An American Civic Forum: Civil Society Between Market Individuals and the Political Community

Social Philosophy and Policy 13 (1):269 (1996)
Abstract
The polarization of the individual and the community that underlies much of the debate between individualists and communitarians is made possible in part by the literal vanishingof civil society—the domain whose middling terms mediate the stark opposition of state and private sectors and offer women and men a space for activity that is both voluntary and public. Modern democratic ideology and the reality of our political practices sometimesseem to yield only a choice between elephantine and paternalistic government or a radically solipsistic and nearly anarchic private market sector—overnment gargantuanism or private greed. Americans do not much like either one. President Clinton's callfor national service draws us out of our selfishness without kindling any affection for government. Private markets service our avarice without causing us to like ourselves. The question of how America's decentralized and multi-vocal public can secure a coherentvoice in debates over public policy under the conditions precipitated by so hollow and disjunctive a dichotomy is perhaps the most important issue facing both the political theory and social science of democracy and the practice of democratic politics in America today. Two recent stories out of Washington suggest just how grave the situation has become. Health-care reform failed in a paroxysm of mutual recrimination highlighted by the successful campaign of the private sector against a presidential program that seemed to be widely misunderstood. The public at large simply went missing in the debates
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DOI 10.1017/S0265052500001618
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