By Jean L. Cohen

During this significant contribution to modern political conception, Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato argue that the concept that of civil society articulates a contested terrain within the West which could develop into a major locus for the growth of democracy and rights.

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Sample text

A simple chronology derived in part from Karl Polànyi might, in an extremely preliminary way, indicate what is at stake.  For a period of more than a decade and a half now, citizen initiatives, associations, and movements have increasingly oriented themselves toward the defense and expansion of a variously described societal realm, the forms and projects of which are clearly distinguished from statism.  The second trend, wherever successful, threatens to transform history into oscillation between economic liberalism and paternalist statism.

First, the juxtaposition of society against the state Page 32 indicates not only the battlelines but also a shift concerning the target of democratization, from the whole social system to society outside of state institutions proper. Thus, while the conception surely implies a pushing back of the state­administrative forms of penetration from various dimensions of social life, it has, nevertheless, the idea of self­limitation built into it from the start: The leading role of the party in the (albeit shrinking) state sphere will not be challenged.

29This allegedly leads to a focus on nonpolitical forms of freedom (negative liberty) and an impoverished conception of political identity, agency, and ethical life.  Indeed, duties of loyalty and membership are and must be primary.  Only on the basis of a shared conception of the good life, only within the framework of a substantive ethical political community (with a specific political culture) can we lead meaningful moral lives and enjoy true freedom.  Taken together, the empirical and normative criticisms of the rights thesis imply that freedom must have its original locus not in the isolated individual but in the society that is the medium of individuation: in the structures, institutions, practices of the larger social whole.

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