The Civilization of the Dialogue

In his groundbreaking essay titled “The Great Conversation,” (1952) Robert Maynard Hutchins wrote: “The goal toward which Western society moves is the Civilization of the Dialogue. The spirit of Western civilization is the spirit of inquiry…. Nothing is to remain undiscussed. Everybody is to speak his mind. No proposition is to be left unexamined. The exchange of ideas is held to be the path to the realization of the potentialities of the race.”
Nowhere is this insight more valuable than in the study and practice of our civic responsibilities. As early as 431 BC, Pericles (in his Funeral Oration) celebrated the nature of Athenian democracy by describing how the Athenians governed themselves through public discourse: “… we decide or debate, carefully and in person, all matters of policy, and we hold not that words and deeds go ill together, but that acts are foredoomed to failure when undertaken undiscussed.”
As Paideia educators, we believe profoundly in the civilization of the dialogue and in the responsibility of all citizens to participate thoughtfully and respectfully in the full range of public discourse.
Make plans now to join us in Charlotte, NC on March 24-25 for the National Paideia Conference where we still study both the nature and quality of free speech: “WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS—Dialogue for Engaged Citizenship.”