The text defends the importance manners for social cooperation. In this text, Landes claims that in political and moral theory, manners are rarely considered as important. They are viewed as past relics or expressing conservative commitments.

But, manners are essential for human cooperation as social lubricants. They help to put individuals, even complete strangers, in good dispositions toward each other. Moreover, manners have an expressive function: individuals who display good manners actually treat their interlocutors as equals.


Professor Landes writes:

"How we interact with other people, especially people we don't know, is utterly important. And when we don't know our interlocutors we tend to rely on conventions, rules of thumb, principles of civility. They are the manners. They can be good or bad depending on the underlying moral values they articulate. Despite this importance, manners are often regarded as of lesser worth than moral principles. In other words, not putting proper greetings in an email is not seen as serious than lying. I think it is a mistake.

Manners, i.e. good manners (based on mutual respect), are central in the sense that they ease human interactions (and allow us to carry our daily activities and reach our goals with little interference) and express equal standing. In that perspective, I found fascinating two categories of people who, through not respecting good manners, introduce "noise" in social interactions, take advantage of other individuals and adopt an anti-egalitarian attitude.

The first category is the jerks, i.e. people who know what the good manners are, but have decided, when it is in their advantage, not to follow them (while other people follow them of course). The second category is the radical free spirits, i.e. people who think that manners (as other conventions) don't apply to them because they are too enlightened, socially advanced, and so forth. In these two tribunes, I claim that jerks and radical free spirits threaten social cooperation (by mostly free riding on the rules of civility) and undermine equality among citizens."

Satori tribune (Latvian)

Slate tribune (French)