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8 Civil Society and Capitalism The Eastern European dissidents who deployed the language of civil society in their attack on the socialist state might be excused their fail­ ure to appreciate the looming danger of the capitalist market. Whatever combination of naiveté, desperation, and irresponsibility was at work, they had powerful antagonists to contend with, important allies to satisfy, and few indigenous sources of theoretical support or practical activity on which to draw. They may have honestly imagined that a resuscitated “civil society” could coexist with a generous set of social benefits, but the iron logic of the market’s demands for austerity soon disabused them of their hopes. Under the circumstances, it made sense that their civil society of liberal constitutionalism and intermediate associations had been aimed at the oneparty bureaucratic state. “Actual existing socialism” had delivered an impor­ tant measure of social welfare, but political democracy was quite another matter. This helps explain why the Eastern Europeans theorized civil society in liberal terms. Economic matters were mostly left aside, their unpleasant side effects to be addressed after the establishment of a “law-governed state” and the reunification of Europe. But there was a price to be paid, and the bill soon came due. The hope that an energized population would be able to defend its public sphere faded as both the market and the states that extended and protected it were revealed as arenas of compulsion, inequality, and exclusion. By the mid-1990s the once-heady discourse of civil society was beginning to fade in Eastern Europe. No matter. Its enormous popularity in the United States cuts across the political spectrum and has become indispensable to a wide variety of public figures. In February 1998, Hillary Clinton asked the assembled bankers, in­ dustrialists, and politicians of the World Economic Forum to defend free markets, effective governments, and the intermediate associations of civil society that stand between them. Less than a month later, New York’s Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced his intention to make the city a “civil society” of people who temper their legendary surliness with good manners 199 200 | Civil Society and Capitalism and public spirit. Banks, corporations, and governments are being asked to strengthen “micro-enterprises” in Africa, civic education projects in Bul­ garia, and campaigns against littering, jaywalking, and car alarms in the Big Apple. Few observers cared to comment on how the First Lady’s goals might be undermined by her husband’s support for NAFTA, or how the Mayor’s initiative could be reconciled with his plan to privatize the municipal hospi­ tal system. In one of the most thoroughly commercialized social orders in human history, civil society is supposed to limit the intrusive state, attenu­ ate the ravages of the market, reinvigorate a moribund public sphere, rescue beleaguered families, and revitalize community life. However recent this new American lexicon might appear, its foundations were laid by pluralist social science during the 1950s and 1960s. The sug­ gestion that democracy requires more than formal political structures was aimed at revealing the sources of Western stability and articulating a credi­ ble alternative to communist “totalitarianism.” Pluralism’s central project was explaining how private interests can be organized and expressed without the destabilizing politics of social class. Private desires, the theorists of pluralism said, are “aggregated” by interest groups, voluntary associations, political parties, and parliaments and represented to appropriate governmental elites for adjudication and compromise. Intermediate bodies and overlapping forms of membership became a defining quality of “moderniza­ tion” as intellectuals proclaimed “the end of ideology” and explained how citizen apathy could enable elites to lead mass societies in conditions of so­ cial reform and political stability. A consumer society without historic par­ allel was taking shape in the United States, and pluralism helped lower the temperature as it demonstrated how nonpolitical interests could serve social integration. If contemporary theories of civil society are inspired by Tocqueville and the early pluralists, however, the environment in which they have developed is considerably more troubled and less celebratory than that of their forerunners . Massive deindustrialization, unprecedented inequality, and a per­ vasive sense of moral decline have led political leaders and intellectuals to ask more of civil society than ever before. Pluralism’s ideology of citizen ap­ athy, elite direction, and bureaucratic expertise has yielded to a quieter, less confident, and more local point of view. But “pluralism lite” has its blind side. Even if they are acutely aware of the dangers and opportunities of state power, contemporary...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780814722831
Related ISBN
9780814722077
MARC Record
OCLC
45844125
Pages
288
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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