Paradoxes of Civil Society: New Perspectives on Modern German and British History

Paradoxes of Civil Society: New Perspectives on Modern German and British History

Paradoxes of Civil Society: New Perspectives on Modern German and British History

Paradoxes of Civil Society: New Perspectives on Modern German and British History

Synopsis

Civil society has been experiencing a global renaissance among social movements and political thinkers. This collection of papers offers a comparative-historical dimension to the debate by examining the roots of civil society in Germany and Britain.

Excerpt

The essays in this volume represent an emerging second generation of scholarship on the idea and historical development of civil society. It is second generation, in one sense, because a number of contributors are young scholars whose essays emerged from the conference that this volume's editor, Frank Trentmann, helped convene under the auspices of the Harvard University Center for European Studies. It is second generation in a metaphorical sense because the concepts of civil society examined by the authors are more complex, indeed contradictory, than the challenges to repressive state socialism that beckoned to intellectuals, East and West, in the 1980s. The transformations in Eastern Europe, after all, helped make the intellectual fortune of the idea of civil society. But the civil society invoked in the magical moments around 1989 had far fuzzier content than the closer examinations in this volume allow to persist.

Probably a renewed scholarly and political interest in civil society would have emerged by the late 1980s even had the opposition leaders in communist Eastern Europe not made it central to their aspirations in the late 1970s and 1980s. Welfare states in the West had apparently encountered their own limits in supervising bargains among social groups. A new political movement around issues of ecology, gender, and "identity" was strongly underway. Social scientists who had called for "bringing the state back in" would have scurried to bring society back in. And in Eastern Europe, as for so many Western analysts of the great transformations of 1989, the idea of civil society beckoned as a realm--indeed a metaphorical location--that might cast loose the suffocating control still maintained (but more and more precariously) by late communist regimes. Churches, universities, and independent labor unions had long advocated change; the new social movements encompassing women, environmentalists, and nuclear protesters were emerging in Eastern Europe as well. The task for those who . . .

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