Archive | June, 2012

Civil Society Politics & Activism

28 Jun
Discussion Paper and Invitation to Participate
in a New Politics

Around the world politics is in disrepute. It has become detached from society, and unresponsive to its needs. It has been captured by elites. It seems incapable of solving the big economic, social and environmental challenges of our time. Public leadership remains important, but politics everywhere is  discredited.
In western societies, politics no longer inspires, cynicism rules, and citizens feel powerless.
In post-communist societies, initial enthusiasm for democracy has given way to detachment and cynicism. Citizens feel powerless.
In emerging democracies, citizenship is fragile, institutions are weak, and corruption abounds. Citizens feel powerless.
This is a global problem. Is there a solution to the crisis of democracy, the failure of politics and citizen detachment?
For more than a century, political movements, governments and public policy have focussed almost exclusively on states and markets, and ignored civil society (the sphere of life that is most important for most of us, most of the time).
Civil Society comprises the relationships and activities that constitute our lives, the things we do as civilians, freely and voluntarily, in association with others, outside the state and the market.
Social well-being is largely determined in and through our relationships in civil society. Our experience of care and belonging is formed by these relationships.
Civil society relationships are horizontal, relational and voluntary. State-citizen interactions are vertical and coercive. Business-customer interactions are monetary exchanges. When political movements, governments and public policy focussed exclusively on states and markets for a century, they focussed only on state-citizen and business-customer interactions and ignored the things that are most important to us.
Why was civil society marginalised for a century?
Historically the 20th century was the century of concentrated power (Communism, Fascism, World Wars, Big Business). Civil society is dispersed, localised, small in scale.
Ideologically the philosophies of the 20th century were individualist-collectivist (Fordism, Marxism, Nazism, Existentialism, Scientific Management, Neo-Liberalism). Civil society is relational and associational.
Organisationally labour unions and corporations were easy to organize. Before the Internet it was difficult and costly to organise the disparate components of civil society.
In 20th Century Politics, notions of Left and Right formed a stable linear structure for politics without civil society. Right and Left corresponded with the individualist-collectivist axis.
In the 20th Century, this structure felt like the natural order of things, the natural way of thinking about politics… without civil society.
Four Features of Left and Right
1. See the
public sector or the private sector as the solution to every problem. See the imposition of state or market solutions on society as the proper business of government.
2. See only
individuals and governments as social actors. Cannot see associations of citizens and their interactions. Do not see individualism-collectivism as flip sides of the same coin.
3. Serve core
public and private sector constituencies (public sector employees for the Left; corporates and private sector professional groups for the Right). Ignore the third sector (households, associations, charities, social enterprises, cooperatives). Ignore family and small-businesses and the self-employed. (a vast and growing sector but one which does not fit the management goals of Left or Right).
4. See politics as
‘management’, the execution of top-down, corporate-style administration. Use political parties as their instruments of management, based on top-down, command-and-control cultures. These parties no longer need citizens, and now comprise professional operatives, ‘career politicians’, a ‘political class’.
This is the politics that we have inherited from the 20th century.
It is a politics that cannot solve 21st century problems because:
1. The
active participation of citizens is required to solve the pressing social, economic and environmental problems of our time. The imposition of state or market prescriptions on society does not work.
Associations of citizens, big and small, are key social actors.
Self-employed people, micro and family businesses are a vast and growing sector that does not fit the traditional public or private sector, and does not fit the management goals of Left or Right.
Top-down ‘management’ of society and organisations runs counter to the practice of participation in distributed networks in the 21st century.
What then comes after 20th Century Politics?
Civil Society Politics
Civil society constitutes vast social constituencies anchored in communities. It comprises:
Family, kinship and friendship networks Household or domestic economy Neighbourhoods and informal social supports Voluntary associations NGOs and charities
Self-help and support groups Cooperatives and mutuals Social enterprises Self-employment, family-enterprises, small businesses Religion, faith and spirituality
These diverse social forms have three common features that are the basis for commonality:
Relational – they are defined by relationships Associational – they are driven by formal or informal bonds Voluntary – they are formed without coercion
Public policy can either strengthen or weaken these social forms and their features.
States and markets can either erode these formations, or be reconfigured to enhance them.
Civil Society Politics is:
A response to the marginalisation of civil society in the political arena. A response to the invisibility of civil society in policy making. A response to the exclusion of civil society from public decision-making.
Civil Society Politics seeks:
a. Representation of civil society in politics. b. Policy making that strengthens civil society. c. Transfer of power from states and markets to civil society.
d. Renewal of democracy by placing citizens and civil society at the centre.
Civil Society Politics has
3 major advantage over 20th Century Politics:
1. It is anchored in communities.
2. It aims to capture power not for itself but for civil society.
3. It has rich and diverse intellectual and cultural resources with which to reform politics and society.
Civil Society Politics has
3 major advantages over other political reform movements:
1. It accepts the globalisation of culture, trade and people and aims to empower people and localities within it. It does not strive to build barriers of protection and isolation.
2. It accepts a market economy with limited government and aims to empower civil society as the primary generator of cohesion, belonging, capital, ownership of assets, and public decision-making.
3. In its focus on capturing power not for its own sake but for civil society, it has a built-in safeguard against extremism and the perception of risk associated with new political movements.
Power to the People
Civil Society Politics is the only practical way to devolve Power to the People. In 20th Century Politics, ‘power to the people’ movements invariably ended up transferring power to the state or to markets (from Fidel Castro to Steve Jobs).
Civil Society Politics is made viable by new technology.
Individuals and groups can connect and organise online, locally, nationally and globally. The financial cost of political organising and electoral activity can be reduced significantly in the 21st century by low-cost networking and crowdsourcing.
So how can Civil Society Politics take the world by storm?
Politics is in disrepute around the world, but the challenge of organising change seems too big and too daunting for many. Some opt for single-issue campaigns, or pursue social change through enterprise initiatives. Others opt to influence institutions where they can. All of these are valuable, but they leave politics unrenovated and governments unreformed, and civil society as an outsider.
It is proposed that Civil Society Politics be:
a. A movement – which individuals may join. b. Global in scope – a new political movement is needed in every country. c. Open to members of existing parties and members of none, including those who seek new parties or electoral activity based on civil society politics.
Members in each country can network with each other and take initiatives as they see fit (including those who are members of the same political party, those who seek to form a new party or undertake electoral activity based on civil society politics).
First Steps:
An online tool will be created through which individuals and groups in every country can join
Civil Society Politics – Power to the People.
A Code of Conduct for members is stipulated (the text of the Code is below).

An international coordinating council will be established.
Feedback and comments are welcome.
You may participate in a discussion forum on Civil Society Politics at 
Civil Society Global Network on 
Or send your comments to