’ in order to define and understand ‘incivility’, its potential causes, and the threat that it poses to liberal democratic values and institutions. Second, the project will include extensive fieldwork and data collection to produce a series of case studies in the US, the UK, and Australia. The research team will focus on specific illiberal groups, such as civilian border militias, ‘patriot’ movements, and hate groups. It will examine the many ways in which these groups promote incivility in their speech and behavior, and thus challenge civility and the liberal democratic order. Throughout this process, the team will use traditional research methods, such as interviews and participant observation, while also developing and employing innovative methodological tools to collect and classify data. Third, the team will analyze the qualitative and quantitative data to identify which factors affect illiberal groups’ views and practices related to incivility in the three countries examined. Finally, the successful execution of these aims will lay the groundwork for the team to work with public servants, community/movement leaders, and citizens to develop strategies to constrain incivility and promote civility. Pre-existing ties to law enforcement and civil society organizations will ensure ongoing dialogue about how findings from the project might have a direct and sustained effect in addressing illiberal threats to civility in the countries examined.
This project is funded as part of the Self, Virtue and Public Life Project, a three-year research initiative based at the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at the University of Oklahoma, funded with generous support from the Templeton Religion Trust.