Thursday, February 09, 2017

Ernest Gellner on civil society

in the past few months, I came across a few articles that I want to revisit. Here is one of the from 1990 called 'The civil and the sacred' by Ernest Gellner
A quote
"A basic political centralization is inherent, it would seem, in advanced industrial society: order must be maintained, and it is difficult to imagine industrial production being maintained under conditions of genuine pluralism of mutually independent coercive agencies. In exceptional circumstances, something like this does happen when multiple criminal and/or political mafias govern a large city (Belfast, Algiers during the final stages of the French presence, or highly criminalized sections of inner cities in one or two advanced industrial nations) but in general, industrial society presupposes that productive citizens can go to and from work without either protecting themselves or needing to duck while rival mafias or police forces shoot it out. It is assumed, in contrast  to segmentary society where the unit of habitation and production is also the unit of self-government, of ritual and defense, that citizens can rely for their protection on a specialized and uniqueagency or group of agencies. Citizens know whom to obey and do not need to form or choose alliances so as to ensure their own security. The job of keeping peace is performed, and it is clear precisely who does it. It is not a civic activity, but precondition of other, legitimate civic activities.
 If this argument is correct, then modern society cannot find its pluralism in the political or governmental sphere (if by that we mean the order-enforcing agencies). The peacekeeping institution may perhaps take its orders from plural and severally independent bodies (say assemblies, institutions, pressure groups), but it cannot itself consist of genuinely independent bodies, liable to use their instruments of violence on each other. That is the way of segmentary or feudal societies but is simply not feasible in a society with a sophisticated and growing technology, an enormously complex division of labor, and mutual interdependence of highly developed specialisms. Segmentary and similar politically plural societies cannot give us what we want namely, civil society. All this being so, such pluralism as we need must have its base in either the economic or the ideological sphere, or both. It is precisely because the modern state does indeed have the monopoly of legitimate coercion (and, in fact, the monopoly of coercion sans phrases when it is not undermined and is functioning properly), that pluralism, or the breaching of monopoly, must occur in one of the other two realms: and, when full-blooded and passionately embraced Marxism prevails, it is not allowed to emerge in them. Nor does it arise anywhere else either. Full-blooded Marxism monopolizes faith and the state while claiming that the latter is to be dismantled and that the former monopoly arises spontaneously. It also, thanks to its central tenet of the denial of private ownership of the means of production, monopolizes the economy. It thereby makes civil society impossible."

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