FLRU 2520 Russia Today

What is Civil Society?: Study Guide

Read the article Russia: What is Civil Society?. This is a definition by the London School of Economics.

Here is a definition by the US CATO Institute:
"What Is Civil Society?
Civil society can be difficult to understand; it is individualistic without being atomistic and is made up of associations without being collectivist. Civil society is a spontaneous order, a complex network of relationships and associations based on the freedom of the individual, who voluntarily assumes obligations and accepts responsibility for his or her behavior.
Some people define civil society to encompass only nonprofit organizations and to exclude entirely commercial organizations, contractual relationships, and other forms of voluntary cooperation. But dividing the world into the separate spheres of for-profit business enterprises, the institutions of the state, and "everything else'' (called "civil society'') makes little sense. It is far more fruitful to distinguish institutions on the basis of some shared characteristic; "everything else'' does not denote an essential and therefore truly distinguishing characteristic. The thoughtful conservative Don Eberly of the Civil Society Project considers civil society a "third sector'' made up of associations "that operate neither on the principle of coercion, nor entirely on the principle of rational self-interest.'' But, in attempting to set out a third sector, he has contrasted government and the market on the basis of principles as different in kind as apples and triangles. Coercion is a characteristic of actions toward people, not a motivation; "rational self-interest'' is a kind of motivation, not a characteristic of action. Self-interested persons can act coercively or in accordance with the principles of voluntarism, just as persons acting coercively can be motivated by altruism or by self-interest. What distinguishes government from the market is coercive force, present in the one case and absent in the other. Eberly's attempt to create a third category of everything other than business and government fails.
The clearest and most relevant characteristic to use to distinguish among institutions is whether people interact voluntarily or coercively. Civil society is based on voluntary participation, whereas the state, or political society, is based on coercion. Thus, civil society includes families, businesses, self-help groups, religious institutions, charities, trade associations, Girl Scout troops, and an infinite variety of other kinds of associations. No one is coerced into joining them, and they have no coercive power to force their desires on the unwilling. Political society encompasses those institutions that exercise coercion, whether in their financing (e.g., taxation), their participation (e.g., conscription), or their activities (e.g., economic intervention in or prohibition of peaceful activity). Government is the institutionalization of coercion. Some amount of political society is necessary to protect civil society from even more coercive predators, whether domestic or foreign. But political society always presents the danger of overstepping its bounds and must be kept in check by the Constitution."
  1. Be able to define the term "civil society" concisely and in your own words.
  2. What is the "two-sector world view"?
  3. What are some examples of civil society organizations?