civil society(redirected from Civil societies)
Also found in: Dictionary, Financial.
civil society(as used by HEGEL and MARX) market and economic relations (in contrast with the activity of the STATE); a realm intermediate between the family and the state. More generally, the realm of wider social relations and public participation, as against the narrower operations of the state or of the economy.
The earliest usages of the term in political and social philosophy were to contrast both ‘civil society’ and ‘civil government’ with ‘natural society’ or the ‘state of nature’. In the Scottish Enlightenment, Adam FERGUSON used the term in contrasting Western CIVILIZATION, and its associated forms of government and politics, with non-Western forms of society and their more ‘despotic forms of government (see also ORIENTAL DESPOTISM). The economic and political freedoms associated with civil society are regarded by Marxists as sometimes apparent rather than real (e.g. protecting the interests of private property and capital and enshrining significant freedoms, but instilling selfish individualism and masking underlying economic exploitation, ALIENATION, the loss of earlier community, etc). However, within Marxism, as well as in sociology generally the historical significance of the differentiation of civil society from ‘nature’, the family, and the 'S tate’ is acknowledged on all sides. Distinctions in any of the above senses between civil society and the state operate, even if, as emphasized by GRAMSCI, the state plays a role in the establishment of civil society, and the establishment of civil society also plays a part in protecting or in changing particular state forms (compare PUBLIC SPHERE). See also CIVIL RIGHTS, PUBLIC SPHERE.