Civil Society and Democratic Theory: Alternative Voices

Civil Society and Democratic Theory: Alternative Voices

Civil Society and Democratic Theory: Alternative Voices

Civil Society and Democratic Theory: Alternative Voices

Synopsis

This book introduces radically alternative models of civil society that have been developed outside the liberal democratic frame of reference, models which suggest that civil society does offer new and non-statist democratic possibilities. Drawing on a wide range of civil society theory-practice from Eastern Europe and Latin America (including the Zapatistas in Mexico), and from visions of global civil society too, this book is uniquely positioned to consider the questions posed by these alternative voices for democratic theory and practice. * Are there alternatives to the liberal democratic vision of civil society? * Is a democracy located in civil society rather than the state either possible or desirable? * How and why has the concept of civil society come to be used so widely today? * Can global civil society further the struggle for democracy initiated by national civil societies?

Excerpt

The concept of civil society is gathering momentum today as the search continues for forms of community and political action outside of what is often seen as a discredited state. But what can we really expect from civil society? In particular, could citizen self-organisation 'beneath' or outside of the state provide for the democratic self-determination that so many feel is lacking in modern society, despite promises to the contrary from liberal democracies? Liberal democratic theory complacently assumes that civil society should act merely as a support structure for democracy 'proper' at the level of the state - shaping parliamentary deliberation by providing a voice to public opinion, educating citizens in democratic values, and generally acting as a 'watchdog' over those in power, but otherwise leaving the 'real' business of democracy to representatives. Are there, though, alternative visions of civil society to this domesticated liberal democratic one? In particular, is a democracy located in civil society rather than the state desirable or even possible? And can the slogan 'civil society first', involving turning our backs on the state, continue to be a meaningful mode of democratic organisation today, even after the events of 1989 appeared to signal its redundancy? Remarkable as it may seem more than a decade after the triumph of liberal democracy supposedly ushered in the 'end of history', some still answer yes to these questions - but why and in what ways? And can such sentiments ever be other than utopian?

This book seeks to shed light on these questions by offering a new and critical perspective on the now extensive debate concerning the relationship between civil society and democracy. This perspective involves providing a wider and more inclusive picture than has been taken previously. By wider I mean wider in two dimensions. On the first dimension I seek to include not only the Western canon of political theory on the topic of civil society and democracy, but also voices from Central-Eastern Europe and Latin America. On the second dimension, I consider newly emergent calls for 'global civil society' and for global action in civil society as a possible alternative for democratic theory and practice to the historically exclusive focus on the state- civil society relationship. I make no claims to be comprehensive in my treatment of these 'alternative voices', for my purpose is not merely descriptive but analytical - seeking to chart the ways in which the resurgent

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