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Some propositions about civil society and the consolidation of democracy

[research report]

Schmitter, Philippe C.

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Corporate Editor Institut für Höhere Studien (IHS), Wien
Abstract "»Civil Society« is a concept that has been much discussed in relation to the processes of democratization in Southern Europe, Latin America and, especially, in Eastern Europe. Despite widespread recognition of its potential importance, scholars have not agreed on how to define it, nor are they sure what the specific nature of its contribution can be. This essay, is an attempt to pin down the meaning of civil society and the role that it can play in facilitating the consolidation of democracy. Emphasis is placed on four characteristics of intermediary organizations: their dual autonomy from both the state and primary social units of production and reproduction; their capacity collective action in defense of the interests and passions of their members; their limitation with regard to governing the polity as a whole; and, their willingness to act »civilly«, i.e. within preestablished rules of exchange and influence. After exploring its relationship with social movements and political parties, attention is focused primarily on the emergent properties of individual interest associations and of the systems of interest intermediation they form. Hypothetically, it is suggested that variables such as the number of associations, their density of membership, the breadth of their respective domains and of their coverage of interests/passions, the extent of associational monopoly and the pressure of higher-order coordination mechanisms combine (admitted in a variety of ways) to determine the structural context within which these organizations can serve to link citizens and public authorities. Strategic capacity, encompassingness, class governance and congruence are offered as the key conditions which determine the strength or weakness of civil society. A series of hypotheses are proposed which link (positively and negatively) the relative strength of civil society to success or failure in the effort to consolidate democracy. Furthermore, it is argued that civil society is not an automatic or unreflexive product of capitalism, urbanization, literacy, social mobilization, economic growth – i.e. of development – although it is encouraged by all of the above. Rather, its emergence requires explicit policies by public authorities and implicit practices by private (re)producers. After a brief discussion of what these policies may be, the article concludes with some reflections of the changing international context and on the relevance of civil society in places and cultures far removed from its historic heartland: Western Europe." [author's abstract]
Keywords civil society; democratization; political theory; democratization; party
Classification Basic Research, General Concepts and History of Political Science
Document language English
Publication Year 1993
City Wien
Page/Pages 19 p.
Series Reihe Politikwissenschaft / Institut für Höhere Studien, Abt. Politikwissenschaft, 10
Licence Deposit Licence - No Redistribution, No Modifications