Civil Society: Coming to Grips with an Elusive Term

  • Dorothea BaurEmail author
Part of the Issues in Business Ethics book series (IBET, volume 36)


After having justified the selection of theories, the fourth chapter uses them to assess the term civil society. It is argued that the term civil society is equally elusive as the term NGO and that it has acquired different meanings over time. The main challenge consists in ascribing civil society a constitutive role that is a role as an essential intermediating force in a system of checks and balances in modern democracies. Liberalism, it is argued, does not master this challenge but only assigns civil society a role subordinate to the market (economic liberalism) or a background function (political liberalism). Deliberative democracy in contrast sees civil society as a distinctive sphere of action which is equivalent to the state and the market and whose normative core consists in operating according to the ideal of open-ended communication without the pressures of decision-making. With this conception of civil society, deliberative democracy prepares the ground for assigning NGOs an important role as political actors who mediate between the particular and the general, and thus also between economic interests of corporations and the public good.


Civil society State Market Open-ended communication Pressure of decision-making 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of St. Gallen, Institute for Business EthicsSt. GallenSwitzerland

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