Edward Shils (1910–1995) was one of the leading intellectual defenders of freedom in the twentieth century. Learned in history, politics, literature, economics, theology, and legal history, he taught for many years at the University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought and at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. In these nine essays, Shils explores the importance of civility and tradition to a free society. The essays' significance is enormous, for Shils was one of the first and assuredly one of the most courageous writers to examine the natures of civility and civil society and their relation to a free, ordered, liberal democratic society. As H. R. Trevor-Roper has written, "Deeply concerned for the Western values of rationality, freedom, and progress, Shils was dismayed by the threat which they now faced: the threat posed by the absolute individualism into which Western Liberalism had degenerated." Among the essays are "Tradition and Liberty: Antinomy and Interdependence," "Max Weber and the World Since 1920," and "The Modern University and Liberal Democracy."
"Civility is a phenomenon of collective self-consciousness, is a mode of attachment of the individual or the sub-collectivity to the society as a whole . . ." (p. 341). Civility is above all an "attitude and a pattern of conduct" (p. 335). It only flirts with nationalism and at all times maintains a safe distance from the racist and nationalist that claims territorial conquest above all else. Individuals are free to pursue their own image of the common good but only with an "overriding respect for the 'rules of the game'" under which all people labor (p. 219).
Edward Albert Shils (1911-1995), American sociologist, studied the sociology of culture, with special attention to the role of ideology in culture and the part played by intellectuals in the formation and shaping of ideology. He also studied the sociology of science, of higher education, and of literature, plus the sociology of sociology itself.
One can best learn of Shils as person and sociologist by reading his own work. Collections of his papers include:Selected Essays (1970), whose contents cover the breadth of his concerns and include what has become a sociological classic: "The Calling of Sociology." In addition, there are The Intellectuals and the Powers and Other Essays (1972) and Center and Periphery: Essays in Macrosociology (1975). He is the author of The Present State of American Sociology (1948); Political Development in the New States (1962); The Torment of Secrecy (1974 reprint with new introduction); Tradition (1981); Cambridge Women: Twelve Portraits (1996); and Portraits: A Gallery of Intellectuals(1997). He edited with Talcott Parsons Toward a General Theory of Action (1951); and, with Parsons, Kaspar D. Naegele, and Jesse R. Pitts, Theories of Society (1961). He also was the editor of a selection of articles from Minerva, Criteria for Scientific Development: Public Policy and National Goals (1968). The titles indicate the subjects of the books.