In This Review

Civil Society and Government
Civil Society and Government
Edited by Nancy L. Rosenblum and Robert C. Post
Princeton University Press, 2002, 416 pp

Cherished Western notions of democracy and individual freedom are premised on the existence of a robust civil society. This collection of essays usefully tries to map this elusive entity. Its contributors agree that civil society is the realm of plural and particular identities and interests, in which individuals are free to associate with each other and determine their own purposes; government, in contrast, is the domain of common purpose and identity. But just about everything else is open to debate, including the relationship between government and civil society and when government must actively intervene to maintain civil order and legal rights. The most interesting debates emerge in the chapters that survey non-Western notions of society. The Confucian tradition does not readily make room for drawing boundaries between civil society and the state; in contrast, Islam recognizes more limited realms of civil society than do Western accounts, but it sees variation and change within civil society's modern forms. Given these competing views, this book might best be read as a cautionary tale for those in search of universal principles of freedom, pluralism, and social justice.