Uzurile și abuzurile societății civile

Societatea civilă, dispozitiv teoretic și practic cu o lungă carieră anticomunistă, continuă să coaguleze și mobilizeze încercările politice autohtone: la dreapta, legitimând și codificând în termeni morali, apolitici și civilizatorii radicalizarea proiectului neoliberal; la stânga, conferind rezonabilitate replierii comunitariste și furnizând teologia politică a noilor și subversivelor grădini din intersecții. Ce ascunde societatea civilă în ceea ce arată, în ce mod este ea un produs specific al capitalismului pe care îl legitimează prin chiar mistificarea sa „civilă” și „socială” – pentru toate acestea, vă oferim câteva fragmente dintr-un text fundamental al lui Ellen Meiksins Wood, plasat, deloc întâmplător, în negura îndepărtatului – și atât de apropriatului – an 1990.

 

Ellen Meiksins Wood – Uses and abuses of Civil Society  (Socialist Register, 1990)

 

After a long and somewhat tortuous history, after a series of milestones in the works of Hegel, Marx and Gramsci, this versatile idea has become an all-purpose catchword for the left, embracing a wide range of emancipatory aspirations, as well – it must be said – as a whole set of excuses for political retreat… ‘civil society’ is now in danger of becoming an alibi for capitalism. […]

The current usage of ‘civil society’ or the conceptual opposition of ‘state’ and ‘civil society’, has been inextricably associated with the development of capitalism… Whatever other factors have been at work in producing such concepts, their evolution has been from the beginning bound up with the development of private property as a distinct and autonomous locus of social power. […]

civil society represents a separate sphere of human relations and activity, differentiated from the state but neither public nor private or perhaps both at once, embodying not only a whole range of social interactions apart from the private sphere of the household and the public sphere of the state, but more specifically a network of distinctively economic relations, the sphere of the market-place, the arena of production, distribution and exchange. […]

the new concept of ‘civil society’ signals that the left has learned the lessons of liberalism about the dangers of state oppression, but we seem to be forgetting the lessons we once learned from the socialist tradition about the oppressions of civil society. On the one hand, the advocates of civil society are strengthening our defence of non-state institutions and relations against the power of the state; on the other hand, they are tending to weaken our resistance to the coercions of capitalism. […]

We are being asked to pay a heavy price for the all embracing concept of ‘civil society’. This conceptual portmanteau, which indiscriminately lumps together everything from households and voluntary associations to the economic system of capitalism, confuses and disguises as much as it reveals. In Eastern Europe, it can be made to apprehend everything from the defence of political rights and cultural freedoms to the marketization of postcapitalist economies or even the restoration of capitalism. ‘Civil society’ can serve as a code-word or cover for capitalism, and the market can be lumped together with other less ambiguous goods like political and intellectual liberties as an unequivocally desirable goal. […]

Here, the danger lies in the fact that the totalizing logic and the coercive power of capitalism become invisible, when the whole social system of capitalism is reduced to one set of institutions and relations among many others, on a conceptual par with households or voluntary associations. Such a reduction is, indeed, the principal distinctive feature of ‘civil society’ in its new incarnation. Its effects is to conceptualize away the problem of capitalism, by disaggregating society into fragments, with no over-arching power structure, no totalizing unity, no systemic coercions -in other words, no capitalist system, with its expansionary drive and its capacity to penetrate every aspect of social life. […]

the development of the West can hardly be viewed as simply the rise of individuality, the rule of law, the progress of freedom or power from ‘below’; and the autonomy of ‘civil society’ acquires a different meaning. The very developments described by [liberals] in these terms are also, and at the same time, the evolution of new forms of exploitation and domination (the constitutive ‘power from below’ is, after all, the power of lordship), new relations of personal dependence and bondage, the privatization of surplus extraction and the transfer of ancient oppressions from the state to ‘society’ – that is, a transfer of power relations and domination from the state to private property. This new division of labour between state and ‘society’ also laid a foundation for the increasing separation of private appropriation from public responsibilities which came to fruition in capitalism. […]

It is not, then, enough to say that democracy can be expanded by detaching the principles of ‘formal democracy’ from any association with capitalism. Nor is it enough to say that capitalist democracy is incomplete, one stage in an unambiguously progressive development which must be perfected by socialism and advanced beyond the limitations of ‘formal democracy’. The point is rather that the association of capitalism with ‘formal democracy’ represents a contradictory unity of advance and retreat, both an enhancement and a devaluation of democracy. To put it briefly, capitalism has been able to tolerate an unprecedented distribution of political goods, the rights and liberties of citizenship, because it has also for the first time made possible a form of citizenship, civil liberties and rights which can be abstracted from the distribution of social power… It was capitalism which for the first time made possible a purely ‘formal’ political sphere, with purely ‘political’ rights and liberties… That historical transformation laid the foundation for a redefinition of the word ‘democracy’. If capitalism made this reconceptualization possible, political developments in a sense made it necessary. As it became more difficult for dominant classes simply to denounce democracy, with the intrusion of the ‘masses’ into the political sphere, the concept of democracy began to lose its social connotations, in favour of essentially procedural or ‘formal’ criteria. The concept was, in other words, domesticated, made acceptable to dominant classes who could now claim commitment to ‘democratic’ principles without fundamentally endangering their own dominance. Now, the purely ‘formal’ principles of liberalism have come to be identified with democracy. In other words, these formal principles are treated not simply as good in themselves, nor even as necessary conditions for democracy in the literal sense of popular rule, but as synonymous with it or as its outer limit… ‘Formal democracy’, in short, certainly represents an improvement on political forms lacking civil liberties, the rule of law and the principle of representation. But it is also, equally and at the same time, a subtraction from the substance of the democratic idea, and one which is historically and structurally associated with capitalism.

 

 

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