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A Vibrant World Civil Society

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II on January 4, 2020 at 11:21 PM

By René Wadlow

The term “civil society” came into extensive use especially in Europe in the mid -1970s as efforts to bridge the East-West divide and prevent the dangers of war in Europe. As Mary Kalder writes “A group of us launched the European Nuclear Disarmament (END) Appeal for a nuclear-free Europe. The Appeal attracted thousands of signatures from all over Europe and beyond and was one of the mobilizing documents of the new peace movement which sprang up in Western Europe in the early 1980s. The Appeal called for nuclear disarmament through unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral means, but it was also an appeal to end the Cold War. It accorded responsibility in the Cold War to both the United States and the Soviet Union and insisted on the link between disarmament and democracy.” (1)

Ernest Gellner

The END Appeal looked to positive action from “civil society” within the Soviet bloc which was starting to be vocal outside of the government-controlled peace organizations which largely reflected Soviet government policy in their interaction with Western peace-disarmament non-governmental organizations. As Ernest Gellner writes, “Civil Society is the idea of institutional and ideological pluralism, which prevents the established monopoly of power and truth and counterbalances those central institutions which though necessary, might otherwise acquire such monopoly. The actual practice of Marxism had led, wherever it came to be implemented to what might be called Caesaro-Papism-Mannonism to the near total fusion of the political, ideological, and economic hierarchies. The state, the church-party, and the economic managers were all parts of one single nomenclature… Civil Society is that set of diverse nongovernmental institutions which is strong enough to counterbalance the state and, while not preventing the state from fulfilling its role as keeper of the peace and arbitrator between major interests, can nevertheless prevent it from dominating and atomizing the rest of society.” (2)

Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel, although he later became president of a State, was a valuable symbol of the efforts to develop a civil society. “We emphasized many times that the struggle we had taken on had little in common with what is traditionally understood by the expression ‘politics.’ We discussed such concepts as non-political politics, and stressed that we were interested in certain values and principles and not in power and position. We emphasized the importance of the spirit, the importance of truth and said that even spirit and truth embody a certain kind of power.” (3)

Today, more than in the recent past, we are faced with a revival of the Caesaro-Papism-Mannonism States whose interactions, especially in the wider Middle East, could lead to armed conflicts. In addition to the Caesaro-led States, the world society faces terrorism as movements with goals, gurus, ideologues, myths and martyrs. Thus there is a need to develop and structure a world-wide civil society. The concept of civil society is probably the platform for future progressive action. The global civil society is a ‘power shift’ of potentially historic dimensions with bonds of trust, shared values and mutual obligations which cross national frontiers. With the war drums starting to beat, creative action is needed now.

Notes

1) Mary Kaldor (Ed.), Europe from Below (London: Verso, 1991)
2) Ernest Gellner, Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and its Rivals (London: Penguin Books, 1996)
3) Vaclav Havel in Mary Kalder (Ed.), Europe from Below.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

  1. [Today, more than in the recent past, we are faced with a revival of the Caesaro-Papism-Mannonism States whose interactions, especially in the wider Middle East, could lead to armed conflicts. In addition to the Caesaro-led States, the world society faces terrorism as movements with goals, gurus, ideologues, myths and martyrs. Thus there is a need to develop and structure a world-wide civil society…]

    The hard lessons we are about to learn from Iran and all it’s many proxies for killing their National Military Icon may be the inspiration to further that “world-wide civil society, provided we survive the onslaught that is coming.. it is gonna be VERY UGLY!

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