Civility hardly seems conceivable to many in our day, because they have forgotten the history of political and religious conflict that preceded the American founding and establishment of our Constitution. Even more, they have forgotten an attitude that seems obsolete in these rancorous times: noblesse oblige—literally, “nobility obliges.” There’s no mystery about the disappearance of an appeal to nobility in our age of insistent equality. Noblesse oblige teaches that those who are privileged (originally, those born into noble houses) owe kindness and generosity to those less fortunate. As a concept, it goes against the contemporary grain because it assumes a superiority in some crucial regard of wealth or intelligence or social position.
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