Civil Society and Good Governance

Essay by khanki2008College, UndergraduateA, January 2010

download word file, 13 pages 0.0

Introduction:In what ways does civil society contribute to good governance? The question has resonance in the United States, since we associate civil society with voluntary self-government, and with the civility that accompanies voluntary relations. When we move beyond evocative abstractions, however, we find the question difficult to specify. The reasons are not hard to see: the three of elements are moving targets. First, what it means for governance to be "good" is, of course, contestable-and the normative expectations leveled at civil society are many, varied, and laden with incompatible ideological agendas. Second, the concept of civil society refers to varied and multifaceted associational structures that have quite distinct effects on governance, some desirable and some not. As it stands, most concepts of civil society provide little guidance for sorting associational types and identifying their effects on governance. And finally, current conceptions of civil society have been revived by democracy movements Latin America and Eastern Europe from the shadows of early modern liberal political thought.

In these contexts the concept has been used in ways that are reminiscent of liberal struggles against authoritarian states in the early modern period (Cohen and Arato 1992; Keane 1988; Preuss 1995). The United States, however, is a consolidated, post-industrial liberal-democracy, and presents different challenges: those of enhancing good government and deepening democracy within the context of a large-scale, pluralistic, and complex society.

Nonetheless, the question is robust precisely because of its rich history and deep normative evocations. My aim in this chapter is to suggest a conceptual strategy for transforming the abstract hope that civil society might contribute to good governance into a set of discrete propositions about how the associational structures of civil society relate to good governance. I proceed as follows. In the first section, I provide a brief history of...