Political Science Faculty Publications


What Makes Civil Society Civil? The State and Social Groups

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Many scholars use "civil society" to denote a realm of peaceful social organization independent from and often antagonistic to the state. The mass demonstrations that peacefully brought down Eastern European governments in the late 1980s legitimized this understanding. At the same time, however, governments were falling in less developed countries, and the social groups that emerged were decidedly uncivil. In these places competing groups preyed upon each other, which sometimes led to protracted civil wars. The view of civil society as spontaneously self-organized harmony cannot deal with these Third World cases. To better understand such developments this article proposes an alternative view of civil society, inspired in part by the writings of Kant, in which social harmony emerges after the state reduces violence and constrains predation by organized groups. The case of Somalia illustrates the usefulness of this alternative vision.

Publisher's Statement

“This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Polity. The definitive publisher-authenticated version "Neil A. Englehart, What Makes Civil Society Civil: the State and Social groups, Polity (2011) 43, 337-357" is available online at: http://www.palgrave-journals.com/polity/journal/v43/n3/full/pol201025a.html”

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Palgrave Macmillan

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