Manual Civil Society Before Democracy

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Democratic backsliding and civil society response in Hungary

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Civil society in India - The Hindu Editorial decoded

That is not to suggest that this view is shared or admired by all. Critics observe the differentials of power and resource that characterize relationships within civil society, the apparent inability of liberal thinking to address the fundamental character of some of these inequities, and the skill and willingness of some states to orchestrate and occasionally manipulate civil society organizations for their own ends.

This skepticism about liberal ideas of civil society reflects, and has sustained, diverse conceptions of its meaning and potential; a host of more conservative , as well as more radical, ambitions have also been attached to this term. Indeed, the term civil society has carried a number of different associations in the history of political thought, and its original meaning in Western thinking was rather different from its current protean status.

This kind of community was understood in contrast to noncivilized or barbarian peoples.

This conceptual usage was transformed by different European thinkers throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, with the result that civil society came to acquire a rather different set of connotations. Here are identified three of the prevalent modes of thinking concerning this term that became established during this period, though this list is far from exhaustive. A strand of thinking developed in the Enlightenment era in the writings of English figures like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke that presented the social and moral sources of the legitimacy of the state in relation to the idea of civil society.

Though internally diverse, this tradition shared an aversion to the idea, widely held in ancient Greek thought, that societies could be characterized according to the character of their political constitution and institutions. Society, however conceived, was prior to and formative of the establishment of political authority.

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A different mode of thinking about civil society, which found its most coherent expression in 19th-century German thought, separated civil society from state in both ethical and analytical terms and regarded the two as separable and perhaps as opposites. Standing between and partially overlapping with these perspectives, there developed a different, long-lasting conception in the thinking of some of the major theorists of the Scottish political economy tradition of the 18th century, including Adam Smith and Francis Hutcheson.

In their view, civil society should be conceived as emerging from the intertwined development of an independent commercial order, within which complex chains of interdependence between predominantly self-seeking individuals proliferated, and the development of an independent public sphere, where the common interests of society as a whole could be pursued.