ON THE THEORY AND HISTORY OF CIVIL SOCIETY
In the past decade, the world social science has been increasingly often using the term of global village to describe future united society, towards which mankind is moving now through strengthening the principles of civil society. It implies that such a society is supposed to cherish harmonious and highly civilised relations between its elements. For these forecasts to come true one must pay due respect for the legacy of all communities and admit that all nations contribute to the development of world culture.
With this in mind, we assume that the first ideas as regards the nature of civil society date back not to Plato or Aristotle but to ancient Chinese social philosophy. To be more specific, we believe that they can be traced back to the Tao School, which emphasised self-regulation and maximal self-governance as the basic principles of society. A good emperor is the one, who the ordinary people know of and whose existence they are aware of, but whom they never see or feel in their everyday life, Tao theorists say. The best decision is not the one imposed from above, more so if done through the use of force, but the one that is self-evident. Excessive government efforts lead to social unrest, which can further develop into social discord and result in a social crisis.
However, it was the transition from ancient civilisations to those, which appeared in the age of Renaissance and Enlightenment, that offered favourable conditions for the ideas of civil society to be implemented. The new age put forward three value priorities, which had had no right to exist before, to be used as the main guidlines.
Universalism. The principle suggests that all people are socially equal. The postulate first saw the light of the day in the world religions, to be more specific - in Buddhism, the most ancient of all religions. Admitting that all people are equal before God, irrespective of ethnicity, social status, social differences, etc., led to the understanding of social value of any human being.
Scientific scepticism. It implies the necessity to verify any branch of knowledge solely by means of logic and empirics. The era of mysticism, which used to describe the world in terms of the supernatural and the unknown, was over. The principle "Doubt everything" prevailed. From this standpoint exactly, Max Veber explains the genesis of modern capitalism increasingly relying on technological progress and unrestrained expansion.
Eudaemonia, or Eidetism. This principle is called upon to consider well-being and happiness of every member of society as a cogent reason for the society to exist. The prevalence of the postulate and revolution in public consciousness are often associated with the works by Jean Jacque Russo. The principle eventually became an inalienable part of society and was enacted as a result of the Great Revolutions of the New Age, including, incidentally, the Great October Socialist Revolution, too.
So, what is characteristic of the system of social relations in civil society as regards the above postulates?
We believe that it is more appropriate to consider civil society not a certain state of society, but a social process. Featuring exceptional variety it depends on a great many factors and is unique in all aspects. As becomes perfectly clear from the speeches made by the western participants in the forum, in western societies today the process is focused on ensuring the owner's rights, and in doing so the state employs an array of fiscal mechanisms like taxes, etc. In today's Russia, relations in civil society are built in an absolutely different area. It is public opinion and the mere fact of its existence.
Dynamic and capable public opinion inherent in society as a whole can be viewed as both a goal and a social indicator as to how developed civil society in a given nation is. As is known, a peculiar thing about civil society is that any social group or individual is presented with an opportunity to voice his interests and use all relevant means to advance them. However, this conflict of interests being civilised in nature, it is based on a certain consensus reached by all social groups comprising the society with due regard for a minimum set of values, which are recognised by all components of society and used as a basis for the existence of society proper. So, public opinion as a deciding factor determining the efficiency of civil society is wrapped around this minimal value consensus. Civil society can be regarded as efficient if capable of promptly, appropriately and decisively reacting to any violation of the above value consensus.
It is all too obvious that modern society lacks efficacious public opinion of the kind. Efforts made by Russia's society today to form and implement the so-called new patriotism idea also can be viewed as an attempt to form the above sort of public opinion. This kind of patriotism is constructive in nature. Unlike nationalism, it is called upon not to be against someone, but to defend vital social interests of today's Russian society.
Incidentally, any analysis of civil society is not capable of revealing absolutely positive or absolutely negative phenomena and trends in it. This can be exemplified by the patriotism phenomenon, which has more than once played a creative and constructive role in history. Let us recall the rapid economic growth one could witness in Japan after World War II.
Another example is the role played by the army in society. Charles W. Mills was the first to speak about the social threat posed by the 'military-industrial complex' in the United States, while President Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose words are engraved in the Capitol, sent a strong public warning against it. On the other hand, it was owing to the army as a social institute that Portugal managed to put an end to its authoritarian regime and ensure a more active involvement of civil society in public life.
Obviously, strengthening relations within civil society is the only possible way to ensure further development of mankind. However, this does not imply and guarantee that all processes involved will be unambiguous and clear-cut in nature. It is absolutely clear, that flourishing organised crime and administrative corruption in today's Russia is the direct result of the environment where criminal capital is given a free hand to protect its own private interests, as well as lack of control over a number of key social sectors on the part of the state. It follows that not only society must to a certain extent exercise control over the state. We must also determine to what extent the state proper can control the activities of individuals and groups of individuals.
It is somewhat naive to believe that a social group is able to ensure the required development vector as regards building relations within a healthy civil society, even if tasked to the intelligentsia. It becomes possible only through the day-to-day resolution of conflicts between private interests and the state, provided that the process involves the majority of elements in a given society. Freedom and power are not a freewill present, but costly results of an unrelenting struggle. However, the role of the intelligentsia, primarily social scientists and leaders of primary groups, is difficult to overestimate. The more so, if those leaders wear officers' uniform and are part of such a key social institute as the armed forces.
About the author
Vladimir KULTYGIN, the Institute for Social and Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences