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Civil Society and Legitimate European Governance

Edited by Stijn Smismans

This book explores the concept of ‘civil society’, which over recent years has been revived and introduced into the institutional debate within the EU. Significantly, EU institutions themselves have made reference to civil society and, on an academic plane, it has been argued that the debate on the legitimacy of European governance should value the role of civil society organisations.
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Chapter 1: Civil Society and European Governance: From Concepts to Research Agenda

Stijn Smismans


Stijn Smismans CIVIL SOCIETY FROM ARISTOTLE TO PRODI The concept of civil society has a long tradition and has been given many interpretations, from being identified with political community by Aristotle to meaning nearly the opposite since Hegel, namely a differentiation of society in which civil society is defined as more or less formalised institutions which form an autonomous social sphere that is distinct from the State. In contrast to this dualistic model, in today’s complex modern society it has become more common to define civil society as a social sphere distinct from both State and market. Depending on the definition, civil society has been attributed different roles in a democratic society (for an overview, see: Foley and Edwards 1997; Rossteutscher 2000). In particular since the 1990s the claimed democratic benefits of civil society have been stressed in the context of an increasing dissatisfaction with present-day representative democracy, which has often been linked to processes of technocratisation of governance, individualisation of society and globalisation of markets and centres of decision-making. Communitarians, for instance, have stressed the role of traditional family, functioning neighbourhoods and volunteer associations to revive feelings of community and shared values in reply to ‘the self-destroying capacities of liberalism and an increasingly ego-centrist attitude towards life’ (Etzioni 1998). In parallel, the debate on ‘social capital’ (for example, Putnam 1993 and 1995; Fukuyama 1995) has stressed that the quality of democratic politics and the vitality of a country’s economic life are highly dependent on its associational life. Voluntary organisations,...

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