How will current US social and political trends - amid the rise
of the right - affect the world in the decades ahead? Surprisingly,
some sociologists say that they augur for curbing the excesses of
national power and capitalist markets while strengthening the UN and
other forms of global governance.
Though it sounds counterintuitive in an age of corporate
globalization and US unilateralism, there is evidence of powerful
social forces stirring that could do just that.
These are the forces of civil society - community groups, trade
associations, labor unions, churches, and other voluntary
associations in the nonprofit sector. Some sociologists who study
them say they will broaden social consensus at home, and global
governance abroad. The argument goes something like this:
Civil society carries the core values on which America was
founded and on which civic-minded liberals and conservatives agree:
democracy, honesty, fairness, transparency, safeguarding public
health and security, etc.
When these values conflict with the bottom line or maintenance of
power, corporations and government may jettison them. This leaves a
values-vacuum that generates polarized, often futile politics along
pro- vs. anti-corporate and pro- vs. anti-nationalism fault lines,
leaving people feeling stymied and cynical.
But into the breach leap the forces of civil society, by which
citizens reengage with issues. They bridge left-right impasses,
appealing directly to core values, to doing the right thing
regardless of profitability, political power, or ideological
Not only liberals embrace environmentalism or alternative energy -
witness conservatives from Western states who oppose coal-bed
methane or conservative columnists who support a gas tax. Not only
conservatives want more jobs, fundamental tax reform, and smaller
government - witness bipartisan support for cutting payroll taxes.
Many burning domestic and global issues are not "left-right" but
"right-wrong" issues transcending party lines. Civil society, not
politics or business, is increasingly where citizens engage them.
With the unprecedented expansion and wealth transfer in the US and
globally, civil society increasingly impacts markets and
policymaking, evolving voluntary and transnational systems of
governance that may someday alter our ideas of trade and national
In fact, alterations are already under way. Big corporations
support voluntary standards such as the CERES environmental