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Kaviraj and Khilnani: Civil society

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Kaviraj and Khilnani. 2001. Civil society: History and possibilities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

CHAPTER 1: Introduction by Kaviraj

Civil society is a term with historic roots that is often invoked today (in three main ways) without full attention to its origins or implications.

  • Intellectual history: the idea can be traced back to Aristotle, but John Locke was one of the first to really articulate it. For him, a "civilized society" was not independent of the state. It was a society in which people could freely live a Christian life. A civilized society was "simply an aggregation of civilized human beings" (19). The second shift in the idea was made by Scottish theorists of commercial society (like Adam Smith), who argued that social morality was the unintended (but good) outcome of many individual interactions with others. Social interaction creates morality, or a civilized society. Hegel marked a third major shift in thinking when he separated the concept of civil society from the state. Hegel was trying to combine ideas of individual freedom with ideas about morality, and decided that civil society occupied the space between the family and the state.

As we think about developing civil society, we should consider four possible ideas for inquiry. First, civil society is not distinct from the state, so we do not need to always view social groups as opposed to the state. Second, no particular regime type [read: liberal democracy] is necessary. Third, civil soceity is a set of human [moral and political] capacities, thus it is never a stable end condition. Fourth, if the Scottish theorists were right that civil society can be an unintentional product of action, then intentional attempts to bring it about may not work.

There are a few [possible] preconditions for development of civil society. First, there must be some "conception of politics": people must agree what they are arguing about and how the argument is to proceed. (26) Second, a particular type of person must be assumed: one that can choose, thinks, and can be persuaded [not necessarily a homo economicus, though]. In other words, interest politics, not identity politics. Third, there must be a state capable of dispersing social power.

Parties occupy a unique position between civil society and the state--"they represent each to the other" (31). [yet if civil society and the state are not separate institutions, as he argues earlier, then why is this necessary?]


Chatterjee perceives four separate concepts: the state, civil society, political society, and the population.

He uses the term "civil society" in the sense the Hegel and Marx did: "bourgeois society. Colonialism encouraged the adoption of "civil society" after the western model: democratic organizations which people could freely join, yadda yadda yadda. But post-colonialism leaves much of the population moving in a different direction: movements and mass pressure. Often, this "political society" takes this form: (1) a chunk of the population is breaking some law (squatting, or stealing utilities, or whatever). (2) At the same time, it demands social welfare rights (as a right). (3) This is demanded as a collective (not individual) right. (4) The state treats the group not as a "civil society" interest organization, but as a group of people seeking some benefit.

I still don't see why parsing "civil society" in this way is necessary. The author says that political society is needed to bridge the divide between civil society and the state--yet the intro chapter by Kaviraj suggested that it is not necessary to separate civil society from the state.