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 for the following questions: Why has the discussion about the ‘civil society’ been so much popular nowadays? What is the purpose for all the struggles for propagating the ‘civil society’?

Discussion of the civil society has a longstanding history in the West. The civil society has been discussed in the works of philosophers like Locke, De Tocqueville, Hegel, Marx, and Gramsci. However, being a political theory, the subject ‘civil society’ was not much focussed on by the scientific circles, the media, and political parties in Europe and the US till the end of 1980s. Till two decades ago, the number of books and articles written about the ‘civil society’ were 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 “modern society”, “developed society, “industrial, democratic society”, “social, democratic society”, and “society and the government of prosperity” were emphasized in the 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 the civil society? What are the ideas of Western thinkers on this issue? And, what are the indicators and institutes of the civil society? How has the notion of “civil society” been mingled with the projects and policies of democracy? Is the 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 1950s to today, I have witnessed and followed the convoy of the civil society in the West, in Europe and in the 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 critic and analysis of the civil society in the West by considering its theoretical and practical aspects throughout the history including its institutional dimensions and non-congruent structural trajectories in the 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.