Book Reviews -- the Return of Civil Society: The Emergence of Democratic Spain by Victor M. Perez-Diaz

By London, Scott | National Forum, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

Book Reviews -- the Return of Civil Society: The Emergence of Democratic Spain by Victor M. Perez-Diaz


London, Scott, National Forum


Victor M. Perez-Diaz. The Return of Civil Society:? The Emergence of Democratic Spain. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993, 357 pages.

In less than a generation Spain has shed from dictatorship to democracy, from virtual isolation to membership in the European Community, from a backward pre-industrial economy into the technological age. The transition may have been swift and relatively peaceful but not without formidable challenges, many of which parallel the struggles of emerging democracies elsewhere in the world. In this collection of essays, the respected Spanish sociologist Victor M. Perez-Diaz explores the nature and theory of civil society against the backdrop of Spain's transition to democracy in the past couple of decades.

The concept of civil society has undergone a distinct change in recent years, according to Perez-Diaz. Once used as a synonym for political society, civil society now refers to the network of voluntary associations, markets, and public spaces that exist outside the direct control of the state. For Perez-Diaz this distinction is a critical one since a civil society can be fostered, in a limited sense at least, by the state--indeed, that was the case in Spain as well as some former communist countries. He traces this notion of state-centered civil society back to the philosophies of Marx and Hegel who were both skeptical of a civil society's ability to organize itself and the grow on its own. It therefore has to be "shaped by conscious, deliberate design," he writes, "the main designer being the state (for Hegel), or a revolutionary group in control of the state (for Marx)."

It is one of history's many ironies that General Franco looked upon his achievement of a state-sponsored civil society with some pride. He considered the burgeoning economy and the new ties to the international marketplace in the 1960s and early 1970s as his regime's final legitimation. What he did not realize was the extent to which his civil society actually undermined his regime.

Although Franco's death in 1975 precipitated a nominal shift to democracy, Perez-Diaz illustrates how the transition began much earlier. He speaks of the "emergence of liberal democratic traditions in society" and the "invention of a cultural political idiom" that began to develop as far back as the early 1960s. Unlike the civil societies of Eastern and Central Europe which arose mainly as programs of resistance among dissidents, however, these developments came about largely in response to Spain's new policy of openness to the outside world.

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