different arguments of civil society by katy pace

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Katie Pace
Civil Society and its Definitions

While generally acknowledged to consist of privately formed social organizations, civil society remains an ambiguous conception prone to diverse interpretations. As a Western idea, first made famous by Alexis de Tocqueville in his analysis of American democracy, its application worldwide and in nations with differing social, religious, economic and political backgrounds has created debate about what civil society is and how civil society influences or is influenced by government. Tocqueville first presented civil society to the West as voluntary, non-political social organizations that strengthen democracy preventing a tyranny of the majority. Associations, which can be “religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive”, protect diversity by uniting equal but weak individuals into powerful groups. These associations prevent the fragmentation of society by forcing men to consider the affairs of others and to work with their neighbors. According to Tocqueville, the equality and individualism fostered by democracy convince men that they need nothing from nor owe anything to their neighbors; thus, without civil society, they would isolate themselves from the community. Finally, Tocqueville argues that civil society fosters the social norms and trust necessary for people to work together and teaches individuals to appreciate and effectively use their liberties. Consequently, civil society promotes democracy and checks despotism. Many Western writers wholeheartedly accepted Tocqueville’s definition of civil society. In both his book, Making Democracy Work, and his article, Tuning In, Tuning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America, Robert Putnam treats civil society, also called social capital, as “features of social life- networks, norms and trust- that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives”. Putnam argues that

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