What Civil Society Can Do to Develop Democracy
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What Civil Society Can Do to Develop Democracy Presentation to NGO Leaders, February 10, 2004, Convention Center, Baghdad Good afternoon. I want to speak to you briefly today about the role that civil society plays in building and strengthening democracy. You are all civil society leaders, who are engaged in this effort in various ways, so I am very pleased to be able to share these ideas with you. By civil society I mean the entire range of organized groups and institutions that are independent of the state, voluntary, and at least to some extent self-generating and self-reliant. This of course includes non-governmental organizations like the ones in this room, but also independent mass media, think tanks, universities, and social and religious groups. To be part of civil society, groups must meet some other conditions as well. In a democracy, civil society groups have respect for the law, for the rights of individuals, and for the rights of other groups to express their interests and opinions. Part of what the word "civil" implies is tolerance and the accommodation of pluralism and diversity. Civil society groups may establish ties to political parties and the state, but they must retain their independence, and they do not seek political power for themselves. Often in transitions, groups arise that seek to monopolize the lives and thinking of their members. These groups do not tolerate the right of their members to dissent, and they do not respect other groups that disagree with them. Some of these groups may merely be fronts for political parties or movements that seek to win control of the state. These groups are not part of civil society and they do not contribute to building a democracy. What, then, can the independent, voluntary, law-abiding, tolerant and pluralistic organizations of civil society do to build and maintain democracy? The first and most basic role of civil society is to limit and control the power of the state.
Further Reading: Philosophy of Right, Objective Spirit and Avineri Chapter 5 and Chapter 7. What is civil society? What is civil society? Civil society is a concept located strategically at the cross-section of important strands of intellectual developments in the social sciences. To take account of the diversity of the concept, CCS adopted an initial working definition that is meant to guide research activities and teaching, but is by no means to be interpreted as a rigid statement: Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, family and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, family and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organisations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organisations, community groups, women's organisations, faith-based organisations, professional associations, trades unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy group. Why civil society? What is this sudden interest in civil society all about? Some may recall that the term was en vogue in the 18th and 19th centuries, but had long fallen into disuse, and became a term of interest to historians primarily. For CCS, the answer is obvious but full of implications. For a long time, social scientists believed that we lived in a two-sector world. There was the market or the economy on the one hand, and the state or government on the other. Our great theories speak to them, and virtually all our energy was dedicated to exploring the two institutional complexes of market and state. Nothing else seemed to matter much. Not surprisingly, 'society' was pushed to the sidelines and ultimately became a very abstract notion, relegated to the confines of sociological theorising and social philosophy, not fitting the two-sector world view that has dominated the social sciences for the last fifty years.
This, said Marx, meant that the state was even more likely to protect their interests against the interests of the workers. This domination of one class over another is inevitable under capitalism and would continue until a revolution occured, instilling a classless society in which a true civil society would flourish. The Twentieth Century John Rawls John Rawls is one of the foremost political thinkers of this century. His main contribution to the concept of civil society is his theory of justice. To set a common standard viewpoint by which to judge the various means of allocating what Rawls calls primary goods, such as rights, powers, opportunities, income, wealth, and the bases for self-respect, he postulates a "veil of ignorance" that assumes that one's position and situation in life is not known. This makes it likely that decisions regarding distribution of primary goods will be made on the basis of providing a decent life for those in the worst possible situations, since the decision-makers may find that, upon lifting the veil, that is the position they themselves are in. In addition to a principle of equal liberty, which includes the right of all people to vote and hold public office, freedom of speech, conscience, thought, association, the right to private property, and due process of law, he adds a second principle of equal opportunity to compete for any position in society. These principles underscore Rawls' idea of 'political liberalism', in which he differentiates between a political realm, consisting of public institutions and social structures, and a nonpublic cultural realm, in which people interact with others in a diversity of associations according to shared moral doctrines. No single morality arising from a non-public setting should be allowed to become the basis of justice, lest the state become a repressive regime. To ensure the values of a constitutional democracy, which Rawls feels is the best kind of government since it allows for pluralism as well as stability, a constitutional consensus must be achieved through equal rights, a public discourse on political matters, and a willingness to compromise. ?? ?? ?? ?? 2
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