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Teachers and supporters strike outside East High School on May 7, teachers to horrendous working conditions and expose students to overcrowded classrooms. to be written out of the script of a potentially radical democracy. . a rise in economic inequality, families unable to support themselves.

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All of them have at least one thing in common: across vast geographic distances and despite barriers of time, they deliberately organise themselves and conduct their cross-border social activities, business, and politics outside the boundaries of governmental structures, with a minimum of violence and a maximum of respect for the principle of civilised power-sharing among different ways of life.

To liken global civil society to a vast biosphere that stretches to every corner of the earth is to underscore both its great complexity and, as we shall see, its vulnerability to internal and external interference.

To be sure, everywhere it is tissue-thin, just like the natural biosphere, which resembles a paper wrapping that covers a sphere the size of a football; and its fringes, where ice and permafrost predominate, are virtually uninhabited. In the interior of the Antarctic, only restricted populations of bacteria and insects are to be found; and even on its coasts there are very few living inhabitants.

Global civil society is similarly subject to geographic limits: whole zones of the earth—parts of contemporary Afghanistan, Burma, Chechnya, and Sierra Leone, for instance—are no-go areas for civil society, which can survive only by going underground. But in those areas of the earth where it does exist, global civil society comprises many biomes: whole areas, like North America and the European Union, characterised by specific animals and plants and climatic conditions. Each biome in turn comprises large numbers of living ecosystems made up of clusters of organisms living within a nonliving physical environment of rocks, soil, and climate.

Understanding Civil Society

These ecosystems of global civil society—cities, business corridors, and regions, for instance—are interconnected. And they are more or less intricately balanced through continuous flows and recycling of efforts among, as it were, populations of individuals of the same species, which thrive within communities, such as smaller cities, that are themselves embedded within non-living geographic contexts.

Biospheric similes are helpful in picturing the contours of global civil society, but they should not be overextended, if only because global civil society is not simply a naturally occurring phenomenon. Although it is naturally embedded within a terrestrial biosphere, global civil society is an ensemble of more or less tightly interlinked biomes that are in fact social processes.


The populations, communities, and ecosystems of global civil society comprise flesh and blood, symbol-using individuals, households, profit-seeking businesses, not-for-profit nongovernmental organisations, coalitions, social movements, and cultural-religious groups. In these various ways, the members of global civil society help to conserve or to alter the power relations embedded in the chains of interaction linking the local, regional, and planetary orders.

Their cross-border networks help to define and redefine who gets what, when, and how in the world. Defined in this way, the ideal-type concept of global civil society invites us to improve our understanding of the emerging planetary order, to think more deeply about it, in the hope that we can strengthen our collective powers of guiding and transforming it. This clearly requires sharpening up our courage to confront the unknown and to imagine different futures. And it most definitely obliges us to abandon some old certainties and prejudices grounded in the past. The literature suggests that the three principles--participatory engagement, constitutional authority, and moral responsibility--are found in all civil societies regardless of cultural context.

Participatory engagement indicates that members of the society 1 enjoy access to and governance of resources used for the common good, 2 are free to be involved in civic action and social change, and 3 are free to participate in group affiliations that provide a sense of belonging on a community level. Constitutional authority protects the rights and privileges of citizens in a civil society.

From International Relations to Global Society

Under the rule of law, citizens and social groups are constitutionally legitimized and empowered to hold economic and political actors accountable for their work as community servants and trustees. Local and national decision-makers, motivated by the common good rather than self-interest, are expected to design and implement public policies that strengthen the vitality and welfare of the community. Within this social context, all community members have moral responsibility to use their civil liberties in ways that do not violate the human rights of others.

The practice of equity, justice, and reciprocity produces social order and stability.

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These three systems and three principles combine to articulate nine measurable characteristics of civil society. Civil society is advanced when citizens share a social right of access to the commonwealth of resources produced, used, and exchanged through natural and social economies in a community and through a society. Access, in this context, includes the abilities both to contribute to the resources and to benefit from them.

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As citizens participate in the open exchange of commonwealth resources, they can form and strengthen social connections and networks with others. Civil society is advanced when citizens can exercise their civic duty of self-governance by participating in political structures that exhibit decentralized power and authority. Civil society is advanced when citizens can openly and voluntarily participate in diverse social affiliations, groups, networks, and structures for self-governance and social transformation.

Community-based civic engagement in systems of social exchange exists when diverse social groups and gatherings are present and permeable.


Civil society is advanced when citizens hold decision-making power, work to strengthen and improve local and regional economies, and exercise sustainable and socially transparent stewardship of societal resources e. The presence and legitimacy of community-based civic authority through systems of political governance increase the ability of citizens to exercise sovereignty over policies and programs that can positively affect their lives and the quality of life in their community.

Civil society is advanced when citizens, acting through community-based groups and associations, are able to use basic civic freedoms and rights e. Civil society is advanced when each citizen is given equitable access to and use of resources required for constructing a satisfying and satisficing life.


A moral condition of equity forms the foundation of activities that expand and strengthen economic conditions for all community members. Economic equity of resources is necessary for producing and sustaining an improved quality of life for all people, especially the poor. In classical Greek thought, justice was accomplished by having people serve the city-state according to their status by birth. Gender, merit, rank, and wealth all were criteria for the role one was expected to play in the society, whether citizen or non-citizen. If the social order became disrupted, "justice" was accomplished by restoring people to their former positions of power and status.

Unfortunately, the practice of justice according to this particular "rule of law" allowed previous inequalities to continue. The disenfranchised remained excluded after the work of justice. Contemporary views of citizenship and justice reflect these classical ideas in their adherence to a rule of law that is based on the ethical norms of society, but the particular ethical norms have largely shifted.

In the United States, the bases of citizenship and political participation have changed. Heredity, wealth, and social position have given way to the unalienable right of common citizenship legitimized by the Constitution. A law or policy is considered unjust if it is unconstitutional or contrary to the democratically formed rule of law. Civil society is advanced when citizens 1 pursue social transformation through reciprocal, mutually dependent collaboration with others, and 2 negotiate, mediate, and resolve conflict through peaceful, nonviolent means.

The nature of civic environments requires that social relationships in communities be limited and conditional.

About this book

Not everyone in a society is invariably viewed as a legitimate member and given equal access to its resources. The term reciprocity highlights two interrelated moral issues of social relationships: how people to treat one another, especially when conflict exists; and how group boundaries are defined and transcended. As we continue through the 21st century, the principles and systems of civil society must move beyond the nation-state to include a global political economy of relations and groups.

Everyone is to be viewed as one another's neighbor; we are mutually responsible for everyone's opportunity to experience a satisfying and satisficing life. Our global economy, having brought us together, pushes us to develop appropriate political and social systems through which participation, authority, and responsibility can be just, equitable, and nonviolent--responding with concern for the disenfranchised, marginalized, and impoverished. His research on topics and issues relevant to international nonprofit organizations includes work in Central America.

Copyright by Timothy J. Barber, Benjamin R. New York: Hill and Wang.