Toward a Global Civil Society

Toward a Global Civil Society

Toward a Global Civil Society

Toward a Global Civil Society

Synopsis

The demise of Communism has not only affected Eastern Europe but also the countries of the West where a far-reaching examination of political and economic systems has begun. This collection of essays by internationally renowned scholars of political theory from Europe and the United States explores both the concept and the reality of civil society and its institutions.

Michael Walzer has been a permanent faculty member at the School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton since 1980. He is an editor of Dissent and a contributing editor of The New Republic, and has published among numerous works The Company of Critics (1988) and Interpretation and Social Criticism (1987).

Excerpt

There are many definitions of "civil society," and there is considerable disagreement at the margins about what the concept includes and excludes. I won't add to that disagreement here (I offer my own, fairly imprecise definition in the first of the papers in this collection). It is enough to say that civil society incorporates many of the associations and identities that we value outside of, prior to, or in the shadow of state and citizenship. The subject is of great interest just now because of the argument that democracy requires a strong and lively civil society--if not for the sake of its initial formation then for the sake of its coherence and stability over time. The citizens of a democratic state are not, on this view, self- sufficient creatures. They must be members elsewhere, in smaller, more accessible, less demanding, less dangerous places than the modern state. For only in such places can they acquire political competence, learn to win and lose, learn to compromise, make friends and allies, explore oppositionist ideas. It is very risky for a democratic government when the state takes up all the available room and there are no alternative associations, no protected social space, where people can seek relief from politics, nurse wounds, find comfort, build strength for future encounters.

Civil society is not a new place, either practically or conceptually. It was first named and discussed in the Scottish Enlightenment of the eighteenth century; Adam Ferguson undertook the earliest theoretical explorations. The idea was centrally important for . . .

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