Civil Society

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Civil Society and Good Governance

Mark E. Warren Department of Government Georgetown University Washington, DC 20057-1035 warrenm@gunet.georgetown.edu 202-687-5580 202-687-5858 (FAX)

October 18, 1999

To be published as part of the U.S. Civil Society Project, funded by the Ford Foundation, directed by Virginia Hodgkinson, and located at the Center for the Study of Voluntary Organizations and Services, Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Georgetown University

In what ways does civil society contribute to good governance? The question has resonance in the United States, since we associate civil society with voluntary selfgovernment, and with the civility that accompanies voluntary relations. When we move beyond evocative abstractions, however, we find the question difficult to specify. The reasons are not hard to see: the three of elements are moving targets. First, what it means for governance to be “good” is, of course, contestable—and the normative expectations leveled at civil society are many, varied, and laden with incompatible ideological agendas. Second, the concept of civil society refers to varied and multifaceted associational structures that have quite distinct effects on governance, some desirable and some not. As it stands, most concepts of civil society provide little guidance for sorting associational types and identifying their effects on governance. And finally, current conceptions of civil society have been revived by democracy movements Latin America and Eastern Europe from the shadows of early modern liberal political thought. In these contexts the concept has been used in ways that are reminiscent of liberal struggles against authoritarian states in the early modern period (Cohen and Arato 1992; Keane 1988; Preuss 1995). The United States, however, is a consolidated, post-industrial liberaldemocracy, and presents different challenges: those of enhancing good government and deepening democracy within the context of a large-scale, pluralistic, and complex society. Nonetheless, the question is robust precisely because of its rich history and deep normative evocations. My aim in this chapter is to suggest a conceptual strategy for transforming the abstract hope that civil society might contribute to good governance into a set of discrete propositions about how the associational structures of civil society relate to good governance. I proceed as follows. In the first section, I provide a brief history of the normative uses to which the concept of civil society has been put. Of most importance here, on my view, is the strong conceptual association between the notion of civil society and self-governance through voluntary relations of association. In the second section, I argue for a concept of civil society based on a tripartite distinction between market, legal coercion, and association. In the third section, I ask what, precisely, constitutes the “good” of good governance, and distinguish among several complementary possibilities. In a modern, pluralistic, and complex society like that of the United States, democracy depends upon a number of associational contributions, including those that develop the

capacities of citizens, enable public judgments, and underwrite democratic institutions such as representation. In the fourth section, I develop a set of structural distinctions that bear on the capacities of various associational relations within civil society to contribute to one or more of these dimensions of good governance. In the fifth section, I combine these distinctions, generating a typology of associations, distinguished according to those features that affect their potentials to contribute to good governance. The sixth section illustrates the typology by looking at just one effect of civil society associations: the possibility that they might contribute to, and constitute the autonomous public spheres of judgment essential to good governance. In the final section, I suggest that that...
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