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The Concept Of The Civil Society Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 3245 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Throughout last decades the concept of civil society, and also the concepts connected with it, terms and slogans have got huge political value all over the world. They have essentially changed modern political culture; have enriched language of political debates. Civil society is a set of various non-governmental institutes and self-forming intermediary groups independent both from the government, and from separate private structures of manufacture and reproduction, and capable to the organized collective actions in protection the socially significant interests within the limits of established civil or legal rules. Civil society is formed by variety of free and mutual relations of individuals which are not mediated by state and equal in rights, self-forming to the independent associations which are operating at market conditions and democratic legal statehood and executing the arbitrator and the intermediary role between the basic groups of interests, and represents itself the network structure consolidating a society interfering social atomization. This essay will focus on the mentioned above aspects, on revealing features of the civil society formation, relations between the state and civil society, connection of the civil society with democracy and economy, and also criticism of the civil society concept.

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In basis the concept of civil society ascend to an ideal of the free, self-operated social order which is in constructive mutual relations with the state. In the standard plan it urged to describe desirable relations between citizens, and also between a society and the state. Last two centuries, at the New time period, the civil society began to connect with democratic order in a society. The existence of civil society after Tocqueville began to be considered as a necessary condition of normally functioning liberally-democratic system (Tocqueville, 2006).

The civil society in its classical understanding was not perceived as separate from the state sphere. According to J. Locke the civil society was equated to the whole political society unlike a nature kingdom. In XVIII century the Scottish thinker A. Ferguson has defined civil society as a civility condition and as consequence of civilization progress, but also the term “civil society” had economic underlying reason as “civilization” was opposed to such societies in which there was no private property (Ferguson, 1767).

Division the state and the civil society, dominating in modern liberal political thought has developed in second half of XVIII century in the conditions of market capitalism growth and occurrence the states in the Western Europe. It expresses separation of public, private, market from the state. The given dichotomy explains the modern form of civil society in the sovereign constitutional state and justifies necessity of its protection from despotism of the state by self-organizing development of society. In these conditions state takes the minimum role – it is securing the legal frameworks of life protection, freedom and the property of its citizens. Cohen and Arato argue, “The concept of civil society indicates a terrain in the West that is endangered by the logic of administrative and economic mechanisms but is also the primary locus for the potential expansion of democracy under “really existing” liberal-democratic regimes” (Cohen, Arato, 1992, p. viii).

The most developed analysis of concept and practice of civil society, its interaction and parity with the state are given by Hegel. He has substantiated the civil society as historically generated sphere of human life which is a part of the state and overcome by the naturalistic approach in treatment of civil society. Hegel considered civil society as the institute, allowing to integrate the individual into social system facility, i.e. to the state system. Hegel connected emerging the civil society with disintegration of patriarchal family and formation of bourgeois relations. From the Hegel point of view civil society should protect interests of the individual, cares of him, to preserve him of troubles, and the individual is must to observe all rights of civil society, to work on it and all actions to commensurate with its interests. Hegel did not divide civil society and the state, but also did not mix. Eventually, both the Supreme power, and the civil society promote general interests of the population, and that cannot give the state to the individual, he receives in civil society. Hegel in “Philosophy of Right” notes:

“The civic community is the realm of difference, intermediate between the family and the state, although its construction followed in point of time the construction of the state. It, as the difference, must presuppose the state. On the self-dependent state it must rely for its subsistence. Further, the creation of the civic community belongs to the modern world which alone has permitted every element of the idea to receive its due. When the state is represented as an union of different persons, that is, a unity which is merely a community, it is only the civic community which is meant”(Hegel, 2001, pp. 154-155).

According to Marx, civil society in which the private property possesses a main role generates the state which is result of historical development of the family and civil society, a product of their functioning. The state represents a political establishment, the form organizing a civil society, a society of private material interests, the form which outwardly embracing it entirely, actually serves interests of proprietors and ruling classes. The state cannot exist without such preconditions as family and the civil society at all. According to Marx a field of the civil society activity is not only economy, but also culture, ideology and the social movements born by them. As notes K. Tester:

“… Marx gives very fine statements … Civil society is not understood too well if it is reduced to questions of this or that democratic politics, or if it becomes an incantation in a circular, self-referential, theoretical debate. Civil society is best understood as a confrontation with the very possibility of society itself – this society, our society”(Tester, 1992, pp. 4-5).

In ХХ century the large contribution to development of the theory of civil society was brought by Gramsci considering civil society by a certain citadel, rescuing collapsing from a revolutionary impact of the state. The Italian thinker considered that the civil society, as well as the state, serves a ruling class in consolidation of its power. Mutual relations of the state and civil society depend of civil society maturity: if the civil society is indistinct and primitive, the state is it “external form”. And only in the conditions of a mature civil society its relation with the state has the balanced character. As notes Bobbio “Civil society in Gramsci does not belong to the structural sphere, but to the superstructural sphere” (Bobbio, 1988, p. 82).

Revival of the civil society concept in western countries is dated by the end of 70′. By this sufficiently has widespread enough the view at civil society as on category which is certain ideal type in Weber’s understanding, i.e. the abstraction, simplified scheme. But simultaneously it is considered as the objectively existing reality, the truth as result of historical process, instead of the natural state which is given to us “from above”. Its existence assumes presence the set of nongovernmental institutes protected by the law. Prominent feature of these institutes consists that they do not use violence, compulsion and are self-organized subjects (Keane, 1998, p. 6).

Significant influence on development of the civil society theory was rendered by modern British philosopher K. Popper (Popper, 1945). He has defined a breeding or collectivist society as “closed society”, and a society in which individuals are compelled to make personal decisions, as “open society”. “The open society”, in Popper’s understanding, is the society opened for personal decisions, an individual choice and responsibility, criticism and new ideas, freedom and trust. Concepts of democracy, market economy and civil society should not lead to thought as there is only one institutional form, allowing embodying them in a reality.

The modern view to the civil society distinguishes its two sides. Firstly, from the organizational-functional point of view civil society is considered as certain type of the organization or self-organizing existing thanks to the formal and informal institutes, procedures and relations. Set of institutes and elements of civil society can be divided into three parts. It, first, the civil rights guaranteed by the constitution and freedom, including freedom of enterprise activity. Secondly, the public sphere, i.e. social space in which citizens can influence to the state and where is forming the public opinion. And the third component includes networks of voluntary associations, societies and organizations which are carrying out various social functions, for example the educational. Their existence promotes growth of the social capital (Young, 2002).

Secondly, communication without which existence of civil society is impossible. Here join social relations and communications forms between citizens which are create social space. In social space is formed such quality of the individual as civilization. This quality is formed by system of institutes, but does not follow directly from their existence. Civility is shown in life sphere, or in social practice of people (Bryant, 1993, p. 399).

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Modern debates round the concept of civil society can be divided on two parts. On the one hand, it is argumentation between supporters and opponents or critics of the concept and its practical utility. On the other hand, it is argumentations of the concept supporters round various treatments of mutual relations and parities between civil society and the state, civil society and democracy and between civil society and market economy. Supporters of the civil society idea refer to the New time thinkers (Ferguson, Hegel, Marx, Tocqueville and Gramsci) in search of the concept “state and society” between which there would be rather a stable equilibrium and which could be useful. Known modern theorists of civil society Cohen and Arato connect the updated concept of civil society with requirement of the further democratization in the West and East. They treat civil society as sphere of social interaction being between economy and the state and consider that the given concept allows to analyze transition from authoritative system to democratic (Cohen, Arato, 1992, pp. 1-26).

The supporters of the civil society concept subject to criticism, first, for its treatment as values in itself and absence of theoretical severity in disclosing the given category, secondly, for inadequacy of concept to the modern conditions and thirdly, for the lack of attention to range of problems of the state and interdependences characterizing the relations between the state and civil society. In reply to stated doubts in expediency of use the given concept it is necessary to notice that it bears the semantic loading and though it is close by meaning, but not identically to such concepts as democracy. The thought of the Hall is worthy that democracy can be uncivil though we appreciate democracy first of all because we hope that it means practice of civil relations (Hall, 1995).

It is similarly possible to assert that a liberal society is not identically to civil society as far as personal liberty and the rights not necessarily mean a civil liability, solidarity and society self-organizing. Between representatives of various ideological directions exists, at least, three points at issue, concerning concepts of civil society. The first of them is connected with relations of civil society – the state. In the modern liberal theory civil society is considered as independent from the state, but sphere of social interaction protected by it. Thus certain pressure in relations of civil society – the state within the limits of the given representations follows from minimization of the state role and accentuation of independence of individuals and the groups, which know that, will lead to their well-being and prosperity. The state is considered as set of institutes and practices which main function is social order preservation and citizens’ freedom (Taylor, 1995).

Modern liberal concepts of civil society ascend the roots to political theories of arising bourgeoisie, in particular in Locke’s works. The person was considered in them as possessing the inescapable natural rights, and the state as something that arises owing to the agreement of individuals for protection of their rights. For definition of this kind society is sometimes used the adjective “civilized”. The civilized society as space of individuals free activity which are not united by an overall aim, as a result acts as the sphere which is out of state or even out of relations with the state (Buchowski, 1996, pp. 80-84).

Within the limits of a direction which named communitarianism, is offered in society the big equation between the rights and duties of citizens, and also between autonomy of the person and the general values. Since 80′ the concept of a civil society began to involve the increasing attention of politicians and political theorists in the USA. The concept origin in the American cultural-historical context is connected with an ideal of republicanism. This ideal roots in representation about the harmonious and sated political life of early American republics-communes, i.e. local communities generated by citizens equal in rights based on self-management and public self-organizing. Self-organizing of these communes was substantially supported by special type of civil culture which in enthusiastic tones has been described by Tocqueville. The democratic culture of this type differed by extremely high level of practical values development of municipal interaction and partnership, also by values of Christian morals. Thus, as it sees to supporters of communitarianism project, values collective prevailed over values individual, and individuals in this atmosphere of mutual trust and cooperation were ready to subordinate their interests to the community interests (Cohen, Arato, 1992; Tocqueville, 2006).

In XX century communitarianism ideal as it seemed, remained in the past. Industrialization, development of cities, growth of social mobility and centralization of modern economy have led to decline of traditional republican civilization and individualism distribution. The special criticism of communitarianists caused by that role which in this process plays the modern American state – the state of the common welfare which formation contacts with realization of the liberal (neoliberal) political program. Such state creates system of social security and in huge scales practices the state regulation/intervention in economy and other spheres of a public life. It substitutes for itself horizontal public relations, undermining, thus, bases of independence and self-control of local communities. To the place of horizontal communications it establishes vertically focused system of a paternalism bearing threat to culture of civil advantage and social responsibility (Walzer 1980, 1995; Eberly, 2000).

Civil society and democracy. The relation characteristic here in many respects predetermined by treatment of democracy. Whether to consider it as society model, sphere of the human relations which are forming the nation or any other community, or only as the formal management mechanism (McPehrson, 1977). But also in case when democracy is limited by presence of political institutes and procedures, for example regular elections, giving individuals to itself, existence of the strong civil society is not excluded, in particular meaning so-called third sector which is between economy and the state.

Civil society and economy. According to classical tradition the civil society contacted economic sphere out of the state. In the liberal formulation it is a question of the free market exchange sphere leaning against a private property. Thus, it is a question of economic character activity the independent of the state free individuals. The economic sphere defined existence of a civil society, was its kernel. In modern conditions such representation of civil society for many theorists ceases to be obvious. For them more comprehensible is represented the Gramsci concept which had a civil society out of economy and the state, i.e. the spheres connected with forms of domination – by the power and the capital. Such understanding often define as functionalistic as it divides a social life, allocating separate spheres depending on their functions. (Bobbio, 1988).

The concept which is ascending to Gramsci, assumes more difficult structure of social life. It is focused neither on the state, nor on market economy, but concentrates on the society. Supporters of the given approach Cohen and Arato by basic institutes of a civil society consider social communitiarism and voluntary associations. In such understanding the civil society can act as standard base of democracy development. Economic and political spheres act in the given concept as spheres which are carrying out functions of social structure stabilization and at the same time serve as the original “receptors” accepting from a civil society signals, directed to the state and economy (Cohen, Arato, 1992).

Summarizing mentioned above, one may conclude that the problem of civil society belongs to number fundamental scientific problems which excited the best minds of mankind throughout many centuries. It has appeared with occurrence of the state and division the society into the state and non state spheres of human ability to live. Since then the question on mutual relation of the power and a society was in the centre of general attention, often was at the bottom of many social conflicts, political changes and revolutions. And now this problem is in a basis of global public changes which occur in many countries of the world and will define prospects of the world community development. Formation of civil society is impossible without the active dynamical rationally conceiving citizen. As shows world experience, the developed civil society is both a source, and a consequence of political and civil activity of a society, forming the strong base of democracy. However, formation of civil society is not connected so much with democracy development, as with formation of steady democratic traditions and the culture based on respect of the minority rights and the individual, tolerance, social responsibility. The civil society cannot be simply borrowed it should grow on the basis of traditional culture, in process of economic and political development of the country, growth of well-being and consciousness of the people.


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