home  |  book  |  blogs  |   RSS  |  contact  |

Obama as the Dying God Remember "No New Taxes"?

print view

Riots and Civil Society

by Christopher Chantrill
August 24, 2011 at 1:24 pm


PEGGY NOONON, as usual, asks the critical question in the aftermath of the London riots and the Philadelphia flash mobs.

When the riot begins or the flash mob arrives, the best the government can do is control the streets, enforce the law, maintain the peace.

After that, then what? Britain is about to face that question. We’ll likely have to face it, too, in the US.

The next step, she writes, is usually: “The government has to do something. We must start a program, create an agency to address juvenile delinquency.” Only that seems to be a joke these days. After all, the youth of London have been programmed, agencied, and social worked to death in the last half century. And still we get riots?

The conservative answer to the failure of the authoritarian welfare state with its programs, its agencies, and its social science experts is “civil society.” That notion goes back to Edmund Burke and his “little platoons.” Berger and Neuhaus addressed it in To Empower People where they argued for “mediating structures,” of family, church, association between the individual and the state.

Recently I have been reading the work of Lawrence Cahoone. His Civil Society: The Conservative Meaning of Liberal Politics is a profound critique of the failure of “neutralist liberalism” and an argument for civil society. Of course, his book is not a font of policy prescriptions, ammo for politicians eager to “do something” in the present crisis. It does little more than describe civil society: What it is, what it means, and what it does.

Even in the chaos of the London riots we can see civil society at work. From the Daily Mail.

In Dalston and Hackney, north-east London, Turkish shopkeepers and their families fought back against looting youths, before spending the night standing shoulder-to-shoulder in an attempt to deter further attacks.

When the chips are down, civil society means, at a minimum, that the men get together to defend their neighborhood.

Cahoone describes civil society in two major chapters of his book. The first, “Civil Society,” describes civil society institutionally; the second, “Civility, Neighborhood, and Culture,” describes it as culture.

The key point is that civil society is informal, a “quasi-independent association of households.” It is not community, for it is not unified. It is not government, but it is an association that relates to government.

In detail, Cahoone describes five characteristics of civil society:

Society is autonomous, for “Society gets its norms from the inside rather than from institutions outside it.”

There are no subjects, only citizens. Aristocrat and commoner are united in their “Frenchness” or “Englishness.”

Civil society is a spontaneous order, not ordered up by political will. No “single agency dominates social life.” There are different types of institutions competing in society and many competing within each type.

Civil “societies must have market economies.” But civil society is not the same as the market; it abuts the market economy and “the rules of civility are not the rules of the market.”

At the cultural level, writes Cahoone, it is important to remember that civil society is not politics. It is primarily “living-with, not talking-with;” It is "membership, freedom, civility, and dignity.” Dignity here means “recognizable worthiness,” a rough equality in which banker and laborer take care to relate as equals.

The essential core of the civil society is its “dialectic of civility and culture.” There cannot be a pure civility; it “must be informed by some cultural tradition.” But not just one tradition. Civil society implies a diversity, a competition of cultural narratives, but a competition that minimizes cultural coercion.

The modern world is a mix of “market, civil society, and nationalism,” writes Cahoone. These are fighting words, for when you think about it, our liberal friends are at war with all three. They want to control the market with their regulations and subsidies; they want to marginalize civil society with their political hegemony, and they want to neuter national identity with their elite cosmopolitanism.

Radio host Dennis Prager always says: “I prefer clarity over agreement.” The more that I learn about civil society, the more I reach clarity about what that city on a hill will look like.

When we conservatives reach clarity on civil society we will be ready to hammer out a new social contract with the American people. It will be based on the simple idea that civil society is at the heart of America. Civil society is the solvent that can soften the endless “creative destruction” of the market and the “civil war by other means” of national politics.

And it will deflate the thugs of the flash mobs.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

print view

To comment on this article at American Thinker click here.

To email the author, click here.



What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican

Racial Discrimination

[T]he way “to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,” Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District

Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State

Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050

Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.


[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values


Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization

Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph

Moral Imperatives of Modern Culture

These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self

Drang nach Osten

There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion

Government Expenditure

The Union publishes an exact return of the amount of its taxes; I can get copies of the budgets of the four and twenty component states; but who can tell me what the citizens spend in the administration of county and township?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

presented by Christopher Chantrill

Data Sources  •   •  Contact