What is civil society?

Civil society is the set of voluntary civic organizations and institutions that form the foundations of a functioning society , as opposed to structures that are aided by the state.

There are several definitions of civil society. The first came from Adam Ferguson, a Scottish philosopher, who wrote the first work on civil society in 1767, entitled "Essay on the History of Civil Society". According to Ferguson, civil society is the opposite of an isolated individual, more specifically, someone who lives in a community. Subsequently, the concept of Civil Society was developed by Immanuel Kant, and for him society was based on law.

A widely used concept is that of organized civil society, described by the author Nildo Viana as "a bureaucratic mediation between civil society and the state".

These are some examples of civil society entities:

  • Professional Associations;
  • civic clubs;
  • Social and sports clubs;
  • Cooperatives;
  • corporations;
  • Environmental groups;
  • Groups by gender, cultural and religious;
  • Charitable institutions;
  • Political institutions;
  • Consumer protection bodies.

Civil Society and State

According to the Italian philosopher and politician Antonio Gramsci, the State should not be seen only as Government. Gramsci makes the division of the State into political society and civil society. According to Gramsci, political society refers to political institutions and the legal and constitutional control they exercise. Civil society, on the other hand, is seen as a non-state or private organism, which may include the economy, for example. Political society is connoted with force and civil society with consent.

Gramsci contributed greatly to the analysis of the concept of civil society and also of the Civil Society/State dichotomy.

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