The concept of "civil society" plays a prominent role in articulating alternative modes of social organisation to that of the state-society relationship of the Keynesian welfare state.
But there are limits the usefulness of "civil society" to ground social criticism and articulate alternative visions.
"Civil society" does not capture the complexities of state-subject relations. It is based on a juridical account of power inadequate to the task of analysing modern strategies of goverment.
"Civil society" is tied, in the work of Habermas and others, to an understanding of criticism which contains rather than resolves the antinomies signified by the term "civil society." While basing criticism on "civil society" may have freedom-enhancing effects in certain contexts, it may also be a term which constrains our critical capacities by tying us to what we already are.
Genealogy of the concept
Civil society originally equated with political society.
Civil society "emancipated" from politics with the breakdown of feudalism. I.e. civil society was originally the product of the early modern European separation of state and society.
Eighteenth-century debates concerned the relationship between civic virtue and civil vitue in the context of newly emerging forms of private and commercial life. For writers of the Scottish Enlightenment (Hutcheson, Ferguson, Hume and Smith), "civil society" was a solution to the problem of resolving the tension between the one and the many, unity and diversity, of producing a vision of a unified social order and simultaneously recognising the autonomy of legal, moral and economic spheres.
They turned to the ideas of natural sympathy and moral affections to underpin accounts of a social order based on innate mutuality. This became the basis of the idea of civil society as a spontaneous order, a space of ethical interactions, not simply of market exchange.
[But also cf. Smith's invisible hand, & De Mandeville's "private vices, public virtues"].
Scottish Enlightenment thought: from Montesquieu, they took a modern notion of political freedom in terms of economic progress, social refinement and a balanced constitution. But various degrees of trust in the capacity of modern commercial society to deliver social progress: Adam Smith had considerable faith in it. Ferguson sought to revive the classical meaning of the civic and to balance modern political economy with republican elements.
Eighteenth century German reception of Scottish Enlightenment: civil society tended to remain within the jurisprudential tradition alien to Ferguson and was understood to mean "all political ties which form any kind of goverment." Ferguson's Essay on the History of Civil Society (1768) tended lose its civic activist implications. [Eh?]
With Hegel, "civil society" became a private sphere of trade and social interaction counterpoised to the public realm of law and goverment, the state.
Hegel's account of civil society as comprising the system of needs, the administration of justice and police [?] was a realm of conflict between particular interests in sharp opposition to the state; Hegel's philosophy resolved the tension between the individual and the community throught the subsumption of particular interests beneath the unfolding of the universal, and civil society lost its autonomy.
When Marx took the term civil society from Hegel he focused on civil scoiety as the system of needs, that is, on economic relations. This turned the traditional meaning on its head [?], locating civil society as the realm of individual egoism and self-interest, as "bourgeois society" and as something to be overcome. The Scottish Enlightenment meannig of "commerce" as social intercourse and communication as well as economic transaction as thus lost in Marx's focus on productive relations.
The question of the relation b/w state & society has been elaborated sociologically by Arendt, Bobbio, Habermas & others through a focus on citizenship and the welfare state. These accounts stress how during the 19th and 20th centuries, the bourgeois emancipation of society has been replaced by a reappropriation of society by the state in the shift from a constitutional to a social state.
[The post-war welfare state compromise is part of that reappropriation. Also cf. Adorno & Horkheimer on the dialectic of enlightenment. Cf. also Habermas's distinction b/w liberal capitalism and advanced capitalism].
These accounts suggest that a conflict exists between the protected and the participating citizen. How are we to understand the dynamic established by this conflict?
Two main approaches:
(1) Civil society sometimes refers to the realm of individualism which developed with the Enlightenment and the economic relations of capitalism (see MacIntyre, 1994), associated with the rule of law and markets. The coherence of civil society rests not on common language, conventions or territory, but on market exchange, the rule of law, impersonal means of communication and sometimes even coercive authority. Civil society is the closest of all human groupings to having no substantive purpose [cf. Weber, instrumental vs. value rationality, etc.]. These things are left to individuals and associations, the role of which is therefore enhanced.
(2) More commonly, civil society refers to the non-market, non-state sphere of "social life." Also separate from family. Civil society is the locus for the potential development of critical public spheres capable of generating resistance to forms of unaccountable expert authority and administrative power. Habemas: "the institutional core of 'civil society' is constituted by voluntary unions outside the realm of the state and the economy and ranging from churches, cultural associations, and academies to independent media, sport and leisure clubs, debating societies, groups of concerned citizens, and grassroots petitioning drives all the way to occupational associations, political parties, labour unions and 'alternative institutions.'" It sounds shit.
Habermas: Modern Social Relations, Juridification and the Dilemmas of the Welfare State
The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1989) plots the emergence of a "bourgeois public sphere" in eighteenth-century European society as a result of the rise of the modern state and the development of capitalist economic activity. On Habermas' account, the separation of state and civil society which developed with the growth of commerical life facilitated the emergence of a modern public sphere. Zines & Costa.
18th century civil society was the genuine domain of private autonomy that stood opposed to the state. Private people came together as a public. They engaged the public authorities in a debate over the general rules governing relations in the basically privatised but publicly relevant sphere of commodity exchange and social labour. The medium of this confrontation was without historical precedent: it was people's public use of their reason.
But there has been a progressive "refeudalisation" of the public sphere as a result of the emergence of commercial mass media and the welfare state. The former replaced critical public opinion formation with manipulation, the latter development transformed the form of the state from a constitutional to a social state and re-fused relations between state and society.
The functioning of the public sphere has shifted from that of rational debate to the negotiation of interests. [Cf. Schmitter on corporatism].
The welfare state has produced forms of clientelism and a bureaucratisation of everyday life, through which citizens become subjects whose consciousness is characterised by "generalised particularism."
In TCA, using the systems/lifeworld distinction, Habermas nevertheless identifies civil society as a privileged site for the redemption of modernity.
Purposive-rational action distinguished from communicative action. Former oriented to success, latter to understanding. Each form of action has its own separate process of rationalisation.
The modern lifeorld is a reservoir of "taken-for-granteds," replenished through communicative action. The lifeworld is defined as the private nuclear family and the public political sphere.
The concept of "system" refers to mechanisms of modern society that are uncoupled from the communicative context of the lifeworld and are coordinated through functional interconnections via the steering media of money and power. The system is defined as the modern economy and state administration.
Rationalisation of systems is as an increase in their bureaucratic complexity and steering capacity.
We can conceive of society as a system that has to fulfil conditions for the maintenance of sociocultural lifeworlds [?].
The lifeworld becomes mediatised to the extent that de-linguistified media of system integration are used to relate the system and lifeworld. This process occurs through the social roles of employee, consumer, citizen and client which crystallise around these exchange relations. [Cf. Bauman, ambivalence].
This mediatisation takes on the form of an internal colonisation when the delinguistified media of the system take over the essential symbolic reproduction functions of the lifeworld itself, thereby objectifying or reifying social relationships.
He elaborates this thesis in a more empirical mode as the "juridification of communicatively structured areas of action." Juridification refers to an increase in the preponderance of positive law. A web of client relations is spread over the private spheres of life. For example, legal intervention into social life through welfare policies.
The welfare state compromise is not about increasing the density of an already existing network of formal regulations, but rather legally supplanting a communicative context of action through the superimposition of legal norms.
A shift from the class-based explanation of Legitimation Crisis: major channels of conflict in modern capitalist societies arise from the selfdestructive consequences of system growth.
There has been a "selective" or one-sided rationalisation, so that the success-orientation of economic and administrative systems have come to domnate many aspects of the modern lifeworld.
There is a need to retrieve the potiential for rationality of pracitical and communicative activity. Therefore the possibility of an undistorted intersubjectivity "must today be wrung from the professional, specialised, self-sufficient culture of experts and from the system imperatives of the state and economy which destructively invade the ecological basis of life and the communicative structure of our lifeworld.
Guys, we need to erect a democratic dam against the monestarisation and bureaucratisation of life.
Habermas's recent work is an attempt to reconcile and move beyond the limits of liberalism and republicanism through a procedural account of law and democracy which combines liberal constitutionalism with associations in civil society forming "strong" and "weak" publics respectively.
Foucault: Governmentality and the Aporia of Modern Political Rationalities
In Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality Foucault develops the theme of biopolitics as an expression describing the general rationality of modern power. Biopower is used to designate what brought life and is mechanisms into the realm of explicit calculations and made knowledge-power an agent of transformation of human life.
The beginning of this period of the exercise of power over life is dated from the mid-seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth century, the period of the formation of the modern prison and concern over, and new knowledges of, population.
[Raison d'etat, priority of population over territory, Hobbes].
Two aspects: body as a machine to be made useful through discipline; supervision and regulation of the species body. A power whose highest function was "perhaps no longer to kill, but to invest life through and through."
Idea of the individual case history and the discipline of statistics emerge coevally.
These individualising and totalising forms of knowledge are made possible and linked by the development of the human sciences and by panoptic and confessional technologies as institutional sites for the emergence of the concern of the "sciences of man."
These forms of knowledge and power link the welfare of individuals with the nation state and forms of political rule in new ways.
In his work on governmentality (1979), Foucault links his general concern with biopolitics as a modern form of power over life to the question of political rationality, of "rationalities of rule" as specific forms of the conduct of conduct. Foucault defines government in a general way as "the conduct of conduct."
Governmentalisation --> techniques of rule emerging in the 16th century, developing as practices of government from 18th century. Shift from raison d'etat [state acts on population, there isn't civil society as such] to modern mechanisms of government, arguing that a new art of government is formed around the problem of population.
Within the recognition of population as an issue and the possibility of its management we see the emergence of a domain of the social and the development of a range of new techniques of government centred on regulating and surveying this domain. Central to this is "the welfare state problem"; the "trick adjustment between political power wielded over legal subjects and pastoral power wielded over live individuals." Juridical or "sovereign" forms of power (power as right, law, repression) distinguished from disciplinary or "normalising" forms of power (power as the capacity to organise, sustain and enhance life). The two are linked: the modern individual is simultaneously a citizen with rights, part of a juridical polity, and a subject of normalisation, part of welfare society. Indeed, the emergence of this nexus of govermental relations is accompanied historically by the development of modern notions of citizenship. In this way practices concerning the management of populations are linked with discourses of sovereignty which remain as their justification. The modern epoch is thus characterised by thtis heterogeneity between a public right of sovereignty and a polymorphous disciplinary mechanism. This analysis opens a space in which to consider liberalism as a mode of government and to explore the ways in which the welfare state and civil society are conjoined in modern society.
Liberalism, as a critique of state reason, involves a political and an epistemological revolution. With its emergence we see first, the idea of economy and society having natural laws, thus the liberal problem of the appropriate boundary between state action and inaction, where, secondly, this boundary is organised through the elaboration of methods of government by which liberty and security are linked, the rule of law and the idea of a realm protected against the state relying upon an ordering and management of social existence. Within liberalis, appropriate roles for the state are defined by reference to an already existing autonomous economy and society, the state's role being to secure the self-reproducing existence of these processes, enforcing "natural" processes with mechanisms of security through "social government."
From his specification of the relation of sovereignty, discipline and government Foucault concludes that we must see things not in terms of the substitution for a society of sovereignty of a disciplinary society and the subsequent replacement of a disciplinary society by a governmental one; in reality we have a triangle: sovereignty-discipline-government, which has as its primary target the populaion and as its essential mehanism apparatuses of security.
Modern liberal political rationalities combine the "city-citizen game" and the "shepherd-flock" game. That is, we are simultaneously citizens with rights produced through law, and subjects of discipline and normalisation produced through partnership and positive knowledge. The "welfare state problem" is that of reconciling "law" with "order", producing "the social" as a governed domain. This process involves a continual negotiation of the public and the private, achieved through the deployment of forms of normalising knowledge and expertise.
It is the tactics of government which make possible the continual definition and redefinition of what is within the competence of the state and what is not, the public versus the private, and so on; thus the state can only be understood in its survival and its limits on the basis of the general tactics of governmentality.
In this way of conceptualising relaionships, "civil society" is neither an ideological construct nor an "aboriginal reality", a natural given repelling government or opposing the state. Rather civil society is a "transcendental reality" at the interface of political power and the government of populations.
Civil society is a ground for a problematisation and for the development o a set of innovative techniques of government; it is both an object and an end of government. As a concept it collectively organises social experience and is a site of governmental organisation concerning the conduct of "autonomous" individuals.
As such, the term "civil society" encompasses the tensions between the natural and the managed within liberalism: it is not the point of their resolution. Thus, Foucault: "I haven't spoken about civil society. And on purpose, because I hold that the theoretical opposition between the state and civil society which traditional political theory belabors is not very fruitful" (Foucault, 1991).
[The "naturalness" of man is civil society.]
Specifying the Welfare State Problem
Habermas and Foucault raise similar concerns relating to the development of technical complexes of knowledge in the name of enlightenment and the accompanying scientisation of politics. Both focus on the implications of contemporary statesociety relations in the context of the development of modern welfare states. However, they frame these concerns in very different ways. Habermas analyses the welfare state in terms of state and society meshing through processes of juridification and colonisation; Foucault discusses the welfare state in terms of the aporia of law and order which this set of relations exhibits.
According to Habermas, the welfare state repoliticises the market and produces forms of clientalism. The welfare state is a central aspect of the monetarisation and bureaucratisation of the lifeworld. Welfare states were designed to produce and maintain social integration but have significantly failed in this task as their juridical-administrative form produces pathological effects by reducing or usurping communicative relations, replacing them with money and power.
In the face of this, Habermas suggests reaffirming the importance of procedures underpinning the constitutional state, coupled with a reinvigoration of the civil associations of the public sphere. This is given sustained attention in BFN. Habermas builds on his earlier analysis of the distinction between the system and the lifeworld to develop a propositional theory of la and democracy which he argues is capable of regrounding the legitimacy of the elfare state by forging closer links between the public spheres of civil society and the state. By briefly examining some features of this later argument, we can see how Habermas recognises but then overlooks important aspects of the welfare state highlighted by Foucault: its normalising character.
Habermas: the dilemma of the welfare state comprises a dialectic of empowerment and tutelage. Built into the very status of citizenship in welfare state democracies is the tension between a formal extension of private and civic autonomy, on the one hand, and a "normalisation" in Foucault's sense that fosters the passive enjoyment of paternalistically dispensed rights on the other.
However, the normalising dimension of welfare states slips from Habermas's account as he focuses on this process as one of juridification. For example, he suggests that we can divide the freedomenhancing from the tutelary aspects of the welfare state. "For the criteria by which one can identify the point where empowerment is converted into supervision are, even if context-dependent and contested, not arbitrary."
That is, Habermas suggests that we can separate legitimate from illegitimate law by examining its sources in relations to processes of democratic will formation.
Habermas suggests that the peculiarly ambivalent effects of the welfare state occur because of the inadequate insititutionalisation of the democratic genesis of law. Law, separated from its sources of validity in autonomous public spheres and the formal institutions of democratic legitimation, is "instrumentalised" and "deprived of its internal structure." The solution to the dilemmas of thewelfare state thus consists in further democratisation: "With the growth and qualitative transformation of governmental tasks, the need for legitimation changes; the more the law is enlisted as a means of political steering and social planning, the greater is the burden of legitimation that must be borne by the democratic genesis of law." In this way the undesirable effects of welfare-state provisions can be countered by a politics of qualifications for citizenship.
This formulation eclipses the tensions between juridification and normalisation such that legitimate law is theorised as banishing power. The constitutional state must evenly distribute political power but also strip such power of its violent substance by rationalising it.
This in turn rests upon the presupposition of a lifeworld that remains substantially free from power.
For Foucault, the welfare is an expression of the combination of citizenship with subjecthood, legal ith normalising power, hich organised on the plane of the social through the 19th and 20th centuries, and which involves legal determinations of right as well as the development of a range of positive knowledges of the social domain.
Difficulty w/i Western political reason: how to reconcile law with order without subordinating law to order. [Cf. Schmitt, decisionism, the exception.] Scepticism about invoking a politics of resistance founded on the notion of civil society as independent of and opposed to the state. From this point of view, Habermas's critical theory is inadequate to the task of resistance to the increased codification and surveillance of life as this theoretical framework precludes the analysis of the problem of power at the level of government.
Lifeworld is positioned as an arena of potential autonomy and communicative rationality which persists despite the colonising tendencies of the system. Exhibited clearly in Habermas's formula for the solution of legitimation problems in the constitutional states of advanced capitalist societies. He grounds the legitimacy of lawmaking in the idea of spontaneous inputs from a lifeworld whose core private domains are intact. Legitimate law reproduces itself only in the forms of a constitutionally regulated circulation of power, which should be nourished by the communications of an unsubverted public sphere rooted in the core private spheres of an undisturbed lifeworld via the networks of civil society.