Since 1989, civil society theory within the literature on democratization reflects the hold exerted by the model of actually existing liberal democracy over political studies. Thus civil society is viewed in largely instrumental terms-as a support structure for democracy at the state level-and earlier, more radical, models-which understood civil society to be a democratic end in itself-are forgotten. Liberal-democratic conceptualizations of civil society, therefore, remain largely unchallenged as to their normative assumptions; increasingly, the category civil society is seen as a neutral tool for social science analysis. This essay seeks to complicate this picture, and to expose the current civil society orthodoxy as rather less than value-free. It does this via a critical exploration of the boundaries of the new thinking, and by juxtaposing it with more substantive models from the 1970s and 1980s.
This essay offers a critique of conceptualizations of civil society which have emerged from two of the largest and most influential literatures on democratization of the 1990s: those relating to Central-Eastern Europe and Latin America. It is argued that the horizons of civil society theory within these two literatures are bounded by a liberal democratic perspective on the relationship between state and society. Establishing this is important, first, in charting the decline of earlier, and more radical, models of civil society that flourished briefly in both regions during the 1980s. Secondly, the wider picture that emerges is of a near-consensus amongst analysts of democratization that actually existing liberal democracy is the only form of democracy on offer. While it might come as no surprise that, post-1989, the tenets of liberal democracy are in the ascendant within political science, the story of civil society theory reveals that in some fields this ascendancy is more accurately described as hegemony. This spontaneous consent that liberal democratic 'civil society' is what it ought to be should cause considerable concern to opponents of discursive closure, whether or not they wish to advocate more radical alternatives. For what is at stake in this area of the debate about democratization is no less than a growing, and largely unchallenged, acceptance of a liberal democratic 'end of history'. With radicals increasingly abandoning the search for a form of democracy beyond that of the liberal, capitalist type also, it is necessary to redouble commitment to the theory of democracy-which requires, inter alia, an ongoing critique of the dominant ideology: liberal democratic thought. For
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Publication information: Book title: Civil Society in Democratization. Contributors: Peter Burnell - Editor, Peter Calvert - Editor. Publisher: Frank Cass. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 43.
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