Relationship between Civil Society and the State

sunita2409 By sunita2409, 10th Mar 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
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Civil society is the sphere apart from the state where citizens associate themselves with their particular interests and aims and put forward various proposals that are not determined and introduced by the political system of government

Relationship between Civil Society and the State

Two antithetical trends in political theory have tended to obfuscate the relationship between state and civil society. One recurring trend has located the state at the central point of things. The state-oriented concept from the days of classical political thought has accorded extraordinary importance to state as a unique sort of institutional arrangement tat enables the realization of good life and development of potentialities of individuals in society. The second trend, in contrast, seeks to descend the state in the background and initiate the rule of uncontrolled market for the promotion of individual enterprise, unfettered competition and preeminence of private property. The neo-liberal scheme of ‘rolling back the state’ and allowing market supremacy has meant conferring privileges to the civil society the opposite of state-centric view.
State as the controller and restrictive guardian of society seeks to fix the scope of political practice. Civil society on the other hand obviates as the region occupied by the rights-possessing or holding and juridical defined individuals, rightly called citizens. Political participation, holding the state accountable for its action and open publicity of politics are the hallmarks of civil society. To quote Chandhoke, the essential component of politics is dialogues and contestations with the state. Hence, “civil society becomes the site for the production of a critical rational discourse which possesses the potential to interrogate the state.” In simple terms, “the site at which society enters into a relationship with the state can be defined as civil society.” Open communication and publicity, freedom of speech and expressions and the right to form associations, being the characteristics of civil society, it occupies a prideful place in democratic theory. The nature of the state, whether democratic or totalitarian, can be understood only by referring to the politics of civil society. In addition, civil society’s influencing property (as distinguished from control function) is dependent on its democratic character. Democratic theory has acknowledged the pre eminence of civil society as an essential prerequisite for the existence of democracy. Following Chandhoke’s admirable clarificatory explanation, it can now be presented as the gist of the nature of the state can be interpreted by referring to the politics of civil society. The two are united by a bond of give and take policy, “there can be no theory of the state without a theory of civil society, and correspondingly, there can be no theory of civil society without a theory of the state.”
State-Civil Society Relationship: An Evolutionary Perspective
The historical study of political philosophy is in reality the history of state-civil society relationship, as explained by noteworthy political thinkers. Before proceeding to discuss the contributions of seminal political theorists, a brief overview of the progress of thought is presented here for general understanding. The term ‘civil society’ can be traced to ancient Greek political thought and to the works Cicero and other Romans. But, in classical usage civil society was equated with state. In its modern form, civil society emerged in the Scottish and continental Enlightenment of the 18th century. Numerous political analysts like Thomas Paine, Hegel, visualized the civil society as a domain running parallel to but separate from the state. They idealized it as a realm where citizens associate according to their own interests and pursuits. The novel mode of thinking was perhaps the reflection of new economic realities characterized or marked by the rise of private property, market competition and the bourgeoisie. There was also a growing popular demand for liberty as manifested in the American and French Revolutions.
The idea of civil society suffered an eclipse in the mid-nineteenth century as a result of the attracting of considerable part of attention by the social and political consequences of the industrial revolution. The idea of civil society was resurrected by Antonio Gramsci after the end of Second World War who connoted civil society as a special nucleus of independent political activity, a sphere of struggle against tyranny. Communist states in erstwhile USSR and Eastern Europe over extended authority over nearly all fields of social life. The collapse of the communist countries led to the questioning of the spheres of state control. In fact the Czech, Hungarian and Polish activists propagated the slogan of civil society that they considered the state tended to encroach; hence, the desire was to encourage the flourishing of the institutions of civil society (e.g. Church) outside the legal institution of the state
The fall of the Soviet system and the Eastern Bloc liberated unprecedented movements and agitations for and towards democracy throughout the world. Civil society idealized in term of ‘associative initiatives of non-state organizations’ appeared as a cherishable social arena both in the post communist ruling situations and in the developed west where ‘capitalist atomization’ had steadily become undesirable. Public frustration and disappear with conventional party system catalyzed interest in civil society, and the new social campaigns (i.e. Feminism, ecological activism) offered opportunities for civil society initiatives independent of the state.


Dialogues, Hegel, Thomas Paine, Uncontrolled Market

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author avatar sunita2409
I am always in search of revelations and discoveries taking place in the fields of knowledge. I'm particularly interested in political theory, western political philosophy, environmental issues, peace and conflict studies, sustainable development, Ca...(more)

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author avatar Sewenet zekarias
26th Nov 2013 (#)

that is not good somany thinges not crate

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