Participation and Democracy, East and West: Comparisons and Interpretations

Participation and Democracy, East and West: Comparisons and Interpretations

Participation and Democracy, East and West: Comparisons and Interpretations

Participation and Democracy, East and West: Comparisons and Interpretations

Synopsis

Since Alexis de Tocqueville first made the linkage in his writings on America, a healthy democracy has been associated with the flourishing of civil society, as measured by popular participation in voluntary and civic activities and the vitality of organizations that mediate between the individual and the state.

Eminent social scientists from Europe and North America take a fresh look at the vitality of civil society in the context of post-communist Eastern Europe, the West European welfare states, and the United States. This volume takes a fresh look at this classic theme in the context of post-communist Eastern Europe, the West European welfare states, and the United States, asking:

-- What patterns of participation characterize the new democracies of Eastern Europe?

-- What levels of civic activism are characteristic of contemporary Western democracies?

-- What factors account for differences among countries and changing patterns over time?

-- What do the findings suggest about the prospects for democracy in the 21st century?

Excerpt

Dietrich Rueschemeyer, Marilyn Rueschemeyer, Andbjörn Wittrock

This volume approaches the classic problem of intermediary social organizations and democracy in a fresh way. It brings together theoretical and empirical investigations dealing with several countries in Eastern Europe, selected Western European countries with strong policies of social provision, and the United States--one of the oldest democracies that did not, however, develop as comprehensive welfare policies as the countries of northwestern Europe.

Understanding the relationship between a dense web of social and political organizations and the prospects of democracy has acquired a new urgency since the attempts at democratization in postcommunist Eastern Europe. Under communist rule, autonomous associations were discouraged or entirely outlawed. To what extent the collapse or radical decline of communist-controlled mass organizations has been replaced by a strong, purposeful, and politically relevant self-organization of diverse interests in society is a critical question for the prospects of democracy. These issues have had a central place in reflections on the foundations of democracy since Alexis de Tocqueville, and recently acquired a new prominence in varied claims about the role of "civil society"--the self-organization of society in a great diversity of associations and organizations that mediate between individuals and the state.

Our inquiry might have focused directly and exclusively on the problems of democratization in Eastern Europe. Yet we decided that it would be more fruitful to tackle comparable problems in the West as well and to examine them in an integrated theoretical framework. Such a comparative treatment promises better insights into the conditions favoring or inhibiting the growth of an organizationally dense civil society as well as its role as a . . .

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