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By John R. Ehrenberg

In the absence of noble public pursuits, famous leaders, and compelling concerns, many warn of a perilous erosion of civil society. Are they correct? What are the roots and implications in their insistent alarm? How can public lifestyles be enriched in a interval marked through fraying groups, common apathy, and exceptional degrees of contempt for politics? How may still we be pondering civil society?

Civil Society examines the old, political, and theoretical evolution of ways civil society has been understood for the earlier and a part millennia. From Aristotle and the Enlightenment philosophers to Colin Powell's Volunteers for the US, Ehrenberg presents an fundamental research of the possibilities-and limits-of what this more and more vital proposal can supply to modern political affairs.

Civil Society is the winner of the Michael J. Harrington Award from the Caucus for a brand new Political technological know-how of APSA for the simplest booklet released in the course of 1999.

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Sample text

Civil society was no longer understood as a universal commonwealth but came to mean private property, individual interest, political democracy, the rule of law, and an economic order devoted to prosperity. Chapter 4 begins with John Locke's understanding that a civil society constituted by property, production, and acquisition required a law-governed state to preserve order and protect liberty. Civil society denoted the possibility of people living in conditions of political freedom and economic activity.

Force is important, but in the end civil society rests on patterns of thought. Unhealthy states are like diseased souls because their lack of balance orients them toward individual purposes and thus renders them indifferent to the common good. Private strivings stand behind all deviant personalities and political formations because they crip- Page 7 ple the master virtue of reason and precipitate psychic breakdown and civil war. The glue that holds together the soul and civil society is supplied by the integrative power of reason, which discerns the single truth that organizes the world.

22 Exchange became a factor only in the village. Initially, it took the form of simple barter, but it soon became possible to accumulate more than was needed for subsistence. The consequences were extremely troubling, and Aristotle shared Plato's concern that individual accumulation and private profit could subvert civil society. Markets have been part of human life for a long time but have come to dominate social affairs only recently. A complicated set of expectations and institutions have shaped human social organization for many thousands of years, and these have been primarily noneconomic in character.

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