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Karp, David R.
William M. Sullivan

Smith Richardson Foundation
Westport, CT

PART ONE: The Idea of Civil Society

Civil society is both a way of describing aspects of modern society and an aspiration, an ideal of what a good society should be like. Civil society is actually an old term, first introduced in the 17th and 18th centuries. It has recently been revived by a variety of thinkers to emphasize the capacity of societies to organize themselves through the active cooperation of their members. The notion of civil society is contrasted with rival theories which see social order either as the necessary outcome of economic and technological forces or as an imposition from an outside agency such as the state. At the same time, the idea of civil society also represents one version of the democratic ideal: the aspiration toward a form of social life in which individuals, by acting together, would set the patterns of social life on the basis of reasoned discussion and responsible choice.

The dissidents against Communist regimes in Eastern Europe revived the term civil society in their struggles to free their lives from control by a despotic state. The were rediscovering an idea which, under other names such as "mediating structures" or "intermediate institutions" has long had special importance in American society. It was in the United States that Alexis de Tocqueville saw the positive potential of free association of individuals in organizations between the family and the formal government, such as clubs, charities, educational and cultural organizations, for transforming self-seeking individuals into public-spirited citizens. Civil society refers to such "intermediate institutions," though there is no unanimity among those who use the term as to exactly which institutions are included. For example, some advocates of civil society include the family as a crucial social institution, a usage which finds much resonance with the more popular discussions of civil society. Among some scholars, however, the family is seen as part of the private realm and its relevance to the collective good is disregarded. Some scholars follow the East Europeans in distinguishing civil society from the state but not the market, while others emphasize the ways in which the logic of the market conflicts with goals of civil society.

The core of the concept of civil society is the recognition that human societies are grounded in and held together by shared norms and moral understandings. To weaken or break the bonds of trust and reciprocity among individuals and groups puts the freedom and security of everyone at serious risk. For theorists of civil society, this is the lesson of totalitarian movements which establish themselves by pulverizing social bonds. It is also, for some civil society thinkers, the danger inherent in what they perceive as our contemporary excessive reliance upon the market: the threat of turning large areas of even private life into relations of competitive exchange.

The idea of civil society, then, represents a shift in perspective on the problems of contemporary democratic life. It calls attention to the fact that effective self-governance, as well as the maintenance of individual rights and civility, depends upon social conditions which nurture active and responsible social membership. In this way the perspective of civil society does not so much resolve old questions as provide new insight into enduring but pressing perplexities.

Civil society highlights the complex and important value tensions which sustain modern freedoms, tensions which must be consciously attended to. For example, the pursuit of individual autonomy, a value at the core of the civil society tradition, often fits uneasily with the demands of social order. This fundamental tension between freedom and order gives rise to other questions, such as which institutions can best preserve the openness of freedom without threatening the necessary security of individuals and communities. Should markets bear most of this burden, or should government be used, or both, and in what mix or forms? What other institutions and patterns of social action might be necessary? How is civil society to ensure that its members develop the skills and character necessary to grasp these complex tensions and work to strike the best balances? Through what institutional means can these objectives best be pursued?

In what follows we will try to illustrate the value and importance of the civil society perspective for addressing many of the most difficult problems facing contemporary American life. In Part Two we survey the principal exponents of the idea of civil society, both individuals and organizations. From this survey we will go on in Part Three to outline the primary debates to which the civil society perspective has given rise, arguing for the value and importance of what we will term the Communitarian position. We will attempt to concretize these often somewhat abstruse debates by illustrating some of their implications for important policy issues.

PART THREE: The Civil Society Debate

The perspective of civil society stands in sharp contrast to other schools of thought which have long dominated American debates about social policy. Civil society is the new voice in the American discussion, despite its long history as a concept. In public discussion, and even among experts, it is still struggling to make its distinctive language heard. The significance of the civil society perspective is still being worked out. Of necessity in such a still-incomplete development, the development of policy is closely tied to theoretical arguments.

By contrast, the more established theoretical approaches can, by dint of their familiarity, proceed to policy design with far less discussion of their theoretical assumptions. However, the advocates of the civil society perspective would interject, the range of problems having to do with the apparent breakdown of civil order and relationships are not being addressed well by these more familiar approaches. Theories of civil society are often formulated on the basis of comparison and critique.
Many policy recommendations of the recent past, from Three Strikes And You’re Out to school vouchers to retirement savings incentives plans, are formulated on the basis of assumptions rejected by civil society theorists. In social science these assumptions underlie rival approaches often termed either Realist or Rationalist. At their core, both the Realist and the Rationalist approach sees social order as derivative of the interaction of individuals and systems of rewards or incentives. The cultural and moral norms so central to civil society thinking are literally ignored or taken as secondary features following from the workings of more fundamental, positivist concepts.
Thus, Realists assert that human societies are ordered primarily by systems of control, embodied in laws, sanctions, and finally in coercive force. These systems set up structures of incentives for compliance and disincentives for non-compliance. What we call institutions, law, government, and organizations are in fact such structures of control. Social order results from strong and well-planned systems of this kind, usually centered on government and systems of control and administration. Consider, for example, Three Strikes laws. Underlying this legislation is an assumption that criminals are strongly deterred by the threat of ever-stronger punitive sanctions enacted by the state. Coercive force, enacted by the state, is relied upon to produce desired social outcomes. Though effectively authoritarian, the philosophy may lead to either liberal or conservative policies, such government-mandated desegregation or denial of services to legal immigrants. Rather than signified by a single policy prescription, the realist philosophy is best understood as a consistent and exclusive use of state power.

Rationalists, on the other hand, conceive the individual as a source of desires or preferences. Beneath the apparent diversity of human social behavior clear and inexorable laws are at work. Individuals are really more or less efficient calculators of their own advantage, that is, more or less "rational" actors. Social order is a result of patterns of cooperation which prove to "pay off" sufficiently well over time and so come to structure individual choices into predictable, often complementary arrangements.

Grounded in economics, the same assumptions underlie "rational choice" and “public choice” theories, which typically look to the market as an ideal instrument of social coordination. The "Chicago School" of theorists, stretching from Friedrich Hayek to Gary Becker, Richard Posner, and Milton Friedman have been influential advocates of this approach. For rational choice advocates, social progress is to be sought by freeing market exchange from interfering outside forces, not only those of the state, but also of communal or religious moral norms. Charles Murray, in his well-known book, Losing Ground, for example, provided the argument that gained much public and political support in the welfare debate. He argued that welfare recipients were rational actors who observed the benefits of receiving welfare made employment less attractive than unemployment. Welfare was an aberration to the proper functioning of the market, and by dismantling it, the free market would provide an incentive structure that makes employment the more attractive choice.

Unlike Realists and Rationalists, who reduce social order to the functioning of the state and the market, advocates of the civil society perspective stress the importance of the normative and consensual bases of social order. Recent work has carried this theoretical argument into the realm of concrete social investigation. Two of the most influential of these studies directly contest the empirical validity of conventional Realist and Rationalist approaches. Robert Putnam, in his much-discussed study of Italian regional governments, uses statistical data along with interview material to explain the effectiveness of northern and southern regional governments in Italy. He finds that democratic institutions work well only when they are embedded in cultural and social contexts which are supportive of civic engagement. Effective democratic states need strong civil societies. Significantly, Putnam's data also supports the contention that the strength of the civil society is an important predictor of economic vitality as well. That is, markets, too, depend upon moral ties forged outside market exchange itself. In convergent fashion, though concluding with far more enthusiasm for the market than government, Francis Fukuyama argues for what he terms the "improbable" importance of culture for economic development. "Improbable," that is, from the perspective of conventional economic rationalism.

Both Putnam and Fukuyama emphasize the cardinal importance of moral and social institutions and cultural practices. Human motivation is not simply or even mostly guided by "preferences" and "incentives" structured by the instruments of the market and the state. This shift in perspective shows institutions to be more than the mere collective instruments that Realists and Rationalists conceive them to be. Rather, institutions are argued to be authoritative, socially sanctioned, patterns of behavioral expectations.

These organized patterns shape individual outlooks and preferences as much as reflect them. Crucially, they shape individual's choices with reference to norms and values. Unlike the conventional policy approaches, civil society thinkers do not attempt to force these norms and values into some form of "rational" incentive structure.

The perspective of civil society allows social policy to pay attention to the cultural sources of norms. Particularly in American society, these norms have religious sources. It is important, therefore, to note the increasing voice within the civil society discussion of theorists who study and/or advocate attention to the religious sources of the moral norms governing social interaction. Good examples are Michael Lerner and Ronald Thiemann.

Civil society, in the view of many of its theorists, needs a certain measure of autonomy from the political and economic spheres. But at the same time, civil society necessarily operates through and with both government and markets. One of the most important emerging debates concerns how civil society is to be differentiated from the other social spheres yet remain connected to them, even in one sense, superior to them both. In this connection, four contending proposals have emerged for specifying how civil society should be related to state and market. We will call these Communitarian, Social Conservative, Left-Progressive, and Liberal conceptions. These conceptions each imply a different approach to the question of how the perspective of civil society ought to influence the formulation of public policy.

The Communitarian conception of civil society's importance for nurturing effective democratic life has been well articulated by Charles Taylor. Taylor wants us to understand that Western societies are about more than the pursuit of material progress. They are also engaged in a vast collective moral project enabling individuals to choose their own purposes and take responsibility for their lives. Taylor calls this ideal authenticity. However, he insists on the importance of recognizing that choice and freedom are in fact social goods and not simply individual possessions. To be meaningful and effective for the individual, freedom requires shared standards. These common standards provide a "horizon of significance" or background against which individual choices take on meaning and become recognized by others. Expressed in language, custom, and institutions, these significant horizons are embedded in the life of civil society and provide the vital medium for individual growth and action.

Taylor goes on to argue that the difficulty of living authentically today is exacerbated by a common misunderstanding. People often confuse the value of having and exercising freedom of choice with the merit of the choice itself. For Taylor, this is an individualistic misunderstanding which truncates the meaning of freedom by ignoring the consequences of individual choices for the general welfare of society. People commonly accept this limited notion in part because they feel cut off from others in a "fragmented" social world in which different groups seem to operate according to different standards.

This sense of fragmentation finally threatens individual integrity. This misunderstanding and failure to consider the collective good stems from the conflicting principles which guide the distinct but interpenetrating spheres of modern life. Thus, the market pursues efficiency, while the state, for its part, pursues other goals such as equity and inclusion.

Institutions of civil society, such as education, seek other goals, yet in order to function they too must interact with the profit-orientation of the market and the laws of the state.

The more this condition of fragmentation takes hold, Taylor contends, the less capacity individuals have to lead authentic lives because without sharing common norms they can have little confidence in their neighbors' trustworthiness, the larger institutions of society, or, ultimately, even in themselves.

This is Taylor's Communitarian account of the problems of social entropy and political breakdown now endemic in Western countries, including the United States. Taylor notes that American political activity, though feverish in certain sectors of the society, remains channeled almost entirely into legal conflicts over rights, on the one hand, and into organizing particular interests to force their causes into government policy, on the other. What is missing, yet most needed, is a politics which addresses the fundamental problem of fragmentation itself. The way out, for Taylor, hinges on recognizing that modern complexity can only be dealt with by citizens who share common values and purposes, who can relate to their society as a moral project, to each other as responsible for those values, and to its public institutions, including government, as agencies of this project. Taylor's civil society must in end become a society with a civic spirit if it is to fulfill its promise of freedom and moral fulfillment for all.

Taylor's Communitarian vision would shift political attention from legal struggles and issue-politics toward the formation of broad consensus on what it means to live in a good society. Its political complement is partnership between state and civil society. In this process, civil society is a fulcrum point. It is in what Taylor calls the "nongovernmental public sphere" comprised of educational organizations, communications, religious communities, and the myriad of forms of association with which the United States is richly endowed, that the critical efforts at consensus-building must take place. This development is necessary because without it fragmentation--and increasing social entropy--becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Consensus-building is possible, Taylor contends, because the citizens of even fragmented modern societies do share important common understandings, especially the aspiration toward authentic living for all, in virtue of their participation in common political institutions based on this aim. Social Conservatives share a part of the Communitarian diagnosis of what is missing in today's civil society, namely moral consensus on common civic principles and standards. But Conservatives depart sharply from Taylor's Communitarian proposal about what is to be done about it. To date, Social Conservatives such as William Bennett and Francis Fukuyama have given more attention to advocacy and policy recommendation than to developing persuasive theoretical accounts of their position.

The leading exception is Alasdair MacIntyre, who has produced a much-discussed, powerfully coherent defense of moral tradition as the essential bedrock for a cohesive and well-ordered society. Interestingly, however, MacIntyre's arguments do not endorse the common Social Conservative aim of imposing tradition by means of the coercive power of the state, for reasons which will become clear below.

MacIntyre contends, in ways that echo features of Taylor's argument, that personal significance depends upon commitment to morally coherent relationships, that, indeed, morality is enabling as well as constraining. Freedom is deeply dependent upon virtue. But, unlike most Communitarians, MacIntyre insists that modern societies are working out not some complex but ultimately coherent moral project of freedom but an essentially self-conflicted effort whose tensions are beyond hope of reconciliation. In this state of moral incoherence, individual integrity is threatened by the pressures toward a self-deluding opportunism which seeks strategic advantages for gratification under the guise of moral ideals of freedom. Since there are few or no shared, impersonal standards of action, being successful in life becomes identical to whatever an individual can convince or manipulate others into accepting as success. Hence, the widespread sense of moral entropy in contemporary life. The practical effect of this cultural condition, however, is not to enhance individual's freedom and self-confidence so much as to weaken everyone's ability to find enduring meaning and satisfaction, thereby ratcheting up the restless drive for more experience and more "success."

The effect of this state of cultural entropy is social disintegration. One measure of its profundity is what MacIntyre calls the "interminability" of most modern moralpolitical debates, an interminability which undercuts the possibility of seeing civil society as a sphere of meaningful public life. For instance, advocates of Liberal justice claim, as articulated powerfully by John Rawls, that the national ideals of equality and freedom require that the state actively promote the opportunity for each to realize talents. Fairness requires equalizing. But in direct opposition, Conservative philosophers such as Robert Nozick insist that fairness entails treating all equally, with no state obligation to do more than preserve the rules of freedom. To do more than that would be to violate equality by giving special assistance to some at the expense of others. These debates finds poignant expression in the contemporary conflict over Affirmative Action policies. For MacIntyre, these debates are interminable because they cannot appeal to any shared, impersonal principles. Instead, they proceed from premises that are deeply "incommensurable," thereby ruling out any real consensus on what the goals of the national society might mean.

MacIntyre's conclusions cast doubt on Communitarian aims, but also give little comfort to Social Conservative public policies. For MacIntyre the upshot of the interminable nature of our moral divisions explains why such a society needs to rely so heavily on market and state administration, both of which convert moral purposes into neutral "utilities" and "preferences." In other words, utilitarian management systems which eschew morality and civil society talk while simply trying to satisfy claimants with an acceptable distribution of rewards (the approach promoted by Realist and Rationalist policy advocates) are the public expression of our deep confusion about moral meaning.

The Social Conservative alternative, though not articulated by MacIntyre or any other major civil society theorist, is to impose "traditional values" by governmental coercion, even on unwilling dissenters from whatever is judged the majority position. MacIntyre's analysis thus reveals a deep incoherence in such advocacy, which may be why there is such a dearth of theory behind such policy proposals.

A third branch of the civil society discussion stresses the role of civil society as the arena for expanding equality and freedom. Drawing upon the influential work of sociologist and philosopher Jurgen Habermas, Andrew Arato and Jean Cohen emphasize civil society as the linchpin of the "public sphere." For Arato and Cohen, this is the realm of free communication not controlled by either the profit-maximizing logic of the market nor the coercive powers of the state. For them the public sphere is a peculiarly modern invention: a social space which enables authority and tradition to be critically examined and independent opinion to be ventured. Here the members of a society attempt to understand their lives and to formulate values and strategies for action. But for Arato and Cohen the public sphere is also a place of conflict and struggle among differing currents of opinion. As proponents of what might be called a Left-Progressive vision of modern possibilities, Arato and Cohen place special emphasis upon what are called the "new social movements" concerned with ecology, gender, racial and sexual equality as the contemporary realization of the liberating potentials of democracy. Civil society today finds itself threatened, argue Arato and Cohen, not only by Social Conservatives who intend to impose tradition by force, i.e., the legislation of morality, but also by the great power of economic and political forces. Arato and Cohen explicitly reject the Eastern European tendency to define civil society as inclusive of everything outside the state. Instead, they divide the social realm into three spheres: the civil society; political society, including not only government, as in legislatures and courts but also all organizations oriented toward the state such as political parties and interest groups; economic society, which includes both the market and business firms, unions, and organizations primarily oriented toward economic development. Market and state are coordinated by what they call, again following Habermas, the "media" of money and power. The logics of money and power both place severe restrictions upon free communication by putting the pressures of financial or political competition ahead of claims to truth, morality, or aesthetic value. Hence, the vital role of civil society as the sphere of free discussion in preventing modern societies from being altogether subordinated to the imperatives of profit or power.

In this Left-Progressive vision, civil society is chiefly valuable as the seat and source of the democratic potentials of modern societies. From civil society, citizens can and must enter the economic and political spheres in order to have their purposes economically supported and politically secured. But especially as exemplified in the "new social movements," individuals can explore new possibilities of identity and lifestyle while acting together they can advance the collective goods of equality and justice. Where socially conservative civil society advocates look to institutions such as education and community organizations to promote character and continuity in values important for their view of society, Left-Progressives see these institutions as vehicles for increasing individual and social self-reflection and innovation, as vehicles of cultural progress at least as much as conservation.

In contrast to these Communitarian, Social Conservative, and Left-Progressive views, a fourth understanding of civil society has been ably articulated by Michael Walzer. Walzer's view shares important features of the Communitarian perspective. It is also sympathetic to the Left-Progressive championing of the claims of the new social movements. More than either, however, Walzer emphasizes concerns central to the Liberal tradition. Liberalism has been the great home of modern individualism and therefore its core instinct is to be suspicious of calls for public, let alone, governmental, emphasis upon values such as responsibility and solidarity. Thus, while Walzer also views civil society as a moral project as well as a descriptive social category, he emphasizes features of civil society more consonant with Liberal values. For Walzer, civil society is the outcome of a difficult historical search for balance and tolerance.

Walzer traces the origins of the civil society idea to John Locke's pioneering defense of religious toleration. Walzer interprets civil society as the gradual institutionalizing of a growing spirit of tolerance and forbearance among various social groups, generalizing from the unsteady progress of religious toleration since the Seventeenth Century in Europe. Walzer emphasizes that this spirit of tolerance affects and moderates the political aims of groups in democratic nations. For example, Walzer endorses the new social movements advocated by Arato and Cohen not only because of their aims but because, in comparison with Leftist movements of the past, these groups, despite the exaggerated claims of their opponents, explicitly eschew totalitarian ambitions and seek compromise within a pluralist political order of shared power. Finally, then, civil society is valuable as much for its civil as for its civic features, and perhaps more so. On the other hand, Walzer characterizes civil society as an incomplete, even paradoxical ideal. But a necessary and humane one nevertheless if modern life is to be made tolerable for all. Against the "single-minded" pursuit of market efficiency or political power, for example, Walzer sees the values of civil society as a corrective in theory, and in practice a moderating force, lowering the stakes of all-or-nothing conflict. But there is paradox here as well. Civil society cannot supplant the state: the state is both one association among others within civil society and at the same time it is the organization which frames and structures the very conditions for civil society. Furthermore, Walzer argues that it is the very existence of the public power of the state which stimulates thinking about the general welfare in the first place. And it is only an effective coercive power like the state which can counteract those tendencies within civil society, such as market or gender or racial inequality, which would eventually undermine the freedom of civil society itself. However, Walzer also cautions against zeal. For him the last word is that modern politics is a delicate balancing act. Communal, particularly national and majoritarian, affirmations of common norms can be dangerous much of the time. The ideals of civil society, then, especially its toleration for minorities and its wariness about all overarching loyalties, are for Walzer important correctives to the Communitarian and Left-Progressive tendencies in modern politics.

CONCLUSION: The Three Major Debates

One: Civil Society Versus Realists and Rationalists The civil society debate occurs on three fronts. First, there is the defense of the perspective of civil society against the Realists and Rationalists who see little value or purpose to civil society and discount it entirely in the realms of political theory and public policy. All the scholars in Part Two share the mission of opposing that view. In the face of widespread agreement that the American social fabric is in danger, public attention has shifted to issues of family and community breakdown, the decline of civility, and a host of other problems. The term civil society is often popularly invoked today by figures ranging from Hillary Rodham Clinton to Pat Buchanan as a way to signal the need to attend to the social and moral issues facing the nation. The rise of the importance of the idea of civil society in scholarly debate is loosely congruent with this development. However, while a number of the scholarly contributors to the idea of civil society have also played significant roles in the more popular discussion, the scholarly discussion is nonetheless quite distinct and concerned with issues which do not always directly enter public discourse. While they resonate with political and cultural differences affecting American public life, the key differences among scholars of civil society are complex intellectual differences first of all and need to be appreciated as such.

There is, then, still much work that needs to be done to link in more illuminating ways the concept of civil society to empirical and historical investigation. We have highlighted several such efforts, such as the work of Putnam and Fukuyama. For this work to finally bear fruit in public enlightenment and guidance, however, the concept itself needs further clarification and the distinctions among different concepts and approaches need to be sharpened. The next two debates, one between Left-Progressives and Social Conservatives, and perhaps the most crucial one, between Liberals and Communitarians, are important aspects of this process of sharpening and clarifying the significance of the concept of civil society for our society today.

TWO: Left-Progressives Versus Social Conservatives

The second debate is between Left-Progressives and Social Conservatives. Here the important distinction is between a civil society dedicated to social change in pursuit of individual self-realization and social justice, or, for Social Conservatives, one dedicated to the transmission and inculcation of traditional social practices and values believed to be essential to social cohesion and survival. This contrast captures much of the antagonism more popularly known as the "culture wars." Notably, however, the public debate centers on family, children's issues, and especially the conduct and content of education. These debates typically pit educated cosmopolitan groups, often secular in nature, against more religiously-oriented populists who stress the special importance of locality and family and neighborly connectedness. Interestingly, these divisions are often cross-cut racially, with many African Americans sympathetic to Social Conservatives on matters of discipline and values, but leaning toward Left-Progressive views of state action to correct inequality. Left-Progressives, for example, typically want education to stress creativity, the questioning of authority, and self-expression along with curricula sympathetic understanding of victims of social exclusion and injustice. Social Conservatives, by contrast, often advocate curricula strong on patriotism, self-reliance, and competitive individualism, but suspicious of criticism and coupled with strong discipline in the schools.

Left-Progressives, like Liberals, tend to stress civil society as an instrument of freedom. They support a vision of social change guided by collective action, as in social movements, to remove barriers engendered by various types of social inequality: racial, gender, sexual, etc. Civil society then becomes construed as an arena for action to counter-balance those forces endemic to politics and the market, as well as those rooted in inegalitarian traditions, which make for inequality. Collective action is the means by which less powerful, newly-constituted or marginalized groups can hold the larger society accountable to its professed ideals of freedom and equity. Social Conservatives, in sharp contrast, view civil society as a buffer against those forces which disrupt traditional practices upon which the solidarity of communities is held to depend. Some, like Alasdair MacIntrye take this stance because they see modernity as whole as a deeply flawed, even self-undermining project. On the whole, however, Social Conservatives see the state rather than the market as the source of these forces, spurred on by the cultural currents opposed to tradition, such as those represented in Left-Progressivism. Here understanding the philosophical roots of the public debate help to clear up the apparent contradiction of self-described conservatives cheering on the relentless extension of technologies and attitudes which promote individual mobility and glorify individual choice. Much popular Social Conservatism is actually nineteenth century Liberalism, which sees economic initiative and individual achievement as the great vehicles of progress, that seeks at the same time to draw the line in the realm of domestic and private life. Social Conservatives, like Left-Progressives, wish to use the coercive powers of the state to enforce their notions of progress and virtue. While Left Progressives wish to sanction collective responsibilities to ameliorate social injustices, as in Affirmative Action policies, Social Conservatives, less interested in collective responsibilities and willing to tolerate a good deal of inequity, stress use of these same powers to defend aspects of tradition deemed essential to maintaining a vibrant economy and a society of high-achieving and self-reliant individuals, especially in domestic sphere. Hence, their enthusiasm for bans on gay marriage, hostility to abortion and divorce, etc.

THREE: Liberals Versus Communitarians

The third debate is perhaps the most consequential of the three, given the American dedication to the traditional Liberal values, because it concerns how these values can be defended in the face of widespread disaffection from the nation's dominant institutions. Liberals and Communitarians are agreed that civil society and the values it represents and teaches is vital to democracy and needs to be defended. However, the two groups divide sharply over how best to do that and why civil society is finally worth defending. This opposition, in other words, is both strategic--a question of what needs to emphasized now--and philosophical, what are the most important values to defend. Liberals value civil society as the space wherein individuals can both make something of themselves and find satisfactory identities and plans for living. The expansion of choice for free individuals is the hallmark of liberal thinking, and in the realm of civil society this means tolerance for difference. Liberalism, especially in its most influential recent articulations in political philosophy and jurisprudence strives to keep law and the state firmly on the side of these aims by maintaining neutrality among competing ways of life. For this reason, Liberals tend to see institutions as primarily instruments to be used by individuals in pursuit of their own goods rather than as embodiments of some common good. Accordingly, the public realm, including the space of civil society, has no value in and of itself but, again, as a means toward the superordinate aim of expanding freedom. So while Liberal-leaning theorists of civil society see civic values such as public spirit as valuable, they are valuable mostly as means to the end of an open, tolerant society which enables individuals to flourish in the life situations of their choice.

Communitarians, as we have seen, share the aspiration toward individual autonomy and its protection in law and institutions. However, they also see autonomy as a social development as much as an individual achievement. That is, individuals can usually develop into free and responsible persons only in a society characterized by a strong common agreement that the defense of these values are essential to what the society is about and integral to a good life. That is why Communitarians argue that the state cannot finally be neutral about the good life if the project of democracy is to succeed. Civil society, for Communitarians, is worth defending because it is the essential space in which individuals can pursue their development, including their personal goals. But what makes civil society strong and able to play this key role lies deeper than the values of self-development. A viable civil society is rooted in the shared awareness of solidarity, that part of what makes life worth living is devotion to goods which cannot be anyone's possession unless they are shared in common.

For Communitarians, solidarity is the basis of civil society because individuals will be treated with respect only if they are seen by others as somehow members of the same moral community, whether they are individually worthy or not. Furthermore, Communitarians argue, no intelligent society will count on solidarity being generated simply as a side-effect of the pursuit of freedom or toleration. Solidarity arises from the perception that individuals in fact share values and concrete goods, such as the respect for rights, in common. Having the goods in common changes the nature of goods themselves, since the goods only exist as several individuals share them. These are common goods, such as the value of being a member of a certain family, or the difference it makes in personal life to be the friend of a certain group of persons. Such common goods are both shared among family members or friends and at the same time it is these goods which make them the particular persons they are.

For Communitarians, civil society rests upon such a sense of solidarity. Solidarity is a virtue individuals need to cultivate, but as a common good and not on their own. Without solidarity the lives of the individuals who share it would be substantially less worthwhile. It is also a common good in the important sense that it is a value which they cannot obtain except by entering into and sustaining the loyalties encumbent upon members of this kind of free society. In this way, the defense of even Liberal values such as individual freedom actually rests upon non- or extra-Liberal commitments, particularly to the essentially public or civic value of solidarity understood as a common good. This, say Communitarians, is why membership in concrete communities, from the intimate sphere to the nation, which share commitments to the goods of freedom and equality is the essential basis for maintaining these values and inculcating a devotion to them in modern social life. Without the nurture of this active solidarity, fragmentation will take over, spreading alienation and distrust until there are too few individuals willing to defend the rights of threatened others. Public spirit, for Communitarians, is then more than a means to other ends. It becomes a good in itself.

As a key source of meaning and purpose, solidarity becomes in a sense the most central public value for Communitarians, the indispensable basis of freedom, equality, and justice. Without its conscious cultivation and support across the widest possible range of institutions and social spheres, civil society will not be civil. Without seeking this good in common, that is, without the effort to turn life in a more civic direction, the Communitarians argue, none of the great goods of civil society will be sustainable for long. There is need for more development and debate among adherents of the Communitarian position about the strategies for strengthening civic solidarity.

Communitarians are not unified as to whether the state can or should play a supporting or in some cases a leading role in this, for example, nor how serious is the threat which the market poses to solidarity, and hence to freedom and equity. What does seem close to unanimous among Communitarian theorists of civil society, however, is that priority should be given to understanding how civic solidarities are built and maintained and then how to go about strengthening them, coupled with a realistic assessment of the forces working against and in favor of this project.

For us, it seems the civil society debate must head in one direction. Moral discourse should have a place in the formulation of public policy. Democratic politics is not a matter of money or power, but of public spirit and thoughtful consideration of what it means to be a good society. Traditional moral understandings have a significant role in public discourse, but it can neither trump new ideas nor be imposed on dissenters. Civil society engenders voluntarism in both the embrace of social commitments and in the active participation in discourse and social service. Today most of the organizations dedicated to the civil society concept focus on the idea of civility: politicians, journalists, celebrities and athletes should be role models not scoundrels, children need Miss Manners for their character education, various competing interests need to resolve their differences with a measure of composure, tolerance, and deliberation, and above all, citizens need to exercise their civic duties, especially at the ballot box. Though a good thing, we argue that civility is necessary, but not sufficient. It is important to play nice, but it is even more important to establish common purposes, and ponder how to rebuild the fundamental institutions of civil society: families, schools, voluntary organizations, and communities.