In general, the concept of civic virtue refers to a person’s devotion to making contributions to society’s success and the set of habits and attitudes to be harvested and appreciated in citizens to strengthen communities.
Civic virtue belongs to the critical philosophic ideas linked with the understanding of things that transform a person into a useful and productive member of society. Today, civic virtue and respect for others are often regarded as the closely interconnected terms.
Similarly to the situation with beauty, the definitions of civic virtues are subject to change and depend on the historical epoch and the prevalent ideologies and values. During the medieval period, popular civic virtues were inseparable from religious values, the fear of God, admiration for those in the position of power, and acceptance of family values, such as compliance with parental power.
In the age of Enlightenment, such concepts were replaced by more liberal ideas, according to which civic virtues centered on access to education, freedom, the development of science, and the inappropriateness of severe oppression.
Due to the start of the American Revolutionary War, the understanding of civic virtues changed again and gave rise to new ideals. The civic virtues of the Founding Fathers included independence, obedience with the law, and citizens’ readiness to emphasize common good instead of focusing on pragmatic and vested interests.
For instance, Thomas Jefferson saw civic virtues in self-reliance, freedom of thought, vigilance, and proper education, but not people’s ability to exercise equal rights. The nineteenth and the twentieth centuries became the period when multiple new ideologies emerged, each with its unique ideas about civic virtues.
Thus, conservatives regarded the support of traditional family values, compliance with gender roles, and devotion to the state as civic virtues, whereas socialists emphasized education, the willingness to fight oppression and injustice, and collectivist values.