The Civil Society

Professor Hamid Mowlana

Discussion about the civil society

Before making an attempt to define the term “civil society” and presenting its true face, we must provide appropriate answers to the following questions: Why has the discussion about the ‘civil society’ been so much popular nowadays? What is the purpose of all the struggles for propagating the ‘civil society’?

Discussion of civil society has a longstanding history in the West. Civil society has been discussed in the works of philosophers like LockeDe TocquevilleHegelMarx, and Gramsci. However, being a political theory, the subject of “civil society” was not much focused on by the scientific circles, the media, and political parties in Europe and the US till the end of the 1980s. Till two decades ago, the number of books and articles written about the “civil society” was very few, and there were no credit courses called “civil society” in the schools and universities of the West. Nonetheless, in conferences and courses on government, democracy, and development one can see some discussions on the term civil society. The notions of “modern society”, “developed society, “industrial, democratic society”, “social, democratic society”, and “society and the government of prosperity” were emphasized in Western Europe while in the US notions like “democracy”, “free world”, “open society”, “political development”, and “modern society” were more publicized.

Today, we confront a multitude of questions: What are the original political, social, and historical bases of civil society? What are the ideas of Western thinkers on this issue? And, what are the indicators and institutes of civil society? How has the notion of “civil society” been mingled with the projects and policies of democracy? Is civil society possible at an international level? Is the desired civil society the same as the ideal society of human beings?

For more than 4 decades, from the end of the 1950s to today, I have witnessed and followed the convoy of the civil society in the West, Europe, and North America; from the times when the notion was obscure and unknown to the recent modern times, first as a student, and thereafter as a professor, and for a while as the president of the society and academy of one of the programs in social sciences. What is being presented to readers in this book is a critique and analysis of the civil society in the West by considering its theoretical and practical aspects throughout history including its institutional dimensions and non-congruent structural trajectories in modern times.

Apart from small references which have been made to them here and there, the subject “civil society” in the Islamic countries and the comparative survey of the civil society with the Islamic society require separate studies and do not fall within the scope of the present book.


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