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Civil Society

The term ‘civil society’ is a conventional concept that is employed in this blog and discussion of eRacism because it is convenient.  It has a face-value that allows the author of this blog to speak to a select group of readers in a familiar language about the antinomies that various conceptualizations of civil society impute to dichotomies-of-difference.  From the author’s theoretical perspective the construct  ‘civil society’ has little real purchase-value when exchanged in a discourse that aims to understand socially existing individuals. However, it does present and represent a problematic that the concept ‘eRacism’ addresses when considering the resolution of conflicts of difference in non-governmental settings like the ones highlighted below.

The concept ‘civil society’ is widely used and accepted in academe. It denotes a sphere of quasi-social existence separate from political society or government. It has become an intellectual framework for juxtaposing a private existence of human beings to a separate and distinct political existence.

In this thing called ‘civil society’ it is assumed that private interests are pursued by enlightened self-interested individuals.  Part of what makes the pursuit of self-interest in civil society ‘enlightened’ is the belief that the success of an association of atomized individuals pursuing individual interests advances the overall social interest.  In other words, the success of each self-interested individual adds a drop to the water that rises with the tide and lifts all boats. It is the fantasy of Adam Smith and the mysticism of eighteenth century liberalism writ large. This blog privileges Marx’s understanding of ‘civil society’.

“Civil society is actual political society.  In this case, it is nonsense to raise a demand which has arisen only from the notion of the political state as a phenomenon separated from civil society, which has arisen only from the theological notion of the political state.”[1]

Margaret Thatcher:Interview for Woman’s Own (“no such thing as society”)

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“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first… There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.’”

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Suzanne Mettler Talks Our Hidden Government Benefits

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The concept ‘civil society’ is the largest contributor to the problematic that eRacism addresses. It mystifies socially existing individuals to such a degree that comprehending difference is only possible by depicting difference in conflict with the interests of an association of self-interested individuals.  The first casualties of this way of coming to understand difference in conflict are the lives of people colored by differences of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity. Finally, this atomized framing of difference in ‘civil society’ obscures debates, dialogues and discourses on race, sex, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity. eRacism offers an alternative to dead-end discussions and considerations of difference.

“Only in the eighteenth century, in ‘civil society’, do the various forms of social connectedness confront the individual as a mere means towards his private purposes, as external necessity. But the epoch which produces this standpoint, that of the isolated individual, is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social (from this standpoint, general) relations. The human being is in the most literal sense a Zwon politikon[3] not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society. Production by an isolated individual outside society – a rare exception which may well occur when a civilized person in whom the social forces are already dynamically present is cast by accident into the wilderness – is as much of an absurdity as is the development of language without individuals living together and talking to each other. ”  – Karl Marx’s Outline of the Critique of Political Economy (Grundrisse)


[1] Marx, Karl. Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law. Collected Works Vol. 3. 1843-1844, (New York: International Publishers, 1975) 119.

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Curriculum Vitae

Tom L. States PhD Candidate

Fields of Interest: Political Theory, International Relations, Marxist Political Economy

Research Topic: eRacism - Conflicts of Difference

Education History: Williams College, BA Political Science; New York University, MA Politics; York University PhD Candidate

Languages: English, German

Hometown: Greenwood, Mississippi

Words of Wisdom: “IT” is what you are when you are young. Your youth mistakes certainty of the few things that you think you know for knowledge of things that it takes a life time to understand. With time and a few life experiences “IT” becomes the thing you pursue to give your life meaning. Somewhere along the way of having or getting “IT” you ask yourself, ‘Is this “IT”? Panic sets in when you realize that “IT” is your life. Fear and insecurity is that feeling you get when “IT” has not been worth a life time.

Bookshelf

Harvey, David. Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference. New York: Longman, 1996.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press. 1967.

Cancian, Francesca M. Gender Politics: Love and Power in the Private and Public Spheres. Gender and the Life Course. Ed. Alice S. Rossi. New York: Aldine, 1985.

Sand, Shlomo. The Invention of the Jewish People. New York: Verso, 2009.

Lay, Shawn. The Invisible Empire In The West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Journal

Carothers, Thomas. Think Again: Civil Society. Foreign Policy Date, (Winter: 1999-2000).

Ober, Josiah. The original meaning of "democracy": Capacity to do things, not majority rule. Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics. American Political Science Association meetings, Philadelphia, (2006).