Three international waves of democratic development have occurred during the past two centuries (Huntington 1991). The first wave, rooted in the American and French revolutions, flowered from 1828-1926. There was a second, short wave between 1943-1962. And the world took notice of a dramatic, global resurgence of democracy during the 1980s and 1990s, which has been dubbed the third wave by Samuel Huntington. According to one estimate, there are now more than 100 countries in the world where political leaders are selected through fair and honest elections in which candidates freely compete and the adult population is eligible to vote, and which are held in conditions of freedom of speech and assembly (Diamond 1996, 20).
The most striking and pivotal part of democracy's third wave occurred in Central and Eastern Europe, where long-repressed peoples overthrew totalitarian regimes and began an unprecedented transformation from communistic tyranny to democratic freedom. Both the methods and the mission of democratic development in Central and Eastern Europe helped to revive an old and seemingly obsolescent idea, that of the importance of "civil society." Understanding this idea is, I believe, a key to understanding the prospects for democracy in the world, and also to measuring its quality in the United States.
The Concept of Civil Society
Democracy does not become established in a country simply by the act of holding elections. There are all too many cases in the world where dictatorships have been established following the holding of elections. From a civil society perspective, what sustains political freedom is the widespread exercise of social and civic freedom by citizens, and the deep-rooted establishment of the values of freedom and self-reliance in a country. For these values to be strong, people must be able to make free choices and commitments reflecting their social and civic priorities. Democracy flourishes where the law effectively protects the right of people to associate with each other for general civic purposes and to organize groups representing their opinions, values, or interests.
Examples of such groups would include independent labor unions, religious communities, human-rights advocacy groups, environmental protection organizations, support groups providing social welfare services to needy people, independent newspaper and magazine publishing houses, independent and private schools, professional associations, and so forth. An individual of a free country is likely to belong to many such organizations at once and throughout a lifetime. In the United States of America, for example, there is a long tradition among the citizens of multiple membership in non-governmental organizations.
Early in the modern history of democracy, astute observers were keenly aware of the importance of these institutions and associations as a bulwark of democratic freedom. Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the United States of the 1830s,
Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truths or to foster some example, they form a society. Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government of France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association. (Bradley 1987, 106)
The basis of a flourishing civil society is this network of freely formed voluntary organizations that are distinct from the formal institutions of state. Civil society is a public domain that private individuals create and operate in order to promote civic purposes. It is characterized typically by "social interaction not encompassed by the state or the economy" (Dryzek 1996, 481). As early observers of democracy pointed out, it protects against state-centered despotism of all kinds, from the tyranny of monarchs to that of the majority. And in today's world, countries that lack this kind of civil society are likely to have dictatorial systems of government.
Some observers see the network of associations and organizations that build a civil society as having the same benefits for democracy as the investment of capital has for an economy. According to Putnam (1993, 181-185), "The civic community [civil society] is marked by an active, public-spirited citizenry, by egalitarian political relations, by a social fabric of trust and cooperation," which he calls "social capital." If most citizens have acquired social capital through participation in civil society organizations, they can use it to strengthen democracy in the government of the state. Putnam's long-term research project in Italy indicates that a vibrant network of community-based voluntary organizations builds the social capital-civic virtues, skills, and knowledge-needed for the consolidation of democracy. "Those concerned with democracy [its consolidation and efficacy] should be building a more civic community. We agree with [those who urge] local transformation of local structures [to build social capital] rather than reliance [only] upon national initiatives [because this is] the key to making democracy work."
Among the great benefits of the building of social capital in Italy and elsewhere has been the development of greater trust by citizens of each other. People who trust one another can cooperate to achieve common interests. Conversely, alienated, atomized, cynical people are likely to remain outside civil society in a marginalized domain of inefficacy. Putnam explains, "By analogy with notions of physical capital and human capital-tools and training that enhance individual productivity-'social capital' refers to features of social organizations such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit" (1995b, 67).
Social capital is necessary for a country to succeed in the emerging global economic and political order. In his best-selling work on the subject, Francis Fukuyama argues, "A healthy capitalist economy is one in which there will be sufficient social capital in the underlying society to permit businesses, corporations, networks, and the like to be self-organizing... That self-organizing proclivity is exactly what is necessary to make democratic political institutions work as welquot; (Fukuyama 1995, 356-357).
Civil Society in Third-Wave Democracies
A vibrant civil society is the opponent of statism and the very antithesis of totalitarianism. In the Soviet Union, for example, there was no room for civil society. The Communist Party through the state that it commanded was the generator and director of all significant political and social participation. There was an abundance of social organizations involving large numbers of youth and adults, but none of them were independent or free of control by the Party and its state. The public domain was pervasive, and the rights to freedom and privacy of persons and groups were practically non-existent.
Advocates of democracy throughout the world have understood that the emergence and growth of civil society organizations during the 1980s in former communist countries, such as Solidarity in Poland and Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, signaled the imminent fall of the once-dominant communist regimes.
The rapid development of non-governmental organizations in post-communist countries shows that they have the potential for a dynamic civil society, as is indicated by current activities. In Poland, for example, there are more than "15,000 associations, foundations, and self-help groups" (Micou and Lindsnaes, 1993, 56). The situation is similar in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Even in Romania, where democratization has proceeded rather weakly and slowly, there are hundreds of free, private-sector organizations, which the government tolerates (Micou and Lindsnaes 1993, 66-69). A country with a vital civil society has a realistic chance to become and remain a democracy.
There are, however, notable weaknesses in civil society development in third-wave democracies throughout the world (Gyimah-Boadi 1996; Linz and Stepan 1996). Major deficiencies are:
The last problem, pertaining to insufficient protection of civil liberties and rights, indicates inadequate development of constitutionalism and the rule of law. Third-wave democracies all have constitutions that protect civil liberties, but in some of these countries, there has been uneven or spotty enforcement of human rights (Howard 1995 and Human Rights Watch 1996). The relationship of civil society to human rights is emphasized in the latest World Report of Human Rights Watch, "Often the best measure of governmental respect for human rights is the visible presence of people exercising these rights by forming organizations, assembling, speaking out publicly, and publishing independently" (1996, xxv).
Civil Society and the Democratic State
One interesting feature of the rise of civil society in opposition to dictatorial governments in East Europe is that many retain a generally anti-government orientation. The anti-communist revolutions of Central and Eastern Europe, for example, have spawned a disturbing and possibly destructive conception among civil activists that there is a permanent opposition between civil society and the state. Many Poles and Czechs, who led the Solidarity and Charter 77 movements against communist states during the 1980s, have continued to hold extreme anti-state and anti-government views, which have made it difficult for them to shift from a conception of civil society against a despotic communist state to civil society for and with the building of constitutional democracy (Smolar 1996).
A debate on the rightful roles of civil society associations, on one hand, and the state, on the other, is taking place in both the old and new democracies. Opposing positions on the issue are represented in two recently published books: (1) To Empower People: From State to Civil Society by Americans Peter L. Berger and Richard John Neuhaus (1996) and (2) The State and the Rule of Law by French scholar Blandine Kriegel (1995). Berger and Neuhaus celebrate the late twentieth-century renewal of civil society and the corresponding possibility of a diminished state. By contrast, Kriegel warns advocates of civil society against the dangers of anti-statism, and she makes a case for the constitutional democratic state as an indispensable guarantor of human rights and dignity.
Berger and Neuhaus stress the limited functions of the state-protecting individual rights and enabling the positive achievements of non-governmental organization-while Kriegel recognizes the state's potential for pro-social action through positive constitutionalism.
Both positions have merit, but the Berger/Neuhaus argument best captures a current global trend in favor of decentralization, civic responsibility, and personal freedom in reaction to the twentieth-century failures and dangers of statism. However, as Kriegel advises, it is essential to recognize the utility of a democratic government both empowered and harnessed by the rule of law that the people establish and maintain through their constitution. This kind of constitutional democracy is sufficiently strong to achieve a country's shared purposes and sufficiently limited to prevent despotic destruction of freedom and rights.
In a constitutional democratic state, there is a top-down protection of civil society, as the constitutional government safeguards the local activities of the people, and guarantees the right of individual freedom to join and conduct non-governmental organizations. But there is also a bottom-up support for the state, stemming from the "grass roots" through community-based, non-governmental organizations acting democratically for the public good. Local, regional, and national non-governmental organizations are channels by which citizens express their needs and interests to candidates for office and representatives in government for possible transformation into public policies. Through participation in organizational activities, members acquire knowledge, skills, and virtues of democratic citizenship. So community-based, voluntary organizations are public laboratories in which citizens learn democracy by doing it, which contributes mightily to democratic governance of both the state and the civil society that it serves.
The rule of law, grounded in a democratic constitution, is an indispensable regulator of governmental and non-governmental behavior that enables civil society to function freely for the common good. It is the key to theories of congruency between civil society and the democratic state. And it is the missing element of theories that put civil society inescapably in conflict with the democratic state and see it as the primary or superior locus of democracy.
Civil Society in Civic Education for Democracy
Ironically, civil society has sagged in America at the very moment of its global resurgence. The growth of dependence on government policies to deal with social problems may be one of the reasons for the decline during recent decades. According to Putnam (1995a, 666), "America still outranks many other countries in the degree of our community involvement and social trust." But he also documents this serious decline of civil society in America during the past forty years, concluding that "American social capital in the form of civic associations has been significantly eroded over the last generation" (1995b, 73). According to Putnam, (1995b, 77), "High on America's agenda should be the question of how to reverse these adverse trends in social connectedness, thus restoring civic engagement and civic trust."
Given the importance of the idea of civil society to global prospects for democracy, the concept belongs in the core of the school curriculum. The idea of civil society is just as important in civic education for democracy as constitutionalism, human rights, popular sovereignty, and other time-honored concepts associated with democratic governance. If our students are to be able to analyze, understand, and appraise democracy in this country or elsewhere, then they must know the concept of civil society, assess the activities of civil society organizations, and connect their knowledge of civil society to other core concepts in the theory and practice of democracy. Further, if our students are to be equipped for responsible citizenship in a constitutional democracy, then they must develop civic skills and virtues needed for effective participation in civil society organizations.
To what extent are American students exposed to the concept of civil society in formal courses on civics and government? An examination of widely used textbooks for introductory courses in high schools and colleges reveals virtually no attention to civil society. None of the best-selling textbooks on government includes civil society in its index (Janda et al. 1988; McClenaghan 1996; Remy 1996; Wilson and DiIulio 1995). The concept of civil society is also absent from the social studies curricular guides and frameworks of most state education departments. Thus, our students are deprived of basic knowledge about the theory and practice of democracy in the world. They are thereby disabled from accurately analyzing and comparing important global trends and issues on democracy.
Despite the bad news of the recent past on civil society in the curricula of schools, there is hope for the future. There is evidence that the concept of civil society will become more prominent in the social studies curricula of American schools. For example, a recently issued publication, National Standards for Civics and Government (Center for Civic Education 1994), emphasizes civil society as a basic concept in education for democracy. These standards are likely to influence significantly the contents of the next generation of textbooks and curricular guides.
Another hopeful sign is the heavy emphasis on civil society in the framework of the 1998 NAEP Civics Assessment Planning Project (Council of Chief State School Officers 1996). This framework guides the development of test items for the upcoming National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in civics, which will be conducted in 1998. There will be several items about civil society in the 1998 civics assessment, as called for by the test specifications within the framework document.1 These items on civil society in the civics national assessment will send a strong signal to textbook publishers, curricular guide developers, teachers, and parents of students about the importance of civil society in education for democracy. This kind of signal, when it is received by important segments of the education community, will lead to significant inclusion of civil society in the curricula of schools. So our students of the near future are likely to be more knowledgeable than students today and yesterday about civil society, a core concept of democracy.
Knowledge of civil society should be augmented by civic skills and virtues needed to carry out this idea in civic life. So, behavioral skills and dispositions (or virtues) pertaining to leadership, cooperation, trust, tolerance, civility, and self-reliance should be developed through practice in school and in the community outside the school.
Methods of cooperative learning and service learning can be employed to teach the skills and virtues needed for effective operation of civil society organizations. Cooperative learning, students working together in small groups for their mutual benefit, has become a common practice in American classrooms (Stahl and VanSickle 1992). And service learning, students acting together to learn by doing good for their community, has become a trend in civic education (MacNichol 1993). Further, a National Service Learning Cooperative Clearinghouse was established recently at the University of Minnesota to monitor and promote teaching and learning that connects meaningful community service by students with academic achievement, personal growth, and civic responsibility. So, there are very positive trends in American education today that emphasize development of skills and virtues needed for participation in civil society.
A renewed emphasis on civil society in civic education cannot in itself insure a revival of civil society in American life. A vibrant civil society, however, is one necessary component of a sound constitutional democracy. America's status as the world's oldest and most successful democracy is no guarantee that it will continue to be an exemplary political system. If Americans are to sustain a healthy constitutional democracy in the twenty-first century, today's students must be taught how to maintain and improve civil society. They must know what it is, how it is connected to constitutional democracy, and how to participate responsibly and effectively within it. n
1This author was a member of the Planning Committee that created the framework for the 1998 NAEP civics assessment. He currently is one of several consultants to the Educational Testing Service in this project to develop the test items for the 1998 NAEP civics assessment, and is thus familiar with the content of the framework and test items for the upcoming NAEP civics assessment.
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John J. Patrick is Director of the Social Studies Development Center, Director of the ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, and Professor of Education at Indiana University. Since 1991, he has traveled many times to Central and Eastern Europe to participate in civic education projects and conferences. Among his recent publications are "Principles of Democracy for the Education of Citizens in Former Communist Countries of Central and Eastern Europe," in Building Civic Education for Democracy in Poland edited by Richard C. Remy and Jacek Strzemieczny.