Civil Society, Democracy and Democratization

by Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves (Author)
Monographs 208 Pages

Table Of Content

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This book is the result of over ten years of research which concentrated on three interconnected phenomena: civil society, democracy and democratization. These three topics are of such significance that they should not be purely confined to academic interest. The aim of this book is to contribute to the ongoing discussion on civil society in the context of democracy and democratization. The theoretical perspective presented here combines my interests in political philosophy, normative democratic theory and the concepts and practice of civil society, as well as the recent processes of democratization in post-communist Europe. A normative rather than purely descriptive approach is the common ground from which my analysis in different chapters advances.

My major goal in this book is a conceptualization of civil society, democracy and democratization in the light of normative political theory on the one hand, and the challenges of democratic transformation in post-communist Europe on the other. The first objective is to provide a justification for the continued usefulness of the term ‘civil society’, its normative and explanatory potential, and a contribution to the ongoing discussion on the role of civil society in the processes of post-communist democratization in East-Central Europe. My second objective, pursued in the second part of the book, is to make a contribution to normative democratic theory which has recently developed a strong focus on the participatory and deliberative models of democracy. In chapter four I examine the problem of citizenship in deliberative democracy, and in chapter five the meaning of the public sphere as an arena for political participation. Both chapters provide a solid ground for further discussion of the very applicability of normative democratic models in the post-communist context. In the last part of the book, my objective is to examine some of the challenges that post-communist European societies had to face after the collapse of the former system, and along with their struggle for the attainment of democratic consolidation. These include the problem of corruption, participation and accountability, the problem of democratic consolidation, as well as the role of civic unity and the rule of law during the process of democratization.

In recent decades we have witnessed radical political, economic and social changes in many parts of the world, including the heart of Europe. They have been a fascinating, but at the same time a very difficult object of research and reflection for many scholars who have tried to come to terms with the changing social, political and economic reality, and the new opportunities that suddenly became ← 7 | 8 → open to many previously closed societies which regained freedom and political independence. The concept of civil society proved extremely powerful in the debates on democratic transformation and the future of democracy. At the same time, new developments in political philosophy that were animated by John Rawls’s Theory of Justice contributed to the renewed interest in normative democratic theory. One of the crucial goals of post-communist societies, often simply prescribed by theorists of democracy, seemed to be the renewal of civil society, which can be seen as one of the main conditions of a properly functioning democratic order. Careful evaluation of these processes provided sociologists and political scientists with an indication of how ‘mature’ post-communist democracies were. At present, what is at stake in the debates animating political and social theory in both the East and the West is the question of whether a formal, institutional approach to democracy and democratization, similar to the one which served as the starting point for the so called ‘transition paradigm’ is sufficient or whether it needs to be supplanted or even replaced by a more substantive approach, and a more substantive understanding of democracy itself. This question will be fully addressed in chapters two and three.

When the discourse of civil society was revived in Central Europe in the early 1980s, it was both the opposition leaders and their academic advisers who spoke the language of a society independent from the state. But it was only after the collapse of communism that the concept of civil society acquired the meaning which goes back at least to Alexis de Tocqueville and his observation that without active civic groups, associations, civic and political organizations, liberal democracy would not be free of oppression and would not be resistant to the new type of despotism. Many scholars after 1989, including Jürgen Habermas, Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, followed this line of reasoning, admitting that the art of association is crucial for democracy to function well. They started to elaborate an adequate theory of civil society that would respond to our current concerns about the quality of democratic politics and democratic political culture.1 Despite the very ambiguity of the term of civil society, it has become extremely attractive to many of ← 8 | 9 → today’s social thinkers. To put it in Arato’s words, ‘civil society not only helps to describe at least some of the transitions from soviet type system but provides a perspective from which an immanent critique can be and should be undertaken’.2 The aim of such a critique is to indicate the choices available in the creation and development of new democratic and liberal institutions. Ironically, while the idea of civil society has been taken up by mainstream Western intellectuals as the new cause célèbre, in the belief that it was the new analytic key to the understanding of the social order, in East-Central Europe some thinkers begin to doubt the efficacy of the whole principle of civil society when it came to dealing with the problems facing societies in the midst of the transition to a free-market economy and liberal democracy. Those who are less sceptical, however, find an important insight in Ernest Gellner’s thesis that civil society is a ‘natural condition of human freedom’ that protects from the abuses of the state.3 Seen as a sphere of pluralism independent from the state, civil society, as Gellner argues, becomes extremely powerful when it is strengthened with ‘civic spirit’ on the one hand and economic growth on the other.4 What makes society ‘civil’ is the fact that it is the locus where citizens can freely organize themselves into groups and associations at various levels in order to make the formal bodies of the state authority adopt policies consonant with their perceived interests. At the same time, civil society cannot by definition be viewed as opposed to the state and economy for these three spheres of a liberal democracy are strictly interconnected. Free exchange of goods and services and the state based on the rule of law are the preconditions of liberty and thus civil society. But at the same time both a corrupt state and a corrupt economy can be the greatest danger for a political community to prosper.

The contemporary revival of the concept of civil society raises questions about its current condition, relevance and usefulness. At the same time it is a question of the usefulness of political ideas in changing the social and political world and their applicability in specific social conditions. The concept of civil society has ← 9 | 10 → great explanatory potential for the theory of the political as well as for the theories of democratization. On the one hand, it refers to an attempt to theorize about a specific historical experience of Western societies. On the other hand, it refers to the new experience of post-communist societies in Eastern and Central Europe, where, after its absence, civil society has been placed as one of the main issues for public attention, and as a goal of the struggle against the authoritarian state. The events in Central and Eastern Europe that resulted in the collapse of communism brought the notion of civil society to the fore in the social sciences, and subsequently its position as a separate concept was confirmed by numerous theoretical and empirical studies. Yet it can be argued that when applied to the analysis of democratization in post-communist Europe, the concept of civil society proved less helpful than was assumed. Despite expectations, it did not become an important issue in public debates in the region, and subsequently a myth of civil society – that it was a desirable yet not wholly achieved common good – emerged. The reasons why the development of civil societies in new post-communist democracies was needed have been clearly expressed by researchers, political actors and intellectuals, but the question what makes civil society flourish in a given context has only been partly addressed. This book argues that when the social dimension, which comprises civic and political culture, associations, and social self-organization, is underdeveloped the institutional (governmental and administrative) level becomes dominant and limits the potential of civil society to an even greater degree. Further analysis of the development of civil society in the region, however, should be more realistic and focus on the conditions which in a given context are necessary for the advancement of the civic sphere and for its greater role in public life, as well as in society as such.

It seems to be evident, especially when we look from the perspective of the post-communist transformation, that a properly functioning democracy must be complemented with robust civil society and the numerous roles it plays in a political community of free citizens. The reconstruction of democratic institutions and political society does not provide all the necessary conditions for a truly liberal and democratic society. The movement from civil society against the state to civil society in a constructive relationship with the democratic state in Central and Eastern Europe proved to be a slow process, which affected the social perception of transformation, institutional trust, democratic accountability and the overall habituation to democracy. The adoption of democratic and liberal institutions and new constitutions calls for civil society, its norms, habits, and activities from within which they should find support. However, although it seems to be a vicious circle and the process of the development of civil society might last many generations, the very fact of both the theoretical and practical ← 10 | 11 → mutuality of democracy and civil society needs to be emphasized. The Western model of civil society is not necessarily suitable for post-communist societies, but at the same time, without further exploration of the theory and practice of Western liberal democracies, the adaptation of their institutions without the practices that should follow them might lead to the whole project being frustrated.

Does normative democratic theory provide a fruitful ground for such examination or is it totally unsuitable for post-communist democratization? What then are the merits of the new developments in democratic theory? These questions are addressed in the second part of the book. It brings to the fore the importance of active citizenship in deliberative democracy and examines different visions of the public sphere which can be seen as a necessary space for civic involvement and public opinion formation in democracy. The aim here is twofold. On the one hand normative democratic theory has engaged many proponents of more substantive and participatory models of democracy, which is an important development itself. On the other hand, these developments, in my view, have not inspired enough debates in new, post-communist democracies on the meaning and the role of active civic participation and the public sphere as the loci of democratic citizenship. Seen solely in terms of a procedural, minimalist model, post-communist democracies of Central Europe, despite their formal consolidation, left the civic aspirations of their citizens unfulfilled or even undermined such an aspiration, providing lasting and solid ground for political alienation.

Zygmunt Bauman noted in his book In Search of Politics that in our times the agora– the space where the private and the public meet and where such ideals as the ‘public good’ may be born – ‘have been taken over and recycled into theme parks, while powerful forces conspire with political apathy to refuse building permits for new ones’.5 Democratic politics makes citizens free but in order to let them act within a limited sphere of their own interests and concerns. The result of this process, as Bauman illuminates, is the insignificance of politics and growing insecurity in individuals’ everyday lives. Thus it can be argued along with Adam Ferguson and Alexis de Tocqueville that despite our disillusionment with politics citizens’ life cannot be meaningful outside the public space. Individual liberty should not stand in opposition to political liberty which can be practised only within a realm broader than the sphere of family and friends. On the other hand, political establishments themselves – as often argued by Ferguson – when indifferent to citizens, may easily deepen the gap between the public and the private: ‘The political indifference and apathy of the citizens and the state retreating on ← 11 | 12 → its obligation to promote the common good are civil society’s unpleasant, yet legitimate children’.6 If modern times transformed the individual from a political citizen into a market consumer depriving him or her of the vision of a space transcending their own concerns, perhaps a new theory of civil society and political education can offer us a better understanding of our own condition.

A complete institutionalization of politics is neither possible nor desirable, as it deprives people of any sense of a political community and creates a sharp division between the society and the state, and separates the individual from the public realm. This division is too well known in former communist societies to be further reinforced. Its consequence is anti-politics of a new type driven by political apathy. A narrow understanding of politics as power relations gives us a false account of political education and the political role of citizens. This is why I believe that the public philosophy of our democratic societies requires the revival of a classical understanding of politics and with it a new vision of political education. It is particularly needed in new democracies, especially those which claim to be consolidated democracies, but are under-endowed in the resources of civic culture and habituation to democratic norms. Political education is a necessary remedy to political alienation in both old and new democracies and it can only take place in a free society or at least a reasonably free society.7 But it can also contribute to the very preservation of a free society. Political self-education is always present and available in democracy, but is hardly ever conceived as such.

The collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe brought civil society to the fore in the social sciences, and studies of democratization. Yet this book argues that the concept of civil society, or the way it has been applied to the analysis of democratization processes in post-communist Central Europe, has proved less helpful than is usually assumed. Instead of becoming the centre of attention of societies and an important issue in public debate, civil society has become a myth, a desirable yet not wholly achieved common good. The reasons why it was needed have been clearly expressed by researchers, political actors and intellectuals, but the question as to what makes civil society flourish in a given context has only been partly addressed.

Some parts of this work appeared in my articles published in professional journals although in most cases they have been largely rewritten to fit the scope and purpose of the analysis presented here.

1 Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. T. Burger (Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, 1993); Jürgen Habermas, Between facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. by W. Regh (Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, 1996); Jean Cohen, Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass., 1992; Neera Chandhoke, State and Civil Society. Explanations in Political Theory (London: Sage Publications, 1995); John Keane, ed., Civil Society and the State. New European Perspectives (London: Verso, 1988); John Keane, Civil Society. Old Images, New Visions (Oxford: Polity Press, 1998); John Keane Democracy and Civil Society (London: Verso, 1988).

2 Andrew Arato, ‘Revolution, Civil Society and Democracy’, Praxis International, Vol. 10/1–2 (1990), p. 25.

3 E. Gellner, Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1994. See also Z. Rau, Inner Freedom: the Departure point of the Dissident Concept of Liberty, in From Communism to Liberalism: Essays on the Individual and Civil Society, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego, Łódź 1998.

4 Ernest Gellner, ‘Civil Society in Historical Context’, International Social Science Journal 43/129 (1991).

5 Zygmunt Bauman, In Search of Politics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999), p. 4.

6 Ibid., p. 156.

7 Bernard Crick, ‘The Presuppositions of Citizenship Education’, Journal of Philosophy of Education 33/3 (1999), p. 339.

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Part I:
Civil Society and Democracy

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Chapter 1
Civil Society As a Normative Concept

Civil society can be understood as a sphere of voluntary associations, organizations and social movements as well as various initiatives that create networks of trust and solidarity, which serve many different communal goals. It is a civic space that provides room for cooperation with others, a sphere of various types of relations among people who share the same values, attitudes, norms or interests and are willing to engage in activities that require responsibility for common or public matters. Since it is the concept of citizenship that seems to be a central category for the understanding of the idea of civil society, its origins can go back to Aristotle’s political philosophy. In his Politics he defined a citizen as the one who takes turn in ruling and being ruled and whose main concern is that of the common good and not the of private interest.1 The idea of civil society that we use today can be derived from two traditions of political thought: the classical republican tradition that goes back to Aristotle and Cicero, and the liberal individualist tradition that originates in the works of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes in the seventeenth century. The two traditions present different visions of social order and it seems more appropriate to use the term ‘civic community’ while referring to the classical republican tradition, and the term ‘civil society’ in the context of the liberal tradition. Despite numerous differences, they share the notion of ‘civicness’ or citizenship expressed in the adjectives ‘civic’ or ‘civil’ that are understood in terms of both civic duties, including the concern for the public good, and civic rights to free association, freedom of speech, self government. In what follows, different dimensions of the concept of civil society that these two traditions originated will be briefly discussed before further theoretical analysis is presented.

Civil society in the republican tradition

The ideal of a free self-governing civic community can be found for the first time in Aristotle and his followers such as Cicero and later on in Marsilius of Padua, Niccolo Machiavelli, Jean Bodin, James Harrington, and, arguably, Jean Jacques Rousseau. They shared the conviction that human self-realization could only be attained through the active participation in public life of a political community (otio) whose members are responsible for the common good. While pursuing the ← 15 | 16 → public good such a community is primarily a political community, a whole, as there is no division between society and the state, which was to become dominant in modern times. The crucial aspect of this vision of political (or civic) community was the classical, Aristotelian idea of citizenship that presupposed that active civic participation is part of the political nature of a human being (zoon politikon). Civic activity within a free community governed by law was the main source of moral greatness and provided meaningful life. For Aristotle, citizens were to possess and be guided by civic virtues that would give them the ability to act for the public as the one who ‘shares in the administration of justice and in the holding of office’.2 For Roman republican thinkers, societas civilis was a community of people (commonwealth) who respect the same law and cooperate for the attainment of the common benefit. Another Latin term they used (starting with Cicero) was res publica which meant a political community was understood as the locus of public affairs that correspond with or originate in the human nature: ‘the commonwealth is the concern of a people, but a people is not any group of men assembled in any way, but an assemblage of some size associated with one another through agreement on law and community of interest. The first cause of its assembly is not so much weakness as a kind of natural herding together of men.’3 According to this classical republican ideal that was taken by Renaissance and early modern followers of Aristotle and Cicero, an active civic life, vita activa civilis, was praised as a higher type of life than vita contemplativa, for they believed that only active involvement could contribute to the achievement of a desirable political order based on justice and fairness recognized by reason. Public virtue and civic engagement were seen as goals in themselves. Jean Bodin in the sixteenth century claimed that for the well-being of a commonwealth not only good governance is decisive, but above all its wise and honourable citizens who practice moral and intellectual virtues. Furthermore, he was one of the first political theorists who emphasized that political community comprises not only of families, and small communities such as villages, but also associations such as gilds who serve citizens’ goals and contribute to their well-being.4 This associational element was to become the key element of a civil society in modern times. ← 16 | 17 →

The republican model of a civic community contains three elements that are important today. The first is the argument that active civic life has a special quality for it is strongly associated with responsibility and concern for the public good; it is a sphere of practical reciprocity of free people. Secondly, in the republican tradition the freedom of the citizen was conditioned by the freedom of political community; it was not freedom from the state, but freedom in the state, founded on the authority of law and institutions, religion and customs. And thirdly, the status of a citizen is strongly seen in terms of civic duties not rights. One of the central duties of a citizen is their concern with the public good that corresponds with the vision of a political order based on norms of justice and fairness revealed by reason.

Civil society in the liberal tradition

The republican ideals of a civic community were replaced in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the idea of civil society distinguished from the state and treated as a society of individuals who possess natural rights which are guaranteed by the state and its laws. The liberal tradition of civil society, whose emergence was paved by important social processes including the rise of free market economy as well as political events such as the English, the American and the French revolutions that questioned the foundations of the existing political order, originated in the works of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke and was fully developed by the Scottish Enlightenment. Liberty of the individual and individual rights were to become the key categories of the new social and political order. Hobbes and Locke were the first modern thinkers who started to think of society not as a natural community, like for instance Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas or Jean Bodin did, but as the result of a social contract. Civil society now distinguished and separated from the state was no longer associated primarily with active citizenship and duties towards political community. It was to be a non-governmental sphere of free associations of individuals pursuing their own interests and goals including economic goals. For Hobbes, the state played the most important role as it guaranteed peace and self-preservation. As the right of nature was not a sufficient means of securing self-preservation it could only be protected within political society with its authority and rules5 and civil society could flourish only within a strong state. Locke’s liberal theory of a limited government gave prominence to civil society as the locus of natural rights, individual freedom and independence from the state. His initial premise was neither ← 17 | 18 → natural selfishness nor natural sociability, but natural freedom and natural rights that must be protected in civil society.6 ‘Thus, there is a political (or civil) society when and only when a number of men are united into one society in such a way that each of them forgoes his executive power of the law of nature, giving it over to the public’.7 Civil society was now presented as a unity of individuals in their social condition and as separated from public authority, which, however, was supposed to act on its behalf and for its benefit.

The earliest modern usage of the concept of civil society referred to a created political order. Civil society was understood as opposed not only to the state, but to the natural condition of mankind, the state of nature. Subsequently, the term was applied in precisely opposite sense to any political community understood as a result of the natural development of society (the Scottish Enlightenment) and, later on, to a non-political order. The traditionally dominant view refined that usage to refer to a specifically economic order contrasting the sphere of civil society with the state (Adam Smith and especially G. W. F. Hegel).

It was Adam Ferguson who in the eighteenth century gave prominence to the very concept of civil society, and at the same time was much inspired by the classical republican tradition. In his Essay on the History of Civil Society, Ferguson adopted the concept of civil society to modern political theory, presenting it as a certain stage of social, political, and economic advancement. He was a follower of the civic humanist tradition and his vision of civil society must be understood in the context of the civic vision that originated in Aristotle and the philosophy of stoicism.8 Political life, which civic humanists saw as a distinctive and central part of every citizen’s life, necessitates men’s intellectual and moral power. Ferguson stressed that progress would not be possible without man’s seeking for perfection understood as the realization of their full human nature within a political society and as an act of choice.9 Virtue and the cultivation of moral sentiments played the key role in the development of a civil society while the strength of the state depended not on its wealth but above all on the virtue of its citizens. This idea is undoubtedly of both Aristotelian and stoic inspiration. Man is considered as zōon politikon, ‘by nature the member of a community’, whereas the individual ← 18 | 19 → is considered as a part of a whole, and needs to be seen in the context of this wider whole.10 Ferguson assumed that our duties towards others and towards our political community are derived from our participation in and belonging to a wider whole that develops naturally and not artificially, on the basis of a contract or rational agreement among individuals. This anti-contractarian stance he shared with other Scottish moralists, notably with David Hume and Adam Smith. ‘Civilization’, as he stresses in the Principles of Moral and Political Science, in the nature of things as well as a term belongs to the effects of law and political establishments rather than to ‘any station of lucrative possession of wealth’.11 The criterion of civilization is thus political whereas the term civil society describes a state of society polished and refined but also relates to its economic and political establishments. Not every advanced society can be called ‘civil’ but only those in which individuals can enjoy civil liberty under a government that protects their rights. It is, however, not just the protection of rights, as presented in the liberal account, that contributes to this more advanced stage of development. Ferguson also stressed the role of the civil or political liberty of citizens, the practice of citizenship, as one of the main attributes of a civil society. Without the maintenance of civic virtue, the strength and vitality of political community can be easily eroded. Even the best political institutions are not a sufficient device to maintain the liberty of individuals: ‘the liberties they enjoy cannot be long preserved, without vigilance and activity on the part of the subject’.12 Without civic participation and patriotism the government of a commercial society might easily become despotic and its manners corrupted. Civic participation was seen by Ferguson as a moral necessity and a ‘basic truth’ of civil society as such. Political freedom presupposed civil liberties but it would not exist without political participation. Political refinements might secure the persons and their property without any regards to their political character, ‘the constitution indeed may be free’, but ‘its members may likewise become unworthy of the freedom they possess, and unfit to preserve it’.13 Consequently, ‘the character of man, their reason and the heart are best cultivated in the exercise of social duties, and in the conduct of public affairs’.14 Such institutions as personal freedom, secured property, ← 19 | 20 → and individual rights were insufficient when divorced from the civic concept of virtue and active citizenship. One of Ferguson’s main preoccupations was the political passivity of modern society.

In his Essay Ferguson expressed concern with the threats that a flourishing civilization had to face in modern times. Advanced societies can be characterized by a plurality of opinion and the range of knowledge that are encountered among different levels of society. But what was the real worth of civilization purchased through commerce and individuals’ pursuit of wealth as well as their preoccupation with their own interests? The refinements of the polished age were not free of danger. In his account of progress, Ferguson observed a ‘dialectic’ of virtue and corruption, of the rise and fall of nations. ‘The virtues of man have shown most during their struggles, not after the attainment of their ends. Those ends themselves, though attained by virtue, are frequently the causes of corruption and vice’.15 One of the main attributes of commercial society – the separation of professions – affected particularly those who should make up the political class. Commerce and the specialization brought about the whole progress of cultural, moral, and material civilization. But as long as individuals – morally and politically autonomous human beings move away from the characteristics of zōon politikon, corruption of republican virtues is inevitable. If citizens retain virtú itself understood as a moral virtue, and give up civic values that characterize the political virtue of citizens, they must regress towards the condition of tribesman.16 Ferguson’s account of progress in society demonstrated very clearly how virtue in its classical sense could be destroyed by the growth of society itself. Though he did not try to find a solution to all problems generated by a commercial society, he was aware of the tragic sense of contradiction built into the historical process. This preoccupation is well expressed in his analysis of the concept of civil society and the role of civic virtues in modern polity.

Ferguson renewed modern interest in the concept of civil society17 so powerfully adopted later by Hegel, but, unlike liberals, he did not place it outside ← 20 | 21 → political establishments; civil society as discussed in the Essay was understood as a polity itself or as a political community and it was conceived, above all, in civic and political terms, as a locus of the exercise of political virtue. In conducting the affairs of civil society mankind can pursue their best talents and find objects of their best affection.18 Civil society was thus formulated as a positive concept, as a moral category, a measure of social advancement. It was always there as a mode of human existence and social bonding.19 For both Smith and Ferguson civil society meant a realm of solidarity based on moral sentiments, natural propensity to active citizenship, and concern about public good. Hegel’s distinction between civil society and the state, the distinction between the private sphere of economy and public sphere of government was completely alien to the civic tradition advocated by Ferguson. Unlike his contemporaries, Voltaire and Hume, Ferguson believed that even highly developed societies were in danger of retreating into despotism and was not concerned with demonstrating that mankind moves along a precondition course towards a noble future.

The central argument of the Essay seems to be the thesis which calls attention to political responsibility and civic virtue of citizens, and also to the dangers of unrestrained trust in political institutions and laws. These of Ferguson’s preoccupations remained relevant. When separation of arts and privacy have replaced community and publicity, when social man replaced the public man, public life marked by corruption of manners and apathy could not hold despotism at bay. It was a new type of despotism, a danger to political and individual liberty as it was seen in the classical republican tradition. For Montesquieu laws supported the fabric of society and freedom of individuals while in Hume’s theory and also in his philosophical history, liberty was understood as law and order and the history of liberty was the history of progress of society. He knew that there was no true liberty without the rule of law which would guarantee personal freedom and ← 21 | 22 → security. In his essay ‘Of the Origin of Government’ Hume remarked that man was naturally inclined not only to form society but also naturally progresses to establish political community in order to administer justice. Government’s main purpose is distribution of justice and thus peace, safety and mutual intercourse in society. In Hume’s view public liberty is the guarantee of personal liberty and security of the individual.20 Moreover, all the arts and sciences arose among free nations such as ancient Greeks; the decline of liberty causes also the decline of letters and ‘spread of barbarism’.21 It is impossible for the arts and sciences to arise, among any people, unless they enjoy the blessing of a free government. Similarly, only under a free government can commerce flourish. Ferguson was a more cautious observer; although he acknowledged the beneficial influence of laws on the social stability and saw their creation as a demarcation of civil state, he emphasized that mere laws cannot preserve liberty. Rights of citizens and their obligations must be accompanied by ‘the vigour to maintain what is acknowledged as a right’.22 In fact, for Ferguson liberty was in great danger in the modern, commercial state, where government was preoccupied only with the security of person and property and citizens were preoccupied with the pursuit of their own interests. Liberty meant also a firm liberal spirit that could not be superseded by any political establishments which themselves were not sufficient as the means for the preservation of freedom.23

Arguably, it was Adam Smith who spoke, at least in some respects, the same language as Ferguson: in their vision there was no strict distinction between the public and the private, between the private interest and the public good. Hume’s philosophy and the subsequent theory of liberal individualism meant a departure from this tradition. This later tradition, as argued by Adam Seligman, meant decline of thinking about civil society based on the unity of reason and moral sentiments.24 As a moral theorist, Smith showed interest in the modern discussion on society along with Mandeville and Ferguson. In the Scottish tradition influenced by the Aristotelian and stoic philosophy, man is seen primarily as a citizen. Smith underlines this characteristic of man as zōon politikon: ‘It is thus the man, who can subsist only in society, was fitted by nature to that situation for ← 22 | 23 → which he was made […] Man, it has been said, has a natural love for society, and desires that the union of mankind should be preserved for its own sake’.25 The challenge set by Ferguson and Smith was to reflect the contradictions that arise in particular in commercial society associated with the industrial revolution. They searched for an adequate explanation for the complexity of the modern form of civil society with its extensive inequalities and individualization. Both Ferguson and Smith stressed that commercial society does not merely lead to the corruption of manners, of people’s moral sentiments, through the conflict of virtue with self-interest, but also to the increase of industry, fairness in exchange, employment of means of persuasion and mutual interest.26 In the Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith argued in favour of the public virtue of justice, which must be presupposed for just exchanges and the well-ordered society where commerce and private virtues flourish. In his view civil society in contrast to traditional forms of society is a ‘society of strangers’.

Political freedom and participation were labels of a good form of government and of a free state. In the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, especially in the theories of Smith, Hegel and Marx, civil society was seen primarily as a sphere of economic activity of individuals who pursue their needs through free exchange and economic cooperation, but in both John Stuart Mill’s and Alexis de Tocqueville’s accounts the idea of civil society became strongly linked with free and independent associations and a liberal constitutional order. It was again seen as a sphere of civic engagement and the Tocquevillian ‘art of association’ became one of the conditions of maintaining democratic political culture and free democratic institutions. It allowed finding political freedom in a new democratic order and preventing a new form of despotism. For Ferguson and Tocqueville alike the civic ideal and active citizenship were of key importance for their understanding of civil society since it was not just the formal status of a citizen, but above all a certain attitude that defined the desirable type of relationship between the individual and the state, especially in democracy. Today this type of relationship is often described in terms of the public space as the locus of active citizenship and the sphere of mediation between civil society and the state. Similarly, J.S. Mill treated civic participation as a school of democracy and public reason stressing that only in public life can a citizen learn that the interest of the whole, the public interest is his own interest. His position, however, is ← 23 | 24 → important also because of his strong individualism: ‘Mill departs from Aristotle, who thought that the content of the good life was to specified by reference to the nature that all men have in common, and maintains that, for each of us, the good life is that in which he fulfils the demands of nature that is distinctively his own’.27 But this individualism was supported by a strong sense of citizenship that we find in Mill’s Considerations on Representative Government where he sees a citizen as being

called upon […] to weigh interests not his own; to be guided, in case of conflicting claims, by another rule than his private partialities […] He is made to feel himself one of the public, and whatever is their interest to be his interest. Where this school of public spirit does not exist, scarcely any sense is entertained that private persons, in no eminent social situation, owe any duties to society except to obey the laws and submit to the government.28

Although the republican tradition placed the concerned with active and responsible citizenship at the centre of the political community, whereas the liberal tradition saw the foundations of a civil society in individual rights and freedoms protected by the state, but also from the state, the two traditions share an interest in the quality of a person expressed in terms of citizenship and civic duties. It is especially proved by the theories of Ferguson, Mill and Tocqueville. In republican theory, the quality of citizenship has moral and civic character at the same time. Integrity, contempt for corruption, responsibility in public life, civility, concern with the public interest are the main characteristics or perhaps the main virtues that a citizen should possess. From the liberal perspective, liberty and responsibility come together; even if what is at stake is liberty understood primarily in terms of individual rights and not civic duties; it is precisely this concern with public freedom and public interest that can best safeguard individual liberty.

A normative theory of civil society should draw from both traditions to provide a prescriptive account of a desirable social order that not only is a condition of a well-functioning democracy, but is valuable itself as the locus of civicness, freedom and self-realization of individuals. On this reading, social capital and trust, reciprocity, civility, social solidarity, cooperation and participation in decision-making processes are all both the norms and the benefits of a flourishing civil society. These norms are not meant to provide a solution to all conflicts and disagreements in society, but they definitely make it easier to resolve disputes ← 24 | 25 → and tensions of various kinds in a deliberative and peaceful manner. It is also important to note that a normative theory of civil society, as explained here, can only make sense if it is not separated from the conceptual history of civil society and secondly when the traditions this conceptual history refers to allow us to indicate some universal element that is still important today in a different social, historical and political context. Of course it is never easy or always convincing to try to work out a kind of metatheoretical status of the concept we are interested in. Yet, from the methodological point of view, only such an attempt allows to undertake an analysis that is not purely descriptive, but aims at providing a normative account.

The new normative theory of civil society that draws from both classical republican and liberal traditions can be supported by the current revival of republican ideals of politics. The republican vision of politics addresses the problem of freedom among human beings who are necessarily interdependent, and it proposes that both individual and political freedom may be realized through membership of a political community. What matters in a healthy republic is a set of political, social, and economic conditions that are necessary for civil and individual liberty to flourish. These conditions are not understood as purely formal or institutional, but as supported by a legal and civic culture of a society and the value of citizenship. The republican model has a normative character and is viewed as a desirable ideal rather than something that could easily be put into practice. But it is important to stress that contemporary inheritors of classical republicanism try to build on this tradition in order to provide a new normative and valuable perspective on contemporary politics. They hold the belief that normative ideas are of great importance in political life, although they are also aware of the practical limitations that republican political ideas have to face in today’s liberal-democratic societies.29 The link between classical, modern, and contemporary republicanism is not unproblematic. When we look at the problem of corruption – crucial for Ferguson’s account – we need to go back to the insight of classical republicans, especially Machiavelli who saw corruption as one of the primary political problems and understood the very term quite broadly. Corruption was either moral deterioration or decay, depravity, or the perversion of, say, an institution or custom from its sound condition, a deviation from the principle. This broad meaning ← 25 | 26 → also included corruption as a perversion of the integrity and fidelity of a person in his or her discharge of duty. If freedom is a social and not asocial condition30, every time vice and corruption prevail, ‘liberty cannot subsist; but if virtue has the advantage, arbitrary power cannot be established’.31 Since it endangers the pursuit of the common good in the republic, corruption undermines civic liberty and greatness and always means a loss of freedom and thus slavery.32 In this manner, contemporary advocates of republicanism try to reconnect freedom with the common good of citizenship understood in terms of public spiritedness, public duties, and as a mode of action, and not exclusively in terms of individual rights.33

The most vital and the most disturbing question for republican writers is still the same: ‘How can naturally self-interested citizens be persuaded to act virtuously, such that they can hope to maximize a freedom which, left to themselves, they will infallibly throw away?’34 A theory informed by the preoccupation that this question expresses is at odds with the prevailing liberal beliefs based on a strong conception of justice as fairness, with the dominance of concepts of self-interest and individual rights, and without clear reference to the importance of the public arena in securing those rights and liberties. It is also at odds with the Schumpeterian type of democratic theory according to which a liberal society does not demand much from its citizens. For republican writers there was no doubt that where there is corruption there will in the end be no rights at all. Accordingly, the republican ideal of politics makes stringent demands not only on those in power, but also on citizens; a healthy polity demands habits of civic virtue and public morality. As Quentin Skinner asserts, to be corrupt according to the republican insight, is to fail to understand ‘something which it is profoundly in our interest to remember: that if we wish to enjoy as much freedom as we can hope to attain within political society, there is a good reason for us to act in the first instance as virtuous citizens, placing the common good above the pursuit ← 26 | 27 → of any individual or factional ends’.35 This understanding of corruption will be applied to the analysis of democratization in chapter seven. It will become more evident, also in the discussion on the public sphere and participation presented in chapter six, that the republican vision brings to the debate on civil society and democracy an important insight that enriches our understanding of citizenship that is not just a formal status, but requires certain qualities, attitudes and norms, and that it can only be acquired with a certain type of education understood as learning rather than instruction. A similar line of argument can be found in Richard Dagger who even coined the term ‘republican liberalism’ to emphasize that there is no fundamental unbridgeable gap between the republican and liberal traditions, and who offers some kind of synthesis of the core assumptions of both traditions.36

Civil society, the state and democracy

One of the main aspects of modern and contemporary theories of civil society is its separation from the state, a vision of civil society as a sphere of a free social self-organization that is independent from the state and its apparatus, but needs their protection to function in an undisturbed and lawful way. This somewhat narrow understanding of the relationship between civil society and the state can be broadened by applying the concept of citizenship. Although the theory of citizenship is not a part of a theory of civil society they are often closely associated with each other, and in the classical republican tradition it is citizenship that plays the central role. The liberal tradition focuses on civil rights, neglecting the republican concern with civic duties and civic virtues. Civil society as a sphere between the individual and the state can, however, be seen as a space where civicness comes into being through education, discussion, associatiationalism and the practice of civic virtues. Citizenship rights to participate in political life (to choose and to be chosen) can be practiced at the state level, but there are many other lower levels where citizens’ participation can take place, including local government and local community and civil society associations. It is active engagement in the public life of a democratic state that makes democracy strong as argued by Benjamin Barber.37 ← 27 | 28 →

There is an inevitable conflict and tension between the republican and the liberal conceptions of citizenship since it is not easy to translate rights into duties or individual liberty into political liberty. But this conflict does not mean a contradiction. If civil society is limited to the liberal conception of citizenship we might find it difficult to engage in the theorizing of a civil society that goes beyond preoccupation with private interests and the exercise of individual rights and liberties, including freedom of speech and private property. But such a society can equally well be called a liberal society or a democratic society or just a free society. It seems to me that any meaningful conception of a civil society must also contain an element of the republican conception of citizenship. It is not enough to delineate a social sphere independent from the state to call it ‘civic’ for we would end up with a simple, negative idea of civil society. A positive notion needs some indication of what makes a society a ‘civil’ society, what is decisive for its civic character. At this point it seems necessary to apply a more robust conception of citizenship than the liberal conception.

It can also be argued that the older, republican understanding of citizenship is not fully anachronistic today. Contemporary democratic theory would suggest that a political community comprised of civil society and the state is free if it is governed in a democratic way, if its citizens are free and equal because they have an equal right to decide directly or indirectly – through their chosen representatives – about policies that concern the community. This status of a citizen requires not only rights, but also duties including responsibility for the well-being of the political community. The role of the state and its institutions cannot be purely negative (protective) either as it is responsible for creating opportunities for citizens’ participation and the responsible exercise of their rights, for people can only learn to act responsibly when they have a chance to practice responsibility.38 A Lockean civil society would be limited to the formal guarantee of individual rights and freedoms, but would certainly be insufficient for the Tocquevillian or Millian understanding of civil society’s role in democracy. Another supportive argument for this broader notion of citizenship can be found in Kant’s conception of autonomy of the individual, which is seen as the antithesis of heteronomy. Autonomy requires independence from the will of another person and subjection only to the law, including the moral law of reason and the laws of a polity whose sole authors are the citizens. This can only be achieved if citizens actively participate, directly or indirectly, in the legislative and other decision-making processes. ← 28 | 29 →

For Kant, the concept of civil society meant above all a legal community whose aim is protection of citizens, their negative liberty, and not the fulfilment of their needs or their happiness.39 This formal goal determines the character of the association that can be called the state or civil society and its form has a purely legal character derived from practical reason (universal law) that concerns the law as it should be. It is the law that provides conditions for the functioning of civil society and secures individual liberty and the source of rights.40 Civil society in this sense is a necessary condition for individual autonomy (positive liberty).

Citizenship and the rule of law are the key categories to understand the relationship between civil society and the state. On a normative reading of civil society this relationship should not be understood solely as an opposition that many of today’s theorists took for granted, but rather as interdependence. Citizens’ autonomy can only be protected if the state is limited and interferes solely in those areas where it is necessary to provide protection or assistance or simply to guarantee the rule of law. The public sphere and the rule of law are the two pillars that sustain a positive relationship between civil society and the state. Both are missing when state is too powerful for any independent civic sphere to exist as is the case in most authoritarian and in all totalitarian regimes. However, as numerous examples in history, especially recent history indicate, the state cannot survive long if it is wholly alienated from civil society and its all-powerful coercive machinery cannot become substitute for autonomous free social development that finds its best setting in civil society. This is especially true when we talk about a liberal democratic order.

The relationship between civil society and democracy becomes of crucial importance for reasons first explained by Tocqueville and Mill, and today by many theorists of democracy and democratization. Robert Putnam and his collaborators discerned that in Italy, northern civic regions, ‘characterized by a dense network of local associations, by active engagement in community affairs, by egalitarian patterns of politics, by trust and law-abidingness’41 were repositories of good democratic practices, strong institutions and economic growth.42 Flourishing civil society not only can make democracy work, but it can also be seen as ← 29 | 30 → the locus of a strong, participatory democracy that will be discussed in chapter three. A purely formal understanding of democracy can be limited to representative institutions, regular elections and the democratic rules of the game. The relationship between civil society and liberal democracy requires further discussion which will be presented in chapter three. Here I would like to add that individual rights and freedoms protected by a constitutional democratic order do not need to be at odds with such republican categories as civic duties, public virtues and the common good. As proponents of a republican liberalism suggest, individualism and negative liberty can be combined with civic ideals that we find in the republican tradition.43 A purely formal model of democracy is an abstraction deprived of its social and civic dimensions, and although it might be useful as an analytical category it nevertheless does not help understand any process of democratization. It is the substantive aspect of liberal democracy that becomes central when democratic values and not just democratic procedures are at stake. Democratic politics is shaped in the public sphere of the polity and requires not only the ability and willingness of the state to communicate with society, but also the civic skills of citizens who can participate in decisions that concern their common future and well-being.


Civil society is not a wholly autonomous category for it pertains to other categories such as citizenship, community and democracy. In recent years, however, it became a new analytical key to various disputes in political theory,44 a new cause célèbre and a highly disputed concept at the same time.45 As the old hegemonic paradigms disintegrated, there is need for a new one of different nature, and much more promising from the point of view of modern societies: ‘In order to discover, after the demise of Marxism, if not a common normative project between the “transitions” and radical social initiatives under established liberal democracies, then at least the conditions of possibility of fruitful dialogue between them, we must inquire in the meaning and possible shapes of the concept of civil society’.46 These attempts follow to a large extent the lesson that Alexis de Tocqueville learnt ← 30 | 31 → in America that without citizens’ active participation in voluntary associations and egalitarian institutions democratization will always be limited and spheres of influence constrained while democratic power and democratic control will tend to expand.

Krishan Kumar argued that different concepts of civil society cannot be abstracted from particular social philosophies; aside from them they are obsolete.47 Similarly, Adam Seligman concluded that since the social and philosophical conditions have changed drastically, the classical formulations of the idea of civil society based on the assumed synthesis of public and private concerns cannot suffice and solve contradictions of modern democratic societies.48 Is in that case – we could ask – studying political ideas fruitless, for they do not tell us anything about our own condition? Are we to study them only as historical phenomena which nowadays are only a part of the tradition of political thinking? Certainly this approach has its advantages but at the same time we cannot forget that the way we interpret historical ideas is influenced by our own situation and our own social and political circumstances that shape modes of our thinking. What we can do while dealing with classical ideas is not only to describe them as products of their epoch, but, first and foremost, to make the past present searching for the lessons we can learn from the history of political thought. What I wish to argue is not that all ideas have relevance for contemporary discussion but only that at least some of them can be still useful while theorising about problems that we face today.

Although it can be seen purely in terms of associationalism and as a descriptive category of autonomous social self-organization comprised of voluntary associations, movements and civic activities of various types, including protest, civil society today also means a desirable type of society, it is widely linked with such norms as trust and social capital, solidarity, concern with public interest, as well as civic freedom and autonomy that sustain a well-functioning, free democratic political order. On this reading, civil society becomes a community of communities, the locus of norms of civility and cooperation even if it might not be immune to conflicts, and clash of interests. Following Ferguson it can be said that civil society is the preferred setting for the good life for the reason that its existence is sociability itself, and the mode of its functioning is association and communication. We cannot aspire to live in self-governing republics, but if we concentrate purely on the free-market as consumers and producers we quickly ← 31 | 32 → deprive ourselves of social solidarity. It is the associational life of civil society that is ‘the actual ground where all versions of the good are worked out and tested… and proven to be partial, incomplete, ultimately unsatisfying’.49 As Michael Walzer argues, it is the only setting, or perhaps even a ‘setting of settings’,50 the only place to live. And it is the vitality and strength of associations, networks and norms of civility that is decisive for the quality of political institutions and economic activity as well as political and national culture.

As a normative concept civil society has great explanatory potential; many of our current questions about the state, liberal democracy, citizenship or the free-market economy can be addressed better if they are seen in the context of civil society. There is an interesting knock-on effect. On the one hand both the state, liberal democracy and the free market can be seen as institutional instruments that support civil society understood as a sphere of freedom, both individual and political. On the other hand liberal democracy and the free market as well as civic spirit can only develop and function well when civil society is strong and dynamic. This reciprocity makes civil society a social ideal whose revival only proves its attractiveness. It is the normative potential of the concept, its ‘prescriptive’ rather than purely ‘descriptive’ character that made it so popular in social theory and social practice. The contemporary revival of the concept poses the old questions anew. Many thinkers today view the idea of civil society as a normative, ideal model for social life and a new or rather a renewed paradigm of political science. I argue that the revived concept of civil society has a great explanatory potential for both the theory of democratization in Central and Eastern Europe and the theory of the political. A close examination of the conceptual history of the idea of civil society provides a philosophical perspective and categories, which are indispensable for the examination of the contemporary theories of civil society and participatory democracy.

The next chapter will focus on the very revival of the idea of civil society among opposition intellectuals in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, who not only brought the concept back to life, but used it in a way that proved problematic, although it had a highly mobilizing potential and depicted social unity of a special kind.

1 Aristotle, Politics, trans. E. Barker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), passim.

2 Ibid., III.1, p. 85.

3 Marcus Tulius Cicero, On the Commonwealth, in M.T. Cicero, On the Commonwealth and on the Laws, ed. J. E. G. Zetzel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), I.39, p. 18.

4 Jean Bodin, Six Books on the Commonwealth, abridged and trans. M. J. Tooley, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1955), book I.

5 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. by Richard Tuck (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), chap. 14.

6 John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (New York: Mentor, 1965), § 93.

7 Ibid., § 89.

8 This context was lost in the subsequent theory of civil society, but, arguably, can still be attractive today, see e.g. Ernest Gellner, Conditions of Liberty. Civil Society and its Rivals(London 1994: Allen Lane/Penguin), pp. 61–80.

9 Adam Ferguson, Principles of Moral and Political Science (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1978), vol. II, p. 9.

10 Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1966), p. 57.

11 Ferguson, Principles, vol. I, p. 252.

12 Ferguson, An Essay, p. 56.

13 Ibid., pp. 21–2.

14 Ferguson, Institutes of Moral Philosophy(New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1978), p. 291.

15 Ferguson, An Essay, p. 206.

16 See John G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and Atlantic Republican Tradition(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 501.

17 Primarily, the concept of civil society was understood as a political community (union) of free citizens in a city-state or a modern state. The crucial characteristic of this classical concept was a lack of distinction between the state and society. In the eighteenth century, when political economy redefined civil society as a sphere of free, self-interested individuals, civil society was grasped as distinct from the state, and, especially in German philosophy of the nineteenth century, as contrasted with it. In Ferguson’s theory, civil society is understood first and foremost as the locus of material civilization and social and intellectual progress. He contrasted ‘civil’ not with ‘natural’ but with ‘rude’. Civil society developed as a result of a slow process of refinement and improvement of arts, trade, and military culture. Rude nations were shaped into civil society through ‘the policy of government of their country; their education, knowledge, and habits’ and these factors had ‘great influence in forming their characters’. Ferguson, Institutes, p. 170. Cf. M. Riedel, ‘Gesellschaft Bürgerliche’, in O. Bruner, W. Conze, and R. Koselleck, eds., Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe vol. II (Klett-Cotta Verlag: Stuttgart, 1975).

18 Ferguson, Essay, p. 155.

19 Fania Oz-Salzeberger, ‘Introduction’, in A. Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1995), p. xviii.

20 Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000), part III.

21 Hume, ‘Of Civil Liberty’, in D. Hume, Essays Moral, Political and Literary (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1985), p. 53.

22 Ferguson, An Essay, p. 166.

23 Ibid., p. 266.

24 Adam Seligman, The Idea of Civil Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), pp. 30–2.

25 Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 85, 88.

26 Ferguson, An Essay, p. 134.

27 John Gray, ‘Introduction’, in John Stuart Mill, On Liberty and Other Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. xiv.

28 J.S. Mill, Considerations on Representative Government, in Ibid., p. 255.

29 See e.g. Philip Pettit, Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997); P. Pettit, ‘The Freedom of the City: A Republican Ideal’, in Alan Hamlin and Philip Pettit, eds., The Good Polity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989); Norberto Bobbio and Maurizio Viroli, The Ideal of the Republic, trans. A. Cameron (Cambridge: Polity, 2003).

30 Pettit, ‘The Freedom of the City’, pp. 154–55.

31 Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002), p. 245.

32 Ibid., p. 184; Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses, in N. Machiavelli, The Chief Works and Others, trans. A. Gilbert (Durham N.C.: Duke University Press, 1965), vol. I, pp. 197, 241–42.

33 Pocock, ‘Virtues, Rights and Manners: A Model for Historians of Political Thought’, Political Theory 9/3 (1981), p. 358.

34 Quentin Skinner, ‘The Republican Ideal of Political Liberty’, in G. Bock, Q. Skinner and M. Viroli, eds., Machiavelli and Republicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 305.

35 Ibid., p. 304.

36 Richard Dagger, Civic Virtues: Rights, Citizenship, and Republican Liberalism (Oxford University Press: Oxford 1997), p. 12.

37 Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). Cf. Christopher Berry, The Idea of a Democratic Community (New York: St Martin Press, 1989), p. 14.

38 Derek Heater, Citizenship: the Civic Ideal in World History, Politics and Education (London: Longman, 1990), p. 217.

39 Immanuel Kant, On the Common Saying: ‘This May be True in Theory, But it Does Not Apply in Practice’, in I. Kant, Political Writings, trans. H. B. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 83–84.

40 Immanuel Kant, Metaphysische Anfangsründe der Rechtslehre. Metaphysik der Sitten, (Hamburg: Verlag Felix Meiner, 1986), p. 46.

41 Robert Putnam, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 182.

42 Ibid., chap. 6.

43 Dagger, Civic Virtues, Rights, Citizenship, chap. 1.

44 Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory (Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, 1992).

45 Salvador Giner, ‘Civil Society and Its Future’, in John A. Hall, ed., Civil Society: Theory, History, Comparison (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), p. 301.

46 Cohen and Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory, p. 271.

47 Kumar, ‘Civil Society: An Inquiry into the Usefulness of an Historical Term’, p. 390.

48 Seligman, The Idea of Civil Society, p. 206.

49 Michael Walzer, ‘Civil Society Argument’, in G. Shafir, ed., The Citizenship Debates: a Reader (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), p. 299.

50 Ibid.

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Chapter 2
Anti-communist Opposition and Civil Society

The idea of civil society, which has become a major concept for the analysis of post-communist transformation and democratization worldwide, was revived by the democratic opposition intellectuals and independent movements in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The meaning of the concept of ‘civil society’ they applied, however, was somewhat different from what was meant by civil society in Western Europe and in later post-communist liberal democracies. Civil society is usually understood as a public space outside the state and the economy where citizens organize themselves and pursue their shared goals, and exercise their civil rights (freedom of association, free speech etc.). It is the sphere where free people communicate and interact on the basis of their interests, views, needs, goals, and where they express their opinions and create various social networks. Its primary feature is independence from the government – as a free and independent social space between the state and private citizens it calls for openness and plurality. The civil society that developed under communism involved social unity against the state, whereas civil society in a liberal democracy lacks this kind of unity and has a positive relation to the state. Its primary feature is independence from the government. Being a free and independent social space amid the state and private citizens, it calls for openness and plurality. Democratic opposition movements in Eastern and Central Europe did not aspire to overthrow the communist state, but they did seek a free and independent social space where individuals could freely associate with others and express their opinions. This very aspiration, however, could not have been fulfilled ‘in opposition’, without a radical shift from communism. Active members of the opposition movements were aware of that fact. In this context one can understand why they tended to claim that they were not interested in politics, but only in social or workers’ matters.

The framework of civil society built in Poland by the ‘Solidarity’ movement in 1980s proved short-lasting not only because of lack of real civil freedom including economic freedom as well as the absence of a positive relationship between civil society and the state, but also because it was not and unavoidably could not be accompanied with the practice of civicness. The liberal and democratic institutions that were introduced after February 1989 in the political and economic spheres failed to be sufficient grounds for the development of authentic civil society. Paradoxically, it should be civil society, its norms and networks that provide a natural environment for democratic institutions to grow. In Poland ← 33 | 34 → and elsewhere in post-communist Europe the situation was reversed making the whole transformation from serfdom to freedom much more difficult than expected. Real social and mental change could not begin in a non-free regime; it was still to come and proceeded at a slow pace from disillusionment to partial acceptance of the new reality, of living in freedom. Furthermore, ‘civil society itself, as Tocqueville was the first to realize, is an important terrain of democratization, of democratic institution building’.1

The question that concerns us here is whether the opposition discourse of civil society and the aspiration to retrieve autonomous social sphere can be said to have provided a background, understood in terms of values and attitudes, that was supportive to active civic engagement after the collapse of communism. The most advanced discourse of civil society and the most advanced development of an independent social sphere in communist Europe took place in Poland in the late 1970s and 1980s, and therefore the examination that follows will focus primarily on the Polish case.

Jacques Rupnik described the situation in Poland after 1976 when the Committee of Defence of Workers KSS-KOR was created as ‘the end of revisionism and the birth of civil society’.2 It was the beginning not only of a ‘self-limiting civil society’, but also of the debate on a somewhat forgotten category of a civil society that was going to engage social and political scientists, philosophers and practitioners both in Europe and elsewhere. According to Rupnik, the democratic opposition in Poland in late 1970s was more than just revisionism; it was a new strategy aiming at the erosion of the communist order. This ‘new evolutionism’, as Adam Michnik would call it,3 opted for founding different types of associations and publishing enterprises that would exist in parallel to the institutions fully controlled by the communist party, and would be able to put some pressure upon them which gradually could lead to the modification and evolution of the system towards real social autonomy. The role of democratic opposition was to be a catalyst of societal self-organization taking the form of autonomous nonviolent associations of critically minded citizens. It was, as noted by Zbigniew ← 34 | 35 → Pelczynski, a sort of utopia which already in 1981 had to face brutal reality.4 The attempt to rebuild civil society within a strong party-state became a goal of the Polish opposition in the 1980s, and its greatest success was ‘Solidarity’ – the independent trade union and a social movement which at one point could claim around a million of supporters. Michnik asserted that this very event, the first independent trade union in the Communist bloc, meant the rebirth of civil society in Poland. The events of 1980–1981 were now interpreted with a category that was deeply rooted in the tradition of political philosophy.

Two discourses

It is crucial to distinguish two different discourses of civil society in Eastern and Central Europe, especially in Poland. The first discourse, which began in the late 1970s, revived or reinvented the very term ‘civil society’, but it did not reinvent democratic, commercial civil society. The second discourse, which began after 1989, adopted the concept of civil society as a necessary condition for a well-functioning democracy. Its main argument was the thesis that without the development of a robust civil society, democratic consolidation in post-communist countries would not be complete. Paradoxically, there is no straightforward link between the two discourses as will be explained later.

In the discourse of ‘oppositional’ civil society that started in the late 1970s, the concept of civil society had a strategic meaning and described a self-organizing society against the state, a ‘parallel polis’ whose movements and activities were independent from state control. Such a society was not ‘civil’ in the sense of citizenship and civic rights that everybody can equally exercise, but it was a civil society in terms of people’s (not citizens) self-organization. Its raison d’être was protest and opposition to the communist state. The strategic meaning of civil society used in that discourse lost its significance along with the turn towards democratization and liberalization when the door to a democratic civil society of citizens and not members of the opposition was wide open.5 Those who actively participated in ← 35 | 36 → both the discourse and the activities of the ‘parallel’ civil society could not have predicted that the development of a ‘real’, western-type civil society would be a different and a much more difficult process. The notion that during the 1980s in Poland ‘civil society was born’ had great moral value, but was only partially true.

Such initiatives as discussion clubs, independent publications, political forums, independent social organizations, diverse newspapers, numerous ad hoc organizations usually belong to a democratic public sphere. For the anti-communist opposition in Poland these forms of independent activity were not aiming to influence power structures, but they were ends in themselves. The Polish ‘Solidarity’ movement was trying to develop and follow the so called ‘third road’ – between the state and the economy – as many social movements at the time tried to do. ‘Solidarity’, as it were, was not prepared to confront the state. As a social movement it was aiming at the democratization of society hoping that it was achievable within or rather outside the party-state. Polish opposition leaders, such as Jacek Kuroń recognized as early as the 1970s that the potential for mass opposition activity should be oriented towards society rather than the state.6 As the state and thus proper political activity was separated from citizens and was closed to their influence, their desire to engage in some kind of public activity could only have been fulfilled in the social sphere, outside the state. Consequently, for Kuroń democratization became a goal that could be realized within society as opposed to the state. The ‘Solidarity’ movement was aiming at that direction; its goal was to create special bonds between people and to organize society in a different way. The key to this new organization was a set of fundamental values such as independence, social solidarity, human dignity, freedom of association. Communal ideology prevailed over liberal individualism. The movement was a self-governing society guided by a common goal and shared values and hence it had a strong moral force. ‘Solidarity’ was an attempt to revitalize civil society based on a specific ethos and not on social diversity. It was founded on four constitutive values: truth, respect for human dignity, freedom and patriotism. It called for moral refinement. The self-organizing society that developed along with ‘Solidarity’ seemed to be one large family.7 ← 36 | 37 →

The most problematic aspect of the pre-1989 discourse of civil society is its antipolitics; the belief that society can freely organize itself outside the political sphere. On the one hand, politics is possible only with freedom, and the communist system was definitely unfree, but on the other hand, to put it even more strongly in line with Hannah Arendt, freedom is possible only with politics, and a public sphere entails full civic freedom. Civil society was depoliticized in ECE before 19898 and to some extent it remains so. Antipolitics was a reaction to excessive politics, the overabundance of politics everywhere, for everything in communism was political including private matters and technical questions.9 In George Konrád’s remarkable words, the aim of opposition was destatitzation: ‘We ought to free our simple everyday affairs from considerations of politics. I ask that the state do what it’s supposed to do and do it well. But it should not do things that are society’s business, not the state’s. So I would describe the democratic opposition as not a political but an antipolitical opposition since its essential activity is to work for destatification’.10 Because of its anti-political strategy, a kind of political vacuum was created which ‘Solidarity’ was not prepared to fill. Consequently, the gap between the formal system of the state and the emerging civil society increased.

Václav Havel characterized independent social life as achieved by opposition movements in the following way: ‘It includes everything from self education and thinking about the world, through free creative activity and its communication to others, to the most varied free, civic attitudes, including instances of independent social self-organization. In short, it is an area in which living within the truth becomes articulate and materializes in a visible way’.11 On this interpretation social life is independent from a delegitimized state and situated in opposition to the state. For Havel, such initiatives as KOR or Charter 77 had a negative character and were not politics in the proper sense of the word. Anti-politics had primarily a moral character:

serving truth consistently, purposefully, and articulately, and organizing this service. This is only natural, after all: if living within the truth is an elementary starting point for every attempt made by people to oppose the alienating pressure of the system, if it is the only meaningful basis of any independent act of political import, and if, ultimately, it is also the most intrinsic existential source of the ‘dissident’ attitude, then it is difficult to ← 37 | 38 → imagine that even manifest ‘dissent’ could have any other basis than the service of truth, the truthful life, and the attempt to make room for the genuine aims of life.12

This seemed to be the only available option.

The revival of independent opinion and public discussion (even if on a limited scale) as well as the crystallization of values and viewpoints that clashed with the existing political reality gave rise to a debate on civil society, in the Tocquevillian sense, which was based on independent social self-organization. It was not, however, a complete picture of the Tocquevillian civil society for it lacked what the French thinker used to call a political society, an intermediate sphere between civil society and the state that engages citizens’ participation in public affairs through political parties, regular and free parliamentary elections, self-government and independent press. In practice the total absence of these institutions and the omnipresence of the state apparatus in the social and economic spheres meant that the rebirth of civil society the opposition stood for could only be achieved against the state, as an alternative to the official politics self-organizing society. In that respect the Soviet system resembled a Hegelian relationship between civil society and the state for it treated the state as a higher normative unity.13 But it was a degenerated Hegelian project; for Hegel the state was a unity that had an ethical foundation (and not a party-state system), which did not require the total eradication of civil society and all individual goals. And although some western civil societies developed in opposition to despotism or absolutism as a bottom-up initiative of freely associating citizens, what was significant in this process was a transformation of political institutions that created the conditions for an independent public space. The state played an important role in this process. This was not the case in Communist Europe.

At the same time the rebirth of the concept of civil society for practical purposes was situated in Gramsci’s philosophical perspective since it was used to describe a strategy of intellectual and social initiatives which aimed to shape an independent social and cultural space cut out from the all-embracing matrix of a party-state. On this reading, civil society belonged to the sphere of hegemony and consent created by dominant social groups and was opposed to the state and its domination. Gramsci’s conception was interesting for dissidents in East-Central Europe for they too were engaged in a strategy of organising a functioning ← 38 | 39 → opposition movement within a strong state.14 This strategy, which was similar to Gramsci’s vision, also prescribed a special role for intellectuals and their legitimizing function.15 Achieving hegemony, however, required direct political action and the dissolution of the state, and this strategy turned out to be futile as soon as it became evident that the communist state was to undergo a radical transformation in the late 1980s.

As in the past, when civil society was juxtaposed with despotism, it was now juxtaposed with totalitarianism,16 understood as the nonexistence of civil society or as its antithesis. The return to the model of totalitarianism first used by Hannah Arendt, Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzeziński at the end of 1950s and abandoned later on by sovietologists, became characteristic for the discourse of dissidents in the communist world itself. It reflected their growing alienation and marginalization from the structures of Communist power and scepticism that the system could be transformed from within. The paradigm of totalitarianism now played a mobilizing role,17 and islands of civil society opened the way to an alternative public space. A significant role in this process was played by the Catholic Church, especially in Poland and Slovakia, and it was the church that provided the ‘sphere of freedom’, gaining an important moral and political role. Cooperating with the opposition the Church contributed to a further erosion of the state monopoly and strengthened the strategy of a ‘minimal civil society’ of a moral and protective character. Such a limited civil society could only exist as long as it was an alternative to a totalitarian state.18

A close conceptual analysis of the concept of civil society as it developed within the liberal tradition and the way it marked the rise of modernity would indicate ← 39 | 40 → that the notion that ‘Solidarity’ was an emergent civil society19 is mistaken. It was an unprecedented development in terms of social self-organization, the biggest independent social movement to emerge in the communist bloc, but its relatively monolithic structure and the lack of an open public space where this self-organized society could express its opinion and will, in addition to the obvious lack of organizational plurality, indicate that some of the fundamental features of a civil society were missing.20 This unique development, however, played an important role in the whole region, and brought the very concept of civil society back to life. Although civil society under communism was highly depoliticized, it had a political role, for it became a symbol of social unity against oppression and the infringement of basic rights such as freedom of association and freedom of speech. The ‘parallel polis’ or ‘civil society against the state’21 had a great deal of political potential when it came to undermining the official state ideology which no longer fulfilled its function. It can also be argued that the ‘Solidarity’ movement did contribute to bringing communism in Europe to an end; it also, however, strengthened the myth of civil society. Aleksander Smolar explained this particular role in the following way:

The educational and standard-setting role that the opposition played during the 1970s and 1980s was key: it popularized civic attitudes and the ideal of a rule of law, and undermined the legitimacy of the existing order. The emerging islands of civil society contributed to the elaboration and articulation of alternative collective identities and values in several countries of Central and Eastern Europe. With the crumbling of the state’s monopoly over news, public discourse, and the formulation of visions for the future, dissidents were able to make major contributions to the opening of an authentic public sphere.22 ← 40 | 41 →

It is debatable whether the concept of civil society can be used to describe developments in Poland in the 1980s. It definitely was not a civil society in the modern sense of either Ferguson or J. S. Mill or Hegel who included both the independent economic sphere and free civic and political participation. The two were not available in Poland at the time and the only sphere that was accessible was the social sphere within which ‘Solidarity’ could function. Consequently, the idea of civil society acquired a very specific meaning as a sphere differentiated from the state and civil society, but also from the economic society and concentrated on social self-organization that was to protect citizens from the Communist state. It was a strategy of ‘a civil society against the state’.23 This approach was additionally strengthened with the notion of ‘anti-politics,’24 which was understood as civic activity that pertained to practical morality and avoiding engagement in official politics based on power and manipulation. It lacked any political vision and required an opposition between the social and the political. This understanding of the relationship between civil society and the state had a strong strategic character but was inconsistent normatively and highly problematic.25 It needs to be noted, however, that anti-politics did not result from any doctrinal considerations of the opposition but only from the lack of any real opportunities for self-organization and participation in the public space controlled by the Communist state. Yet, arguably, it was ‘weak politics’, as there was a lack of public discussion on strictly political matters26 to which anti-politics contributed. Later on this phenomenon had a significant impact on the shape of politics in the independent civil societies of former communist states after the collapse of the old system, and perhaps also on the very character of their civil societies.27 The conception of an apolitical civil society situated beyond political sphere is problematic not only from a practical, but also from a theoretical point of view. In modern liberal political theory civil society was not envisaged as existing against the state as if in a political vacuum for it would deprive citizens’ activity of its civic character making it purely private or at best group activity. On this reading politics was reserved to official politicians and would cease to be seen as a meaningful sphere ← 41 | 42 → that engages citizens concerned with the public good which is emphasized by the republican tradition.28

The striving for civil society in East-Central Europe was at the same time an attempt to revive reflection on individual autonomy and individualism confronted with collectivism which dominated social life for many years. It was also aimed at rebuilding the sense of solidarity and social bond. As Vladimir Tismaneanu optimistically stressed, ‘as the rapid changes in Poland and Hungary indicate, the reconstruction of the civil society is not the ultimate goal of the new movements. It is a premise of the full-fledged de-totalitarianization and the restoration of a constitutional state based on pluralism and universal observance of laws’.29 This process begun in 1989 and only then, after the collapse of the communist system the positive relationship between civil society and the non-communist state could be established. It proved that civil society was not able to survive in opposition to the state and economy for it was never a real civil society. As Krishan Kumar observed,

Solidarity sought to unite all the forces of civil society in a single all-encompassing movement that would offer itself as a sort of counterpower to the party-state. But it had little idea how it would relate to the state nor, in the (unlikely) event that it supplanted it, what sort of sate it could itself constitute. […] Solidarity lacked, in other words, an account of its ultimate political role.30

Perhaps a self-organizing civil society constituted without independent professional political parties and autonomous political structures was a ‘fantasy from the very beginning,’31 but this fantasy had huge moral and antitotalitarian potential,32 and with favourable conditions proved successful. It was an illusion, however, that the civil society created against the state was a strong structure that ← 42 | 43 → would provide a basis for a democratic order after the collapse of the authoritarian regime in Poland and other post-communist countries. Paradoxically, the parallel polis ceased to exist along with democratic changes that started in 1989. It turned out that civil society as understood in modern liberal tradition presented in chapter one was just starting to develop as it could not be created from above in a way that was similar to liberal and democratic institutions. It became evident that civil society develops slowly spreading its values and norms among people and their practices and that it is the process which in the West preceded the establishment of democratic institutions. In post-communist Europe it had to be reversed and followed a different logic.33

The post-1989 discourse on civil society in Central Europe did not provide a clear answer to the question of what kind of civil society should be supported: liberal, individualistic and market oriented, or communitarian, based on the values of citizenship and political involvement.34 Nor did it focus on articulating what the essence of a civil society is and what kind of society has the potential to become a civil society. However, civil society did become one of the main concepts which sociologists and researchers applied in their analysis of the democratic transformation in the region. What has been peculiar in the Polish context is the fact that ‘the fervent quest for the symptoms of the existence of a civil society is followed more often than not by the diagnosis of its too slow development. One can even say that reproaching the Polish society for its insufficiently civic character is a favourite, not to say fundamental occupation of both our political and intellectual elite’.35 In the post-communist context, civil society terminology was often used much more by governments than societies. Civil society became a myth of real, consolidated, accountable democracy. This myth tends to emphasize the danger that in a democracy a weak and publicly non-engaged civil society marked by the passivity of the masses may lead to a distortion of democratic mechanisms and institutions, the rise of oligarchy and political corruption, as well as a permanent lack of accountability.

There are at least three theoretical models of civil society that can be discussed here, but it is unclear which of them is best applied in the post-communist context. From the liberal perspective, civil society is seen as an autonomous sphere, independent from the state, where associational life can flourish, and where individuals can freely pursue their chosen ends in co-operation with others, including the ← 43 | 44 → market. A communitarian view would stress the values of solidarity, community ties, responsibility for fellow community members and self-organization for which the state should create a space and a sphere of influence.36 The republican model stresses the value of active and responsible citizenship, viewed not only in terms of rights, but also in terms of duties towards fellow-citizens and political community.37 I think that as a normative concept, civil society combines elements of all three models, none of which are by any means mutually exclusive. Civil society, when conceptualized in this way, becomes an ideal type, a category that is difficult to apply in comparative cross-country research for it includes too many variables. The post-1989 debates never fully addressed these questions; it was simply assumed that civil society is desirable, but not that it necessarily is out there.

Once communism collapsed, the set of shared ‘Solidarity’ values lost its attractiveness and power to unite. Solidarity’s ethos seemed inappropriate, impractical, overly idealistic and counter-productive in the new post-communist reality. Economic, political and social transformation was to lead to different sets of values, principles, and ways of thinking. After 1989 the discourse of civil society did not bring a clear answer to the question of what kind of civil society should be built – liberal, individualistic and market oriented, or communitarian, based on the values of citizenship, and politically involved. The tension between the two models of civil society can be well illustrated by a 1994 debate between Vaclav Klaus and Vaclav Havel. Klaus advocated individualism and citizenship, which he understood in terms of individual rights; in contrast Havel defended a concept of citizenship that requires a collective conscience – a commitment to the larger society and its wellbeing. Klaus was happy with citizens whose main sphere of activity is the free market and he perceived individual interests as the best guide to citizenship. For Havel the intermediate sphere of civic and political associations was a necessary condition for the efficacy of citizenship and for bringing public interests into politics.38 The question then remained: what is desirable: a participatory democratic culture or a self-organizing individualistic society outside the state? ← 44 | 45 →

It is tempting to conclude that an authentic civil society can fully develop only in a liberal democracy which widely benefits from its existence and as a result flourishes. Civil society and the state must become ‘the condition for each other’s democratic development.’39 Parliamentary democracy was a far-reaching goal of those who first applied the term civil society to the democratic opposition initiatives in East-Central Europe in the 1970s and 1980s. Paradoxically, with the establishment of democracy and the free market economy in former communist societies, the debate on civil society was postponed or ceased to be important.40 Shortly after the collapse of Communism it seems that the prevailing ideal of autonomous social self-organization would be ‘the more civil society and less state the better for a democratic order’.41 Procedural democracy, as will be explained in the chapters that follow, can perfectly coexist with citizens’ apathy and passivity, but ‘true’ democracy can only develop through institutions of civil society.42 The experience of post-communist societies shows that purely institutional mechanisms are insufficient to strengthen civil society; it requires also a common political culture and the virtue of civility fundamental for public discourse and public consent on norms that govern social and political reality. Anti-communist civil society, especially in the form of the Polish ‘Solidarity’ movement paved the way for the 1989 revolutions in Central Europe followed by the process of democratization. It was widely assumed among political scientists and sociologists that once liberal democracy was introduced, civil society would automatically follow its institutionalization.43 This proved to be unrealistic and one of the main purposes of this book is to show why this was the case.

The processes which led to 1989 transformation begun in 1980 with the emergence of ‘Solidarity’ movement and rapid mass mobilization that threatened the entire political system and was suppressed in December 1981 with the imposition of martial law and delegalization of Solidarity. The legacy of the movement shaped Polish politics of late 1980s and 1990s. But its promise of a wide civic involvement was never put again on the political agenda after 1989. The institutional, elite-centred and structural approaches to democratic transformation in the whole post-communist region which dominated in the literature somehow ← 45 | 46 → focused on a one-dimensional aspect of the processes overlooking the drawbacks of such analysis. Democratization is a highly contingent and complex process that takes place in several spheres at the same time including the political sphere, administration, the economy and civil society. In all theses spheres it could have been noticed that a complex change of the entire political, economic and social system can be supported or distorted by social and cultural factors. Opposition civil society in Poland perhaps paved the way for a smooth transformation from the oppressive communist system to liberal democracy, but it somehow failed as a legacy that would provide fruitful ground for wide civic and political participation in the new post-communist reality. The analysis presented in this book addresses this problem from several different theoretical perspectives often supported by available results of empirical research.

1 Cohen and Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory, p. 283.

2 Jacques Rupnik, ‘Dissent in Poland, 1968–78: the End of Revisionism and the Rebirth of Civil Society in Poland’, in Rudolf Töekes, ed., Opposition in Eastern Europe (London: Macmillan, 1979), p. 361.

3 Adam Michnik, ‘Nowy ewolucjonizm’, in A. Michnik, Szanse polskiej demokracji. Artykuły i eseje (London: Aneks, 1984), pp. 85–87.

4 Zbigniew A. Pelczynski, ‘Solidarity and the ‘Rebirth of Civil Society in Poland 1976–81’, in John Keane, ed., Civil Society and the State: New European Perspectives, (London: Verso, 1988), p. 363.

5 See for example Andrew Arato, ‘Civil Society against the state: Poland 1980–81’, Telos 13/47 (1981), pp. 23–47; Andrew Arato, ‘Empire versus Civil Society: Poland 1981–82’, Telos 14/50 (1982), pp. 19–48; Adam Michnik, ‘Rethinking Civil Society: The Ideas of 1989’, Public Lecture 10 (London: LSE, The Centre of Global Governance, 1999); Adam Michnik, Szanse polskiej demokracji; Philip Spencer, Civil Society, Politics, and the Revolutions of 1989–91 (Surrey: Kingston University, 1995); Zbigniew Rau, ed., The Reemergence of Civil Society in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991).

6 Jacek Kuron, ‘Polityczna pozycja w Polsce’, Kultura 11 (1974), pp. 3–21.

7 Jan Kulas, ed., Sierpień 80. Co zostało z tamtych dni? (Gdańsk: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Gdanskiego, 1996), p. 47; Michael D. Kennedy, Professionals, Power and Solidarity in Poland: A Critical Sociology of Soviet-type Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), chap. 3.

8 See especially George Konrád, Antipolitics: An Essay (London: Quartet, 1984); Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless: Citizens against the State in Central-Eastern Europe (London: Hutchinson, 1985).

9 Konrád, Antipolitics, pp. 229–230.

10 Ibid., p. 229.

11 Havel, ‘The Power of the Powerless’, p. 65.

12 Ibid., p. 67.

13 Zbigniew Rau, The Reemergence of Civil Society, p. 9.

14 See Robert F. Miller, ed., The Developments of Civil Society in Communist Systems (North Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1992), pp. 5–6.

15 Antonio Gramsci, Modern Prince and Other Writings (New York: International Publishers, 1957).

16 See Rupnik, ‘Totatlitarianism Revisited’, in Keane, ed. Civil Society and the State.

17 Aleksander Smolar, ‘Civil Society After Communism: From Opposition to Atomization’. Journal of Democracy 7/1 (1996); Achim Siegel, ed., The Totalitarian Paradigm after the End of Communism: Towards a Theoretical Reassessment(Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1998); Gideon Baker, ‘The Changing Idea of civil society: Models from the Polish democratic opposition’, Journal of Political Ideologies 3/2 (1998), pp. 125–145.

18 Daniela Angi, ‘Three instances of Church and anti-communist opposition: Hungary, Poland and Romania’, Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologie 10/28 (2011), pp. 21–64; Detlef Pollack, Jan Wielgohs, eds., Dissent and Opposition in Communist Eastern Europe: Origins of Civil Society and Democratic Transition (Burlington: Ashgate, 2004), chap. 1, 11.

19 Cf. Grzegorz Bakuniak, Krzysztof Nowak, ‘The Creation of a Collective Identity in a Social Movement: the Case of ‘Solidarity’ in Poland’, Theory and Society 16/3 (1987), pp. 401–429.

20 Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves, Idea społeczeństwa obywatelskiego. Współczesna debata i jej źródła (Wroclaw: Wroclaw University Press, 2004), p. 185; Michael Carpenter, ‘Civil Society or Nation? Reevaluating Solidarity Ten Years After the Revolution’, Polish Sociological Review 127 (1999). A good definition of civil society, which is in accordance with the liberal tradition of civil society can be found in John Gray, Post-Liberalism: Studies in Political Thought (London: Routledge, 1993): a civil society is ‘that sphere of autonomous institutions, protected by a rule of law, within which individuals and communities possessing divergent values and beliefs may coexist in peace’ (p. 57). The Solidarity movement did not fulfill these conditions or even aspire to fulfill them.

21 Andrew Arato, ‘Civil Society Against the State: Poland 1980–1981’, Telos 14/47 (1982), pp. 23–47.

22 Smolar, ‘Civil Society After Communism’, p. 28.

23 Arato, ‘Civil Society against the State’, p. 24.

24 Konrád, Antipolitics: an Essay; Vaclav Havel, ‘Politics and Consciousness’, trans. E. Kohák and R. Scruton, Salisbury Review 2 (January 1985).

25 Spencer, Civil Society, Politics, p. 9.

26 Ibid., p. 51.

27 Cf. Rupnik, ‘Totalitarianism Revisited’, pp. 285–286.

28 See Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 22–73.

29 Vladimir Tismaneanu, ‘Unofficial Peace Activism in the Soviet Union and East-Central Europe’, in V. Tismaneanu, ed., In Search of Civil Society. Independent Peace Movements in the Soviet Block (New York and London: Routledge, 1990), p. 5.

30 Krishan Kumar, ‘Civil Society: An Inquiry into the Usefulness of an Historical Term’, p. 387.

31 John Ehrenberg, Civil Society: The Critical History of an Idea (New York: New York University Press, 1999), pp. 197–198.

32 See. Zbigniew Rau, ‘Some Thoughts on Civil Society in Eastern Europe and the Lockean Contractarian Approach, Political Studies 25/4 (1997), pp. 573–591; Bronislaw Geremek, ‘Społeczeństwo obywatelskie i współczesność’, in Krzysztof Michalski, ed., Europa i społeczeństwo obywatelskie. Rozmowy w Castel Gandolfo (Kraków: Znak, 1994), p. 239.

33 Richard Rose and Doh Chull Shin, ‘Democratization Backwards: The Problem of Third-Wave Democracies’, British Journal of Political Science 31/3 (2001), pp. 331–354.

34 Daniel N. Nelson, ‘Civil Society Endangered’, Social Research 63/2, (1996), pp. 345–368.

35 Mira Marody, ‘Post-Civil Society?’ Polish Sociological Review 148 (2004), p. 403.

36 Daria Łucka, ‘Communitarian Concept of Civil Society: Between Liberalism and…?,’ in Dariusz Gawin, Piotr Gliński, ed., Civil Society in the Making (Warsaw: IFiS Publishers, 2006), p. 51.

37 Pietrzyk-Reeves, Idea społeczenstwa obywatelskiego, pp. 51–55.

38 See Martin Myant, ‘Klaus, Havel and the Debate over Civil Society in the Czech Republic’, The Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 21/2 (2005), pp. 248–267; Jri Pehe, ‘Civil Society at Issue in the. Czech Republic’, Politics 3/32 (1994), pp. 8–13.

39 David Held, Models of Democracy, second ed. (Oxford: Polity Press, 2000), p. 322.

40 Andrew Arato, ‘Revolution, Civil Society and Democracy’, ‘Praxis International’ 10/1–2 (1990), p. 25.

41 Geremek, Spoleczenstwo obywatelskie, p. 249.

42 Spencer, Civil Society, Politics, pp. 7–8.

43 Stephen White, Graeme Gil and, Darrell Slider, The Politics of Transition: Shaping a Post-Soviet Future (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), chap. 12.

| 47 →

Chapter 3
Democracy, Democratization and the Importance of Civil Society

This and several other chapters examine the challenges and obstacles that arise for a more participatory model of democracy and democratic citizenship which has been advocated by normative democratic theory of recent years and all those who are concerned with the conditions of civil society in democracy. On a more empirical level, a lesson is drawn from the processes of democratization in post-communist countries, including Ukraine most recently, which indicates that citizens often play a pivotal role in bringing democracy in, but after the establishment of democratic structures their role is somehow marginalized. At the same time both policy-makers and political scientists put a great deal of emphasis on the importance of the development and flourishing of civil societies for successful democratic performance. I argue that what looks like one of the biggest paradoxes of democracy is one of the major problems of today’s representative government. If citizens want to do something for democracy they need to regain their influence over the public sphere. This poses again the question of the nature and scope of such influence.

In what follows I shall argue that the development of civil society and the democratization of the social and political spheres should be seen as a mutual process leading to political and economic stability. The actual experience of post-communist societies in East-Central Europe that are attempting liberalization and democratization shows that this mutual process needs a more comprehensive understanding and theoretical explanation.

The revived concept of civil society has a great explanatory potential for the theory of the political as well as for the theory of transition in post-communist countries. On the one hand, it refers to an attempt to theorize about a specific historical experience, the tradition of a core of political and economic institutions.1 On the other hand, it refers to a new experience of societies in Eastern and Central Europe, where, after its absence, civil society has been placed as one of the main issues for public attention, and as a goal of the democratic transformation. What makes civil society ‘civil’ is the fact that it is a sphere within which ← 47 | 48 → citizens may freely organize themselves into groups and associations at various levels in order to make the formal bodies of state authorities adopt policies consonant with their perceived interests. Adopting the model of civil society can be said entirely to support the maintenance both of a strong constitutional-democratic system and a more humane and equitable version of the market economy.2 The attempt to reconstruct the discourse of the politics of civil society becomes important for both post-communist countries and stable Western democracies, though the debate about the role of civil society seems to be different in each political context.


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2016 (February)
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 208 pp.

Biographical notes

Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves (Author)

Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves is Associate Professor of political philosophy at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. She held numerous research and visiting positions including Nuffield College, Oxford and the Central European University. Her research interests include democratic theory and democratization, classical republican tradition, and political education.


Title: Civil Society, Democracy and Democratization