Community Works: The Revival of Civil Society in America

Community Works: The Revival of Civil Society in America

Community Works: The Revival of Civil Society in America

Community Works: The Revival of Civil Society in America

Synopsis

America is experiencing a boom of voluntarism and civic mindedness. Community groups are working together to clean up their cities and neighborhoods. People are rejoining churches, civic associations, and Little Leagues. And, at every opportunity, local and national leaders are exhorting citizens to pitch in and do their part.

Why has the concept of a civil society--an entire nation of communities, associations, civic and religious groups, and individuals all working toward the common good--become so popular? Why is so much hope being invested in the voluntary sector? Why is a civil society so important to us?

This book looks at the growing debate over the rise, importance, and consequences of civil society. E. J. Dionne puts the issues of the debate in perspective and explains the deep-rooted developments that are reflected in civil society's revival. Alan Wolfe and Jean Bethke Elshtain discuss reasons why the idea of a civil society is important today. Theda Skocpol and William A. Schambra offer two opposing viewpoints on where successful voluntary civic action originates--nationally or at the local grass roots. John J. DiIulio Jr. shines a light on the success of faith-based programs in the inner-city, and Bruce Katz studies the problems caused by concentrated poverty in those same neighborhoods. Jane Eisner underscores the extent to which the volunteer sector needs organization and support to effectively complete its work. Other contributors include Bill Bradley, William A. Galston, and Gertrude Himmelfarb.

Excerpt

E. J. DIONNE JR.

"CIVIL SOCIETY" sounds so nice that few people can believe something serious lies behind the debate the idea has provoked.

Sometimes, the word "civil" is given pride of place and the phrase is taken to mean a society where people treat each other with kindness and respect, avoiding the nastiness we have come to associate with thirty-second political ads and a certain kind of televised brawl.

More formally, civil society refers to an array of fine institutions that nobody can possibly be against: churches that run teen pregnancy and after-school programs, neighborhood crime watch groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Little Leagues, book clubs, veterans groups, Shriners, and Elks. What's to fight about? Putting aside the problem of overly zealous parent-fans, how many people are prepared to take the negative side of The Little League Argument?

And the phrase is further blessed by its association with the brave people in Eastern Europe who used it in their struggle against communism. Living under dictatorships, they discovered that even the most efficient police states could not stamp out all vestiges of independent social life that survived in cafes and churches and workplaces and families. The Eastern European rebels used these enclaves of civil society to incubate free societies that ultimately triumphed.

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