Austin Interview – Podcast December 21, 2020

The Key To Successful Government. Michael Austin, one of Democratic Perspective’s favorite guests, returns to the show to discuss his new book We Must Not Be Enemies – Restoring America’s Civic Tradition. He begins by referring to Aristotle’s concept of civic friendship, the feeling you have for people you share a country with. You wish them well rather than wish them ill.

Austin explains, “As Aristotle frames it, for a democracy to work, people have to be willing to enact policies and laws that don’t simply grab every bit of power that’s available for their side. You have to realize that other people have different perspectives than you do. And you have to structure the country in a way that their happiness matters, too. Otherwise, you end up in a civil war.” He continues by pointing out that 2016 was the first election on record where most people said they were voting against the other candidate than for their candidate. “That’s actually a pretty big tipping point,” says Austin.

He says, “The core idea of civic friendship is that we govern in a way that has room for people who don’t agree with us. The main idea of the book is that we have to argue with each other more. And we have to do it in certain ways that are more arguments than shouting matches.” Austin notes that politeness is a good thing. But the key to politeness is that we don’t discuss certain things. “It’s much easier to be polite when you’re not discussing the things that matter most. I don’t think that we should encourage the kind of civility that says let’s just not talk about these things. Because we have to talk about these things.”

“Whatever we think of the other side, it’s not going anywhere. We’ve got to figure out how to govern a country that is made up of people who disagree with each other. And, if we can’t do that, either we’re going not to be able to govern. Or we’re not going to be able to have a democracy.”

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