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Thad Williamson

This chapter considers the specific civic virtues that a democratic education should cultivate, drawing on the examples and writings of political philosophers Adam Smith, John Rawls, and Reinhold Niebuhr as well as three important African-American thinkers from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. Virtues essential to any democratic system include general awareness of others (i.e., “sympathy”); a sense of justice; and moral humility. These virtues are necessary but not sufficient to sustain American democracy: we also must confront head on the contradiction between our history and legacy of white supremacy and the promise of democratic civic equality. We also, however, must make deliberate efforts to learn about the experiences of others as a first step in being capable of recognizing diverse fellow citizens as citizens. “E Pluribus Unum” is not a given, but requires deliberate, intentional work to achieve if the United States is to thrive as an inclusive democracy.