Summary : Krishan KUMAR, « Civil society, inquiry into the usefulness of an historical term »

21 juillet, 2015 | Commentaires fermés sur Summary : Krishan KUMAR, « Civil society, inquiry into the usefulness of an historical term »

The civil society concept is so important in international politics, I suggest a summary of a genealogy of this concept at the end of the Cold War by Krishan Kumar ; Civil society : inquiry into the usefulness of an historical term, British Journal of Sociology, vol. n°44 issue n°3, sept 1993


Krishan Kumar

The purpose of this article is to remember where it comes from and to evaluate how useful is the concept of civil society ?

After the collapse of the USSR, the need for an inside the eastern european nation explanation rise the concern for the civil society concept. This term appears as the alternative to the communist Party-state and its totalitarian society. Civil society is a combination of democratic pluralism with a continuing role for State regulation.

At the end of the XVIIIth century, the civil society idea was synonymous of the civilized human condition of the society. It was defined as a social state in contrast with the state of nature. Usually, the later is associated to a despotic system of government which is a necessity to maintain a state of civil security in a social group.

The former is civilized because a human being is a citizen. As a consequence, he accepts to regulate its relationship with other citizen following a system of laws. Hence, it is a sphere of the society is distinct from the state. At that time it was a concept to counteract absolut monarchy or english colonialism.

With the industrial revolution the private property became a fundamental feature of the society. The civil society autonomy from other social spheres and the State was reinforced. Following Hegel, the civil society is the market mechanism. The system of production and exchange for the satisfaction of needs, both material and immaterial, it encompasses corporations and social religious actors.

The private property and the market mechanism required a mediation process where a person, as a member of the society workout to reach his ends through others. Hence the importance of the concept of association within the civil society sphere. An association is not simply a corporation because immaterial needs like moral conscious rewards are also a part of the market mechanism.

The civil society structure is determined by the associations and volontary groups through which the individual develops its sense of social relationship and economic activities.

The structure of the civil society is a key component of a political regim. It is a situation where the actor of the market mechanism is in face of the State.

Tocqueville refined the state-society dichotomy. He identified three components in a political regim : the State and its institutions based on bureaucracies. The civil society, the arena of private interest and economic activities and the political society. This component is based ont the political culture of the art of association. It is a set of general habits for association which constitute political mores. These associations check and balance the central power ot the State and its potential excesses in the public life.


The american civil society and its democratic spirit and mores constitute the modern american social movement

Finally, what matters for a political democratic regim is how developped a self maintaining civil society in front of the centralise State power ? the answer is the democratic mores of the social group designed by the political term of « people ».

In contrast, the XXth century highlight a new feature of the political society as the public sphere for the engineering of the consent through masses of citizens reduce to a consumers role. Also, intellectuals become key actors of the legitimacy process of the ruling groups at the origin of this framing activities. Indeed, civil society as the social sphere where the manners of the political culture take place and spread through associations is a key power lever for the State power.


The components of the Society

More than simple mores it becomes a source of social power for political actor and it conditions the stability of the political regim.

Civil society today designates the mechanisms outside the State to balance and regulate conflicts between social groups. It balances the State power. Associations will used their mobilisation capacities through social movements as illustrated by eastern countries during the Cold War.

In its relation to the State power, associations are legal actors and they try to establish law in cooperation with the State or to put pressure on it


Following Kumar “without a secure and independent civil society of autonomous public spheres, goals such as freedom and equality, participatory planning and community decision-making will be nothing but empty slogans. »

Actually, civil society institutions are relativelly autonomous from State bureaucracies. Its non economic dimension is a key feature. Non state associations are not directly concerned by the production system.

In addition, to sustain civil society actors, the State is requested to act in a disinterested benevolence toward them, the legal guaranty of their existance must be complemented by a capacities of cooperation with them.

Finally, an autonomous set of actors within the civil society with access to the public sphere is an essential caracteristic of a democratic society. However, without the State power as a critical component to assume social order and security, distributive justice and conflict mediating functions, society will disappeared under the general struggles of the state of nature. It will ended in social groups ghetos with impacts on the possibility of market mechanism.

Democratic regim favored actions through the power of “consent”, on the contrary, totalitarian regim prefer coercion of the State. Civil society are permanently confronted to the issue of surviving against a potentially totalitarian State.