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Soc 235, Lecture 14
Transcript of Soc 235, Lecture 14
1. What is civil society, and why is
it important for democracy?
2. What are voluntary associations, and
why do they encourage social capital?
3. What did Tocqueville argue was
distinctive about American civil
society and American
Definition: civil society consists of all social life that takes place between the state and the family
characterized by solidarity, civility, manners
Why is civil society important for democracy?
Strict definition of democracy:
A procedure for making decisions or organizing politics, based on voting
Problem: democratic procedures do not guarantee democratic outcomes
No guarantee that people will participate
no guarantee that people will
be informed when they vote
no guarantee that voting will produce more tolerance
no guarantee that people will accept
the outcome of the vote
no guarantee that people will stay
involved after the vote is over
How does civil society help democracy?
Gives people a place where they can feel connected
Gives people a place where they can discuss issues they care about
Gives people a place where they can develop strategies for influencing state policies
mobilization, lobbying, protest
Builds generalized social trust
increases civic skills
increases the likelihood of civic engagement
Reading the newspaper
Belonging to other voluntary associations
increases generalized social trust
Tocqueville and American civil society
Context: sent to the US by the French government in the early 1800s, to study American society and understand its democracy
Belief that democracy breaks the chains of aristocracy
Since the US lacked a historical aristocracy, it was a good place to study democracy
concerned about the possible dangers of democracy
The most distinctive thing about American society was the number of associations that its citizens participated in
Still true today, if we compare the US to other countries
As soon an an American has an opinion, s/he goes looking for an association of people who share the same opinion
The growth of civic associations protects the freedom and the right to form political associations
In the US, associations make it possible to link self interest with the public interest