American Civil Society and Its History


The civil society concept has been around for quite a long time now. Right from the Greek times, the term has frequently been articulated by political thinkers of the western tradition, as well as in virtually the entire major historical times (Cole et al, 95). With a variety of definitions and uses, the civil society concept is today quite fashionable, thanks to military and communist struggles that have thus far been witnessed in many parts of the world (Beem, 1996).

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Even then, the term still remains in an ambiguous state under liberal democracies when the role of politics takes a back seat, leading to not only individual liberty, but also the emergence and expansion of free markets, then a civil society has emerged. In terms of composition, a civil society consists of voluntary civil, institutions, and social organisations. These forms the foundation upon which a society functions, in relation to the force-backed structures of a country (Cohen and Arata, 492).

For some people, the civil society is seen as a specific national or capitalistic product.

Others view the concept as a global collective expression of the lives of individuals that is in operation in all development stages and countries, though the way in which it is expressed may vary on historical and contextual grounds. A civil society can be viewed at as an instrument that not only produces, but also maintains, and manifests fundamental and vital social goals (Cole et al, 96).

As such, this approach is in line with the goals of the liberal-democratic traditions of civil society; the achievement of a high level of personal freedom and independence, while at the same time also maintaining a feasible, and sustainable social order (Cohen and Arata, 494). Thanks to a democratic society in the United States, civil society organisations have today become an important way through which the energies of those Americans with a history of either being unrepresented, or underrepresented, are mobilised (Beem 1996).

Prior to the start of the semester, I always harboured the idea that there can never be a civil society that has no political backing. In other words, my view of the civil society was from a political platform. However, I now know that the political-civil society connection is just a small part of the main thing.

I have since learnt that the idea of a civil society in America has both analytical and functional dimensions. Additionally, this course has helped me appreciate the liberal-democratic theory of civil society, and its common reference to associations, institutions, and independent groups. Such groups, besides being voluntary, are also made up of unrelated individuals. Such individuals then come together for the pursuance of a specific and common interest.

These groups would thus include labour unions, civil association, the church, neighbourhood groups, and political parties. I have also since learnt that those vibrant and democratic societies are not only intrinsically pluralistic, they also constantly create opportunities for both local and group interaction. The lesson then has been that a civil society in totality encompasses all these groups.

During the times of Abraham Lincoln in 1838, the civil society movement was in need of such voluntary associations as lyceum. These often encouraged, self improvement, education, and a moral commitment. These, coupled with self improvement provided a social link that helped connect individual citizens to the isolated and distant government (Cole et al, 95).

As such, Lincoln used the occasion to rejuvenate the belief in the significance of the rule of law. When he delivered his famous ‘I have a dream speech’, DR. Martin Luther King Jr. was advocating for the freedom and justice of all the America people, and especially for the black Americans who were being oppressed by their white counterparts of racisms grounds.

Accordingly, the American creed must also have been very much in the mind of Dr. King; seeing the all men were equally created. This is a truth that Americans from the times of their founding fathers has held, and yet was not being practised, something that forced Dr. King to rise up and fight for the rights of the minority. All the Americans value their right to life, the pursuit of happiness, and liberty (Cole et al, 95).

Granted, Americans would wish to maintain all their civil liberties. Definitely, the freedom of speech has become quite essential in the present American society. Sadly though, these values that we so much cherish, and which have hitherto provided a foundation of America as a nation, at times tend to be in conflict. Clearly, the issue of terrorist attacks is not just a threat to the Americans, but to the whole world at large.

At such instances as when the civil society is at risk of terrorist attacks, then the government of the day becomes duty-bound to protect its citizens by all means possible, even if it means the sacrificing of certain freedoms of individual in the civil society, and who may be suspected of either being party to, or master-minding such attacks.

The just concluded elections of the 44th president of the United States, and which for the first time in the history of the nation produced a black president, is in my opinion a culmination as well as a fulfilment of the ‘I have a dream speech’ that Dr. King delivered 45 years ago. In a way, this is an indication that America has truly overcome racism, seeing that the white populace overwhelmingly voted in a black president, thus confirming the fact that the American citizens are today more loyal to the American creed, and this has relegated racism to the lowest points.

It is for the same reason that the Americans are so passionate about the maintenance of world peace. This is a true indication of a country that places value on civil societies, and a free economy, a move that has to-date seen many hitherto oppressed and under-privileged citizens realise the American dream. The idea of a civil society tends to create an equal opportunity for all the players on board, and this does not go down well with a lot of people. Perhaps this could be the reason why there is always uproar by some extremist governments whenever the United States resolved to wage war on terrorism groups, or broker peace in war-torn areas.

Ultimately, the concept of a civil society could be viewed at as an attempt at making a country lovely for its citizens. This would include a need to improve the social conditions of the citizens, and also trying to maintain a communal feeling that is seen to be slowly getting out of the grip of Americans. A study of the American history will help one to appreciate the place of civil societies, and the reason why the Americans as are so passionate about this concept that is a brain child of our founding fathers.


The onus is the on us to ensure that we uphold the principles of a civil society, and that we try and inculcate the concept to others if we want the world to become a better place for all of us. Studying this subject has enabled me to have a divergent view of the term civil society, which transcends the political landscape to include church groups, social organisations, and other individual organisations. Civil society from an American perspective is thus an attempt at creating equal opportunities for all to succeed regardless of colour, race, gender or religious affiliations.


Beem, Christopher. Civil society in America: a public debate about political theory. Council on civil society, 1996. Web.

Cohen, Jean, and Arata, Andrew. Civil society and political theory. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1992. Web.

Cole, Bruce, Drake, Frederick, and Nelson, Lynn. State’s rights and American federalism. Connecticut: Greenwood publishing group, 1999. Web.

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