Alexandra’s book, Against Politeness: Why Politeness Failed America and How civility Can Save It, is forthcoming from St Martin’s Press.
America is in trouble. We have polarized politics, caustic conversations, and isolated individuals. And the cure, we’re often told, is a more polite public square.
But The Rules of politeness—the dos and don’ts we all know from stuffy etiquette books—are not nearly enough to get us through this challenging time. In fact, The Rules helped create many of our country’s problems in the first place.
Take it from Alexandra Hudson, the daughter of The Manners Lady. She was raised from birth to comply with The Rules. But while working in politics in Washington D.C., she saw people use The Rules for malicious ends. She learned first-hand that politeness failed America. Moving to the Midwest, she discovered that civility—the cultivated disposition of respecting the dignity of our fellow persons—just might be able to save it.
Against Politeness shows why politeness is not sufficient to fix the deep divisions of our day and explains why instead, we need a national commitment to civility to support our free society-—especially in a divided moment like our own.
This book demonstrates that what is polite is not always civil, and that what is civil is not always polite. We all know that people who are polite and polished can at times be the most ruthless and uncivil. Meanwhile, peaceful protests, sit-ins, and rigorous debates might not have a place in the parlor of an aristocratic! But they are deeply civil, and absolutely essential to any healthy democracy.
While politeness divides, civility unites. Politeness promotes hypocrisy, while civility promotes the virtue that is required our limited government. Politeness papers over differences, while civility drives us to honestly care for our neighbors and our communities through truthful conversation. In this way, it can help heal our fractured civil society as well as our national discourse. Against Politeness shows why the ideas of the civil and the civic life are inextricably bound.
Interweaving historical anecdotes with philosophy and combining modern social science with original reporting and personal narrative—including stories about growing up as the daughter of The Manners Lady and serving in the Trump administration—Alexandra brings a fresh perspective and conceptual clarity to a subject too often mired by stale thinking and vague clichés. Americans know their country is at the precipice. Read this book to learn how civility can pull us back from the brink.
This book will:
- Explode the myth that more politeness will save our divided politics
- Challenge the assumption that politeness and civility are the same
- Show that when people attack civility today, they often are actually attacking politeness
- Argue that as a society we must re-claim civility: what makes us be good instead of what merely makes us seemgood (politeness)
- Define civility and politeness with new clarity and rigor
- Explore cutting edge social research and essential history that will enhance appreciation of why politeness has failed us and how civility can save us
Praise for Alexandra’s Work
I have enjoyed getting to know Alexandra Hudson and her important work on civility and civil discourse since she moved to Indiana from Washington D.C. I have been impressed with the depth and rigor with which she approaches the topics of civility and civil society, and their importance to a flourishing American democracy. We live in a divided moment where reasonable and clear thinking is urgently needed. Knowing that Alexandra Hudson is a leading voice in our public discourse and of her generation, I have hope for the future of our country.
— Lee Hamilton
Democratic Congressman from Indiana, founding board member of the National Institute for Civil Discourse
Alexandra Hudson is a terrific writer. I’m sure she is destined for great things.
— Toby Young
Editor of The Spectator (UK), Senior Editor of Quillette, author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
Alexandra Hudson is an unusual young woman—mature and diligent and responsible, but also a free spirit who thinks for herself. A modern defence of manners modern and not-so-modern is something only she would think of attempting, and is something only she could pull off with style and grace, and also with depth of thought and elegance of expression. I look forward to enjoying the lively reception her work will undoubtedly receive.
— William Kristol
Founder, The Weekly Standard
There’s something about Alexandra Hudson that makes me want to slap her. It’s probably that she doesn’t want me to say stuff like that. Which is why I need this book. And you do too.
— Joel Stein
Los Angeles Times Contributor and former TIME Columnist
Ms. Hudson is a rising star of her generation. She has been a rich addition to our intellectual community … Her insight, knowledge base, and breadth of understanding ensure she leaves a positive and lasting impression on those with whom she interacts. I am enthusiastic about the positive impact that her book will have on the current state of our public discourse.
— Eric Motley
Executive Vice President of the Aspen Institute and author of Madison Park: A Place of Hope
Alexandra’s is a book that needs to be written, at a moment in American history marked by deepening rancor and polarization, and by growing challenges to traditional norms of decency and civility. I am struck by how deeply she has studied and thought about this subject—unusually so for a member of the rising generation. Her book has the potential to influence public understanding of the compelling need for civil society in America. Ms. Hudson is well prepared for this task. I commend her project with enthusiasm and look forward to its successful fruition.
— George H. Nash (Ph.D., Harvard University)
Historian, lecturer, and presidential biographer, and author of The Conservative Intellectual Movement Since 1945
Lexi is a welcome voice of sanity and civility in an era of partisanship, panic, and pandemic. While most commentators are seeking to sow division during this time of cultural crisis, Lexi provides a hopeful vision for America’s future rooted in solidarity, neighborliness, and faith in our best traditions.
— John A. Burtka
Executive Director & Acting Editor, The American Conservative
Amidst a public discourse marked by trolling, sub-literate invective, and rage-filled attempts to “own” one’s antagonists, Lexi’s lively defense of the manners and morals that define civility and make a free—and truly civil—society possible comes as both a refreshing tonic and antidote to the belligerence of our age. May it be widely read and much discussed!
— Cherie Harder
President, The Trinity Forum
Civility is more than table manners or thank you notes; it is the basis of civil society itself. Alexandra Hudson explains what the disposition to be civil tells us about our fellow human beings, and shows how the lack of it breeds disorder, chaos and hatred.
— Richard Brookhiser
Senior Editor of National Review and author of Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington
Alexandra Hudson is a force of nature. Graceful in her prose and gracious in her spirit, she is the perfect author to tackle the topic of manners and civil society in our frequently ill-mannered and uncivil moment. She is a talented writer, an effective representative that will satisfy readers and play a vital role in a public conversation that is too often petty and mean.
— Jim Antle
Editor, The Washington Examiner
Americans are far less divided than their leaders think, and Alexandra Hudson is not only the messenger of this welcome news, she embodies the virtues that keep our country civil even in times of political tension. Her work shows how community continues to bridge divides that politics alone cannot cross. Her experience in the heartland and the halls of government alike gives her insight into how half of our national story gets overlooked, the half that reveals we are still a nation of porches, neighbors, and friends. She has a thrilling tale to tell. Alexandra’s drive to report this story and her outstanding public spiritedness—as well as sheer talent—made her a natural choice for the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship, and we’re proud to have her as a 2019-2020 fellow.
— Daniel McCarthy
Director, Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Program; and editor, Modern Age: A Conservative Review