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Civil Society, Changing Contemporary Politics with the return of multi-party politics in the Third World & Religion: An Introduction, p.1Terry R. Lynch
Civil Society, Changing Contemporary Politics with the return of multi-party politics in the Third World & Religion: An Introduction
TERRY R. LYNCH
Copyright © 2013 Terry Lynch
All rights reserved.
All my love
Agnes Retno Utami
What is Civil Society and what can the concept offer from the standpoint of understanding change in contemporary politics?
Civil Society and Religion
Accounting for the return of multi-party democracy to the Third World and can democratisation be said to have improved the lives of poor people?
This essay seeks value from Civil Society in terms of changes in contemporary politics from its ancient origins, Tocqueville perceptions, Gramsci third force interpretations for emancipation of the disempowered and its global expansion and interpretation.
Assessing how these are achieved and looks at various critiques of the concept to offer a balanced argument. Looking at the studies of analysts such as Putnam it assesses its usefulness and highlights attitudes within society.
Revealing attitudes from society towards their democratic structures and how voting turnout, declining political membership and increasing pressure groups have seen a different approach from society towards democratic institutions.
The role of religion within this framework and a selection of key thinkers on the matter of how this civil society and religion fit and act together.
1 What is Civil Society and what can the concept offer from the standpoint of understanding change in contemporary politics?
Civil Society tends to be an overused and somewhat obscured concept. The concept causes much confusion and gets somewhat lost in translation, in contemporary terms; the concept is becoming overused to the point of becoming a catchy marketing slogan.
This essay will address this problem and seek some value leading to an understanding of change in contemporary politics.
How civil is society and does this concept change in description as modern society advances, as perceptions weave in and out of society does some degree of civility escape? Is there some continuity within the concept?
Change is very evident in the history of the concept, in the days of Aristotle it was considered indistinguishable from the state of direct democracy where everything was built round the state but as democracies developed, did Civil Society follow?
It is clear that from 1750-1850 that Civil Society evolved and became separated from the notion of the state and indeed a bulwark against an increasing state influence. It became a defence against the state, a means of controlling its excesses.
Is Civil Society a response to the perceived crisis in the ruling social order, politics or economics? At the time of the French and American revolutions, great change took place in Civil Society, this change meant replacement of a community of neighbours to a community of strangers.
The idea of Civil Society as a bulwark against the state first became present in the studies of Alexis de Tocqueville as he took America as a model for democratisation in France.
He identified vast organisations and associations which created a vibrant and dynamic community life beyond the reaches of the state; was this created through the fear of a growing state in civil life? This would support the idea of Civil Society being reactionary to state directives.
At the end of his investigation he deemed the United States “the most democratic country on the face of the earth”1, so it enhances democracy, allows freedom of association, expression and preference?
This became known as associative life and became important because it created social harmony and trust, kept the state at bay and protected individual liberties. If this concept was to disintegrate there would be nothing to stop the state interfering into certain aspects of civilian life.
In contemporary analysis civil society can be used to measure membership to political parties and turnout to general elections highlights political participation, from this some useful and somewhat alarming statistics have emerged that offer us a greater understanding of our democracy.
To analyse change within the concept, it must be understood from its historical context to appreciate its contemporary form. One form of argument used extensively by Marxists and non-Marxists alike is the perception that changes in Western European nations is related to economic development combined with both an expansion and democratisation of their structure.2
Mark Bevir (f.1) argues that centralisation and new functions strengthened the state in relation to Civil Society. For example, the British model included reform of key parts of the state and a new strategy for economic development and new welfare initiatives (accepting more responsibility for citizens).
This wave of democratisation saw the emancipation of the working classes in 1867, 1884 and 19183 and their entrance into the exclusive club of Civil Society. Now with equal humane and social rights through the welfare state working men could join what Marx called bürgerliche Gesellschaft or “Bourgeois society”4.
After 1945, new political and social rights were granted to citizens and through a global conflict society shared an experience that affected all. This reinforced the community of strangers and together with reforms in economic and legislative spheres in most Western states Civil Society was somewhat strengthened.
From this, it is considerable to argue that Civil Society is now a global concept; that of a vast, interconnected and multi-layered social space5 made up of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civic and business initiatives, social movements, etcetera.
This is evident even in international organisations such as the United Nations (UN) whereby Kofi Annan, Secretary General stated “The United Nations once only dealt with governments…peace and prosperity cannot be achieved without partnerships involving governments, international organizations, business and civil society”.6
John Keene presents the view that this global society is motivated by “turbo-capitalism”7 with the aim of civilizing uncivil capitalism.
If we are to take the associative interpretation, as raised by Tocqueville, there should be impetus for a new consensus that a healthy and vibrant associative life is a key to achieving good governance.
The Gramsci interpretation reveals a “third force”8 between the state and the market with a realm of potential emancipation for the disempowered.
With increased globalisation and reconciliation of the world economy it can be argued as by Andrew Linklater, that a new idealistic world political community has become possible9. However, this is a complex issue and globalisation has different experiences within different communities.
Therefore it is dangerous to suggest that Civil Society is all embracing, but through international organisations such as Fair Trade, Red Cross and others the issue of exploitation through extended use of the media is finding compassion within this community.
It would appear that
In this respect, the concept Civil Society is evidently useful as Putnam conducted an interview of five hundred thousand to conclude that the American people were less politically active and more introvert highlighting an attitude from society towards contemporary issues.
However, Putnam suggests that society can civilly reinvent itself, proposing that the concept is indeed flexible and can change in response to events in contemporary politics. 10
Tocqueville’ proclamation of America being the most democratic has to be now questioned as the very fabric that kept the democratic structure underpinned and state separate from civil life is now merging and threatening the very fabric of representative democracy.
If this is the case then the very bulwark against the state that prevents such intrusions into aspects of social life will eventually become redundant and threaten the very principles of Liberal Democracies, however society can reinvent itself to respond to such dire times.
In analytical terms political parties help to identify preferences, these are reflected in civil Society through membership, however as they evolved they have become agents of the state, rather than representatives of the people and therefore resulted in a reduction of participation as people felt there interests were not being served.
If Civil Society is to be seen as a means of emancipation and this is to be achieved through the medium of democracy then an expansion of this society is required with a decreasing state, however the concern (in contemporary perception) is that the opposite is happening.
Was this decrease (in part) due to a realisation that society is becoming a victim of the "tyranny of the majority"11 losing faith in Liberal Democracy as the disempowered electorate turn towards Authoritarianism.
Antonio Gramsci uses the Bolshevik Revolution and the concept of Civil Society to analyse why the revolution succeeded in Russia but had failed elsewhere? This is where change is most prevalent as old attitudes were supplanted and the hegemony of the ruling political elite maintained through Civil Society. However, this could only be gained by the offering an alternative again through such means.
In representative democracies voting is the key to the very nature of the political system, however, as Civil Society decreases less people are turning out to cast their votes. This is somewhat alarming as representatives are gaining office with less than half the support of the constituency who could be bothered to turnout.
However, this argument requires an analysis of the electoral system; its advantages and disadvantages. As Mark N. Franklin claims with conviction that it has more to do with the character of elections, not of society and “commentators, who see in falling turnout a reflection on the civic-mindedness of citizens, or on their commitment to democracy, appear to be mistaken”12.
However as highlighted by Franklin many established democracies experienced a large period without elections through World War II and this bore witness to increased socialising and integration of civil life as this increased sharing of ideas and new political attitudes arose.
This is clear in Britain for example, whereby a Blitz spirit emerged with a growing community of strangers sharing a common interest and people were increasingly organising events together to raise the spirit and resolve of the wartime population.
The formation of this community and the increased cooperation of the different aspects of society signified a change in political attitudes as at the end of the Second World War the first Social Democratic (Labour Party) was elected into office.
Throughout history changes in contemporary politics have occurred and a prominent example is the Polish solidarity movement which enabled an alternative to communism through the concept and contributed, to some extent, to the collapse the Soviet Union.
The usefulness of Civil Society in terms of understanding change in attitudes concerning contemporary issues in respect to why the states vary in forms of government is plenty, one must dig deeper and find comparative difference in attitudes.
For example, in European states civil society favours state intervention concerning income inequality is more welcomed than in the United States13 however, most critics would reject this as ‘predictable’.
It is evidently hard to measure the beliefs, opinions and emotions of individual citizens towards their form of government; such fundamental values, sentiments and knowledge that give form and substance to political processes14) however, Civil Society is useful in measuring these processes.
This is present in the studies of Putnam and figures collected by independent forces. For example, Putnam highlights the essence of Civil Society in itself; however, independent statistical surveys reveal the extent of a particular issue by questioning Civil Society to reveal attitudes.
This is present in the work of Almond and Verba15 who studied Liberal Democracies and the turbulent issues that have rocked them from 1964 to the present day. The study revealed that attitudes had seen a significant change from that time to the end of the nineties.
These covered: Vietnam and student activism in the 1960s, the oil crisis of the 1970s, the anti-nuclear movement and the rise of ecology groups in the 1980s, privatization and cutbacks to the welfare state in the 1990s.
Both in the US and Britain, fine examples of Liberal Democracies, trust in the government has declined. In the UK, trust had fallen from 39 per cent in 1974 to 22 per cent in 199616, which would have led to the decline in the Conservative Party and the start of Tony Blair’s New Labour reign.
Obviously, as Civil Society was the origin of the survey, it shows how it can lead to a greater understanding of change in contemporary politics. The figures showed a shift away from ‘civic’ culture and a more removed and remote attitude to politics.
With such declining turnout, (especially in the United States) Almond and Verba concluded that participant culture was discarded, a concept regarded as the principle of democracy.
Basing one’s argument on a finite balance of input of participant culture into ‘civil’ culture17 it is to remedy that contemporary civil society is indeed leaning away from fundamental elective duties and towards more direct courses of action.
As membership of pressure groups are increasing to demonstrate to government that society is in disagreement with policy and increasingly becoming distant from the political norms.
This shows us that in contemporary politics people are less directly involved in the mechanisms of government and no longer feel obliged to vote for a government which they could have some kind of input.
2 civil society and religion
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