Civil society

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The articles civil society and civil society overlap thematically. Help me to better differentiate or merge the articles (→  instructions ) . To do this, take part in the relevant redundancy discussion . Please remove this module only after the redundancy has been completely processed and do not forget to include the relevant entry on the redundancy discussion page{{ Done | 1 = ~~~~}}to mark. Gabel1960 ( discussion ) 17:31, May 10, 2017 (CEST)

Among civil society or civil society is in the western democracies , a form of society understood that through the active participation of its members in the public life is designed and developed. Civil society is supported by the commitment of its actors, the citizens .

Historically, civil society has developed as a political system without social participation rights with the overcoming of absolutism . The central demand of constitutional liberalism and the idea of human rights was individual freedom of action protected from state interference in a society independent of the state .

Social science concepts from the end of the 20th century demand that a critical public has a permanent say in political decisions ( deliberative or participatory democracy ).


Concept history

The concept of civil society or civil society is closely related to the concept of civil society in political and scientific discussion . It ties in with the term politiké akoionia ( polis ) from the political philosophy of Aristotle , later translated into Latin as societas civilis and société civile ( French ) and civil society ( English ).

The rediscovery of civil society in the English-language social sciences from the end of the 1980s was accompanied by the invention of the word civil society on the one hand and the reinterpretation of the term civil society on the other. Before that, the term was very rarely and i. d. Usually used synonymously with association . In 1987 Michael Reiman used the term civil society to describe the u. a. by Mikhail Gorbachev in Russian used grazhdanskoye obshchestvo translate (гражданское общество) into German. From 1992, Ralf Dahrendorf used Bürgergesellschaft to translate English civil society into his own writings.

The concept of English civil society , which since the Enlightenment has included a progressive process of civilization through work and economic development, through education and culture, as well as the overcoming of traditional restrictions through status and birth, as well as the conviction of civilizing, is formative for today's understanding of the term Effect of voluntary associations in associations .

Reception in Political Theory

In his essay on the history of civil society , published in 1768, Adam Ferguson discusses the relationship between individual virtue within and the overall development of the society concerned . Ferguson comes to the conclusion that virtue has prerequisites which are not automatically secured in their existence or can even be jeopardized by the results of virtue.

In German, based on Ferguson, the translation first appears as a civil society in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's " Basics of the Philosophy of Law " from 1821. With the concept of bourgeois society in his system of dialectics, Hegel describes the interaction between the private sphere on the one hand, which for Hegel is embodied by the family, and on the other hand, society as a whole, which is embodied by the state. Like Ferguson, Hegel does not describe an originally political, but a moral category.

In the communist manifesto of 1848, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx describe civil society not as a moral but as an economic category. For Engels and Marx, bourgeois society is characterized by conditions of production that are determined by a strict separation of capital and labor. For Engels and Marx, bourgeois society is regarded as an advance over feudalism , but at the same time only as a historical transition to socialism and finally to communism that has to be overcome .

In the Gettysburg Address of 1863, then President of the United States Abraham Lincoln described the ideal American democracy as "government of the people, by the people, for the people".

After his election as German Chancellor in 1969, Willy Brandt wanted to "dare more democracy" in the sense of a " democratization of democracy".

Differentiation from civil society

To the extent that the term civil society is not used as a synonym for civil society , reference is made to the development and function of civil society in order to distinguish it. However, there is no clear definition differentiation.

In Western Europe, civil society is conveyed through a collective consciousness that enables society to stick together and the insecurities that go hand in hand with the process of ideological economism , the dismantling of the welfare state and globalization , through self-organization, voluntariness, personal responsibility, trust and solidarity support, but also Awareness of tradition and national feeling can cushion.

Circles that have already established a non-state order or advocate it according to the concept of the lean state prefer the term civil society. This applies to both the churches and liberal and conservative parties . With the use of the term civil society, the historical reference to the civil society of the 19th century is expressed and the development towards a self-regulating society in which the state should not intervene or at least only intervene in the case of recognizable deficits in self-organization.

In some cases, civil society is assigned a merely subsidiary function. According to this understanding, civil society takes on tasks that are not or not adequately fulfilled by state institutions. Civil society, on the other hand, claims to present its own regulatory framework. According to this understanding, the concept of civil society includes the concept of civil society, but goes beyond it. The aim of civil society is not only to use state freedom and the fulfillment of non-profit tasks, but also to shape the political framework.

Wherever social movements against capitalist market calculations and authoritarian claims to rule are to be emphasized, as in the Eastern European dissident movement or efforts against the military dictatorships in Latin America, Africa and Asia, the term civil society is mostly used today. Many non-governmental organizations prefer the term civil society and, as a result, call for either the state to take over the tasks they have performed so far or at least active state support for their civil society tasks.

The term civil society is sometimes used as a summary of voluntary work.

Significance in the 21st century

The globalization , the impact of the digital revolution on the labor market and the knowledge society are seen as key aspects of social development that the individual an increasing individualization both allows and demands. Civil society describes the relationship between the state, the economy, society and the individual citizen under these changing conditions.

With an emphasis on nation-state foreign and security policy in the Berlin Republic, there is an increasing harmonization of living habits in cities and rural regions ( functional urbanization ). Nationwide, the population's motivation to have a say in political decisions at regional and local level has increased. The result is a “new subsidiarity order ” in which the citizens increasingly “take care of themselves”. This also includes behavior on the labor market, which with Agenda 2010 created the model of the “entrepreneur on his own behalf” ( Ich-AG ). Computer-aided access to comprehensive information on the Internet and its organization, for example in open source projects, calls into question the legitimacy of representative democracy based on knowledge of domination .



Civil society is structured heterogeneously and consists of a large number of voluntarily founded, also competing organizations - in individual cases also individual citizens - which articulate their different interests and organize them autonomously. It is located in the area between the private sphere and the state. The actors of civil society are thus involved in politics, but without striving for government offices. Correspondingly, groups that pursue exclusively private goals, such as families or entrepreneurs, are just as little part of civil society as political parties, parliaments or state administrations. Civil society represents a pluralistic gathering point for the most diverse actors, such as the new social movements including the churches, who, however, share a certain methodological minimum consensus, in particular non-violence .

Ralf Dahrendorf described civil society as the “creative chaos of the many organizations and institutions protected from access by the (central) state”. The importance of civil society lies in increasing people's chances in life by closing the gap between state organizations and individuals and giving meaning to people's coexistence. While the market controls the supply side and the rule of law guarantees access opportunities, it is the task of civil society to enable people to choose between the options available to them (multi-option society).

Civil society is thus a political order in which democracy is perceived on the basis of the citizens' own initiative. This approach is intended to enable democratic participation, especially beyond participation in elections and votes. In civil society, the focus is on groups that are not limited to current charitable and charitable tasks, but also claim to have a creative influence on social development.

An essential condition for civil society is the primacy of politics in order to ensure interaction between citizens and the state. One example is the legal anchoring of new forms of participation such as referendums in the federal states and municipalities .

Fields of action

Around 90% of the activities assigned to the term civil society relate to the areas of health, veterinary and social work, education and training, culture, sport and entertainment as well as interest groups , church and other associations. The most historically significant fields of activity include the environmental movement , the workers' and women's movements, and the movement against the military and civilian use of nuclear energy ( fight against atomic death , anti-nuclear power movement ).

Forms of action

Civil society makes use of the instruments of direct democracy and citizen participation . Organizational forms are z. B. Citizens' initiatives , neighborhood initiatives or so-called future workshops . Are expressions of demonstrations , petitions , citizens' initiatives and collective actions , the formal involvement in land use planning and zoning process , but also labor disputes , barter exchanges , self-help groups or association and foundation sector through to whistleblowing . Insofar as the civil society is also an expression of a growing political self-awareness and response to a perceived lack of democracy in the post-democracy .

The opinion on parties and parliaments taking place increasingly in social networks , especially in the Internet .

Role of the state

Under the heading of "motivating state," "moderating State" and "activating state" ( enabling state ) is the state allotted the role of a balance between its own hierarchical control marktlichem competition and social responsibility. Since private-sector market mechanisms only neglect the problems caused by this, such as mass unemployment, poverty and social inequality, the state should on the one hand guarantee certain social standards, but on the other hand also ensure that new markets are opened up.

The governance discussion deals with the relationship between state regulation, economic competition and social participation and its effects .

In its report from 2002, the Enquete Commission of the German Bundestag developed recommendations for legal policy for the future of civic engagement , which include state institutions ( administrative reform ) and the economy ( corporate citizenship ).

In theory, multilevel democracy in the European Union , which consists of the European administration and the member states, is being developed into a state model for civil society. The traditional nation-state at the middle level is supposed to ensure the implementation of the decisions made at the highest level by a European constitutional state by networking and moderating the "small life and responsibility policy" at the lowest level, in civil society. Federalism , subsidiarity and the competition for solutions are essential characteristics of this order . The state is thought of as “neutral”, social cohesion is preserved through the awareness of comprehensive mutual dependency and common challenges that can only be mastered cooperatively ( self-reliance ).

According to Antonio Gramsci's Marxist theory , the state (“società politica”) and civil society (“società civile”) do not oppose each other as two different sizes, but interlock. The state uses civil society to maintain its own power by organizing consent (“consensus”) to the state coercive apparatus in civil society institutions such as schools, universities, churches, associations, trade unions and the mass media. Through hegemony and consensus, a real and permanent unity of base and superstructure is formed, and an “integral state” emerges.

The civil constitutional state , however, has precisely the historical function of guaranteeing equality and autonomy as a prerequisite for an effective civil society and is “in lively interaction” with civil society.


Theoretically, the conception of civil society, in which there are only simple "citizens", is questioned. The term “civil society” obscures the real social conflicting interests and establishes a fictitious volunteer générale . In the figure of the “citizen”, the opposition between “ bourgeois ” and “ citoyen ”, which decisively shaped the political processes in liberal democracy and decisively determined their susceptibility to crises, seems to be abolished.

In fact, behind the state's demand for voluntary commitment and " civil courage ", an old-style paternalism is hidden, which claims to be apolitical and, in the concept of civil society, suppresses the desire for political participation and democratization as well as subtle control mechanisms ( nudging ) that actually do not exist Pretend voluntariness.

Likewise, the control power of the capitalist economy is hidden if the concept of civil society is reduced to a purely social dimension. Civil society remains incomplete without considering the economic framework, especially since the movement against social cuts in Germany is a direct reaction to the economic policy Agenda 2010 . Politics and business gave top priority to global competitiveness and thus destroyed the moral legitimacy of the social order.

Tasks that the state no longer wants to take on in the interests of budget consolidation would be delegated to civil society as a repair shop. However, especially where social engagement is most urgently needed, it is least to be found. While social life and club activities are regularly very pronounced in preferred residential areas, both charitable and non-profit fulfillment of tasks and the involvement of the population in overall social contexts are insufficient in disadvantaged residential areas. The words of American President John F. Kennedy from his inaugural speech in 1961, don't ask what your country can do for you, rather ask what you can do for your country, are understood as a rejection of the welfare state principle anchored in the constitution .

Ultimately, if individual groups exert too much influence on the political order in the form of lobbying and exclusion mechanisms such as historically unequal access to these groups, especially only for men, a threat to basic democratic principles is recognized, according to which the equality of all citizens precisely through universal suffrage is ensured.

A credible decentralization of political decisions and adaptation to regional or local traditions and resources are seen as a gain in political control compared to a cumbersome federal policy and with a view to a Europe that is close to the people .

Significance outside Western Europe

Eastern Europe

The development and spread of the concept of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe is closely linked to the collapse of communism . First of all, it was the civil rights movements in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria that opened up the possibilities for the creation and expansion of the social sphere in non-state organizations and associations in the fight against the rigid party bureaucracy, as well as the goal of social transformation ( perestroika ) with the concept of civil society .

Third World

The transition processes in the Arab world ( Arab Spring ), for example, aim to develop democratic structures such as multi-party systems, civil rights and the rule of law, but in view of cultural, religious, social and economic peculiarities ( rentier states) they follow their own rules and cannot participate equated with the development of a civil society according to western understanding.


  • Bert van den Brink / Willem van Reijen (ed.): Civil society, law and democracy. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1995.
  • Daniel Dettling: The capital of civil society. Impulses for the 3rd sector of tomorrow. Norderstedt 2002.
  • Francis Fukuyama : The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order. The Free Press, New York 1999.
  • Andreas Khol : breakthrough to civil society. A manifesto. Molden Verlag, Vienna 1999 ISBN 978-3-85485-022-9
  • Robert D. Putnam : Bowling Alone: ​​The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Simon & Schuster, New York 2000
  • Bernd Wagner: Fürstenhof and civil society. On the origin, development and legitimation of cultural policy (= Umbruch edition. Volume 24), Kulturpolitische Gesellschaft Bonn e. V., Klartext, Essen 2009, ISBN 978-3-8375-0224-4 .
  • Friedrich Fürstenberg: Civil society in structural change. Problem areas and development opportunities. LIT, Münster 2011.
  • Erdmann Gormsen, Andreas Thimm (Ed.): Civil society and the state in the third world. Publications of the Interdisciplinary Working Group Third World Vol. 6 , 1992. ISBN 3-927581-04-6

Web links

Wiktionary: Civil society  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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  3. Daniel Kremers, Shunsuke Izuta: Change of meaning in civil society or the misery of the history of ideas: An annotated translation of Hirata Kiyoaki's essay on the term shimin shakai by Antonio Gramsci (part 1) . In: Asian Studies - Etudes Asiatiques . tape 71 , no. 2 . De Gruyter, Boston, Berlin 2017, p. 717 , doi : 10.1515 / asia-2017-0044 ( ).
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  19. ^ Peter Gross : The multi-option company . edition suhrkamp , 1994
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  22. ^ Annette Zimmer: The Different Dimensions of Civil Society bpb , May 31, 2012
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  24. Jörg Bogumil : Administrative modernization and activating state ( Memento of the original from August 1, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. P. 17 ff .: 4. Activating State and Civil Society , 2001 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  25. Helmut Willke : Disenchantment of the state. Thoughts on a societal control theory Athenaeum Verlag, 1983
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