Introducing the Conceptof Civil SocietyCivil society is theconcept which refers associations of individuals apart from state and familyexisting on voluntary basis with specific pursued interests. This concept hasbeen defined by various scholars covering a wide scope of citizen associationand participation in various collective interests perused between state and theprivate sphere, some scholars agree that it is mediation sphere existingbetween the state and the private sphere, it is a third sector after privateand public sphere. According to Diamond (1994) Civil society can be consideredas “a realm of organized social life that is voluntary, self generating,autonomous from the state and bound by a legal order or set of shared rules”his main emphasis is on voluntary association of citizen, this voluntaryassociation is established neither in the family nor the state, with theircommon shared interests they are guided by rules or any other set of orderestablished to guide their associations in attempt to achieve their commoninterests.
Also Bratton (1994) defines civil society as “a sphere of socialinteraction between the household and the state which is manifest in norms ofcommunity cooperation, structures of voluntary association, and networks ofpublic communication” like Diamond, Bratton considers civil society as thirdestablished sphere between the family or household and the state, otherscholars too agree civil society as a sphere where collective interest can beachieved apart from state and family.Civil society defines abroad scope of individual associations which can be formal or informal whichpursuing various range of activities and interests which are expected to becollectively achieved of economic, development, cultural, civic and otherdiverse fields which collective interests are directed. Its origin can be traced far back in the history ofclassical philosophical grounds although it is considered to be highlyinfluenced and shaped by liberal thinking, where the concept gained moreattention with emergence of democracy and the need to limit power of the stateby social institutions (Bratton, 1994). This is to say, the concept of civilsociety despite the fact of gaining attention with emergence wave of liberalpolitical thinking it is a product of evolution of various constructivephilosophical ideas evolved overtime responding various situations, thinkingand time.
The ideas of civil society can be traced from classical philosophers,renaissance philosophers, 19th Century, 20th Century; theaim of this paper is to highlight the contribution of philosophers of therenaissance, 19th century and 20th century to moderncivil society which is characterized by more formalized and specializedstructures of association existing between the state and private sector. The contribution ofrenaissance philosophersThiswas the era of transition from medieval era, was another important remarkableera in the development of civil society as continuation of ideas of theprevious thinkers of classical, middle ages and social contract philosophers, therenaissance philosophers started to challenge feudalism and divine authority ofthe medieval period by opposing the ideas of medieval philosophers St.Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, among the philosophers of this era includes DavidHume and Emmanuel Kant who posed important ideas concerning defining featuresof contemporary social associations established between family and the state toachieve common interests.
Hume’scontribution to civil society can be extracted from his intellectual reflectionof human nature, where he believes individuals in the society are governed bytheir personal interest to the extent of giving them priority over collectivegood, he believed justice will exist if individuals will compel to believe incommon good and prioritize it over personal interest and this was possible onlyfrom individuals consent without any order from above which would coerce themto go for collective interests (Hume, 1748). The contemporary civil society is defined byassociations which are established on voluntary basis, Diamond (1994)highlights “organized social life that is voluntary” in defining civilsocieties where Hume emphasize on consent of an individual to give priority tothe common goods over personal interests. Hume believes moral duties as a foundationof civil society where moral obligation is concerned with justice and fidelity,with justice one will be able to respect the property of the others andfidelity one will be able to keep promises, with all these an individual shouldleft free to make rational and voluntary choice, however absolute government isincompatible with civil society and so the state needs civil government whichis consistent with civil societies (Hume, 1994). ImmanuelKant conception of civil societies concerned with how individuals treat eachother in the society, he believed in associational life people should treatothers as the end in themselves not the means to the end he considered thesociety must exist where people will be responsible to make sure their actionsin attempt to achieve their personal interests do not tread in others actionsor ways to pursue their interests, and then how our actions do benefit othersthan our own interest is what makes association life perfect in the society (Brien1999).
Kantsuggested civil society to be districted from the state as public sphere, for himcivil society is formed by committed citizens without arbitrary rule, religiousorthodoxy or any kind of social inequalities making the civil society as publicsphere not a social class dominated sphere. Reflecting the modern civil society likesuggested by Immanuel Kant, it is defined as the third sphere out of state andfamily, in explaining civil society as a realm apart from state Bratton (1994) “Wecan conceive of the state as the realm of the politics of force by whichgoverning elites exert their domination over society. By contrast, civilsociety is the realm of consent through which citizens may choose to accept orto reject the use of force by state officials.
” With Kant’s position that civilsociety is distinct from the state, contemporary definition of civil society asdefined by various scholars align with this idea that civil society are socialassociations which are neither family nor the state pursuing common interests. Thecontribution of the 19th Century PhilosophersThe 19thCentury was also another milepost in development of conception civil societyfrom various philosophical ideas; Friedrich Hegel and Alexis de Tocqueville areamong of the great thinkers of this time whose ideas are considered to be thebasis of the contemporary civil society.Friedrich Hegel also conceivedcivil society as a separate sphere from family and the state , for him in thestate civil society is what matters, Hegel (1821) “When the state isrepresented as a union of different persons, that is, a unity which is merely acommunity, it is only the civic community which is meant” he argues that in acivil society each individual member has particular personal interests or goalsthus considering nothing else is worth to him, but unless with cooperation withothers such individual cannot accomplish his goals, and so making others as the means for hisachievement, when this individual in association with others struggle toachieve his own ends then he will also accomplish the goals of the others, thisis to say while satisfying himself he will also satisfy the needs of allothers, Hegel emphasizes on mutual dependence in the civil society,contemporary civil society is also conceived that individuals with theirpersonal interests come together out of family and state and establish means toachieve common goals while an individual is expecting to achieve his particulargoals he also facilitates achievement of the goals of other members in thecivil society.
Alexis de Tocquevilleanalyzed American politics with beginning of democracy, his analysis highlightedthe important concerns in the contemporary civil society and its role as asphere between family and the state, in his analysis Tocqueville highlightedindividualism and equality and their position in building American associationallife, for him civil society was linked with achieving collective ends ratherthan individual interests. Byrecognizing that Americans promoted equality, American citizen would feel equalto each other in a way that would create mutual respect which was very importantto achieve public participation political life (Brien 1999). With mutualrespect architected by equality citizens in social associations and groups willfeel as a part of a group and serve well to achieve collective ends in and socitizen will feel their goals will be better achieved through collective meansby considering the need of others too. However Tocqueville feared individualismwould lead to selfishness and breakdown of civic virtue, emphasis toindividuality individual interest would overweight collective interest butemphasized civil society helps in strengthening democracy (Brien 1999). Thecontemporary civil society is also defined by its importance in consolidationand strengthening democracy, among other things Diamond (1994) identifies theroles of civil society in democracy, he explains the democratic function ofcivil society as “the basis for the limitation of power and hence fordemocratic political institutions as the most effective means of exercisingthat control” democratic characters are required to define contemporary civilsociety.Contributionof 20th Century PhilosophersThe 20thCentury experience various ideas from scholars who attempted to discuss onassociation of individual and public participation for collective ends, amongthe philosophers of this era includes John Rawls and Antonio Gramsci who contributedin modern civil society by the following ideas; John Rawls contributedto the modern civil society conception through his theory of justice, inconceptualizing civil society which actually reflect the contemporary civilsocieties believed there should be common principles established to guideallocation of primary goods, according to Brien (1999) for primary goods Rawlsreferred “rights, powers, opportunities, income wealth, and bases for selfrespect” while suggesting for him decisions on allocation of these primary goodshould provide good life for those who are in worst situation, positingrationality in decision making he emphasized on the principles of equal libertyand difference, according to Underson (2003) with equal liberty Rawls referred that “Everyone must have an equal right to themost extensive basic liberties consistent with the guarantee of the sameliberties for all-rights to vote, to free speech, to association, and othercivil liberties.
” Free speech, free association, rights to vote are the mostdiscussed topics by various scholars, politicians and various actors about thecontemporary civil societies. Whereas by ‘difference’ as a principle “stipulatesthat social and economic inequalities are permissible only if they are to thegreatest benefit of the leastadvantaged or worst off, and if they areattached to positions and offices open to all” this can reflect the language ofminority interests in the contemporary civil societies, where from a wide rangeof associational life minority or marginalized groups are also collectivelycome into contact to struggle for their limited rights and other ways ofpursuit of their interests for laws the social or economic differences shouldnot undermine the weak or those with worst situation, there should be equalopportunities for all.Also, Antonio Gramsci’sanalysis discusses more of the concepts of Karl Marx on capitalist society. Forhim part from the economic relations or base, and the state or superstructure,Gramsci emphasizes that there is an intermediate sphere between the two inorder to maintain domination in the class society. Antonio Gramsci considersthe civil society to be a part of the superstructure. In this case, Gramsciclaims that the state is divided into the political society and the civilsociety.
By the political society Gramsci refer the institutions, constitutionsand other repressive state apparatus, whereas the civil society, which tends topromote hegemony through the manufactured consent. From political society andcivil society relationship draws the contemporary civil society as separatesphere from the state with their pursued interest based on consent. Moreover, Antonio Gramsci is best known forhis concept of cultural hegemony in which he describes how the state and theruling capitalist class use cultural institutions to maintain power in capitalistsocieties. According to Gramsci, the bourgeoisie develop a hegemonic culture producedand reproduced by the dominant class through the institutions from thesuperstructure, using ideologies rather than coercion. The power is also usedto maintain the consent in the capitalist order, rather than violent power toforcefully maintain the order.
()Therefore, althoughthis paper discuses the contribution of some philosophers of renaissance, 19thcentury and 20th century to the modern civil society, but contemporarycivil society is construction from wide philosophical grounds which evolvedover time with various ideas describing patterns of formal and informal associationallife and achievement of collective ends, traced from history of westernsocieties, from the classical philosophers, middle age philosophers, socialcontract philosophers, renaissance philosophers, 19th century aswell as 20th centuries. Their contributions are very crucialalthough some ideas of various philosophers are still challenged by otherscholars, for example Tocqueville contribution that associational life outsidethe family and state (civil society) develop and strengthen democracy as it wasin America is challenged by Berman while reflecting the case of collapse ofWeimar Republic where civil society facilitated the rise of dictatorshipgovernment under Nazism. Also feminists challenges what is agreed by somephilosophers that civil society is free third independent sphere from thestate, and they consider civil society as shaped by states in different waysincluding financial and legal control, however civil society is very importantmodern politics. ReferencesBrattonM.
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