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Global Civil Society?

John Keane, a leading political thinker, tracks the recent development
of a powerful big idea “ global civil society. Keane explores the jumble
of contradictory forces currently nurturing or threatening its growth,
and shows how talk of global civil society implies a political vision of a
less violent world founded on legally sanctioned power-sharing arrange-
ments among many different and intermingling forms of socio-economic
life. Keane™s re¬‚ections are pitted against the widespread feeling that
the world is both too complex or too violent and crazy to deserve seri-
ous re¬‚ection. His account borrows from various scholarly disciplines,
including political science and international relations, to challenge the
normative silence and confusion within much of the contemporary liter-
ature on globalisation and global governance. Against fears of terrorism,
rising tides of xenophobia, and loose talk of ˜anti-globalisation™, the de-
fence of global civil society mounted here implies the need for new
democratic ways of living “ and for brand-new democratic thinking
about such planetary matters as global markets, uncivil war, university
life, and government with a global reach.

   ® «   ®  is founder of the Centre for the Study of Democracy and
Professor of Politics at the University of Westminster. Born in Australia
and educated at the universities of Adelaide, Toronto and Cambridge, he
is a frequent contributor to radio programmes and newspapers and mag-
azines around the world. Among his books are The Media and Democracy
(1991), which has been translated into more than twenty-¬ve languages;
the prize-winning biography Tom Paine: A Political Life (1995); Civil
Society: Old Images, New Visions, (1998); and a biography of power,
V´ clav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts (1999). He was recently
Karl Deutsch Professor of Political Science at the Wissenschaftszentrum
Berlin and a Fellow of the in¬‚uential London-based think-tank, the
Institute for Public Policy Research. He is currently writing a full-scale
history of democracy “ the ¬rst for over a century.
Contemporary Political Theory

Series Editor
Ian Shapiro
Editorial Board
Russell Hardin Stephen Holmes Jeffrey Isaac
John Keane Elizabeth Kiss Susan Okin
Phillipe Van Parijs Philip Pettit

As the twenty-¬rst century begins, major new political challenges have arisen at
the same time as some of the most enduring dilemmas of political association
remain unresolved. The collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War
re¬‚ect a victory for democratic and liberal values, yet in many of the Western
countries that nurtured those values there are severe problems of urban decay,
class and racial con¬‚ict, and failing political legitimacy. Enduring global injus-
tice and inequality seem compounded by environmental problems, disease, the
oppression of women, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and the relentless
growth of the world™s population. In such circumstances, the need for creative
thinking about the fundamentals of human political association is manifest. This
new series in contemporary political theory is needed to foster such systematic
normative re¬‚ection.
The series proceeds in the belief that the time is ripe for a reassertion of the
importance of problem-driven political theory. It is concerned, that is, with works
that are motivated by the impulse to understand, think critically about, and ad-
dress the problems in the world, rather than issues that are thrown up primarily
in academic debate. Books in the series may be interdisciplinary in character,
ranging over issues conventionally dealt with in philosophy, law, history and the
human sciences. The range of materials and the methods of proceeding should
be dictated by the problem at hand, not the conventional debates or disciplinary
divisions of academia.

Other books in the series
Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordon (eds.)
Democracy™s Value
Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordon (eds.)
Democracy™s Edges
Brooke A. Ackerly
Political Theory and Feminist Social Criticism
Clarissa Rile Hayward
De-Facing Power
John Kane
The Politics of Moral Capital
Ayelet Shachar
Multicultural Jurisdictions: Cultural Differences and Women™s Rights
Global Civil Society?

John Keane
University of Westminster
©¤§ µ®©© °
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge  µ, United Kingdom
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521815437

© John Keane 2003

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published in print format 2003

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Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of
µ¬s for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
For Jurgen Kocka
Nimmt die Welt wie sie ist, nicht wie sie sein sollte
(Take the world as it is, not as it ought to be)
(Old German proverb)

Preface page xi

Unfamiliar words 1
Catalysts 40
Cosmocracy 92
Paradise on earth? 129
Ethics beyond borders 175
Fur ther reading 210

Index 214


Big ideas, attempts at grasping the whole world in thought, are renowned
for breeding discontent and raising future expectations. Big ideas are also
well-known sources of fear and contempt among their opponents, who
accuse them of oversimpli¬ed descriptions of the world, often suspecting
them as well of serving as ideological alibis for power groups bent on
dominating others. So controversy and opposition have been the fate of
all modern versions of the big idea: the recent claim that history has
ended in undisputed victory for liberal democracy and free markets, for
instance, has fared no better in this respect than the earlier presumptions
that socialism would win world victory, or that fascist dictatorship would
purify nations and make them capable of super-human achievement.
Given this jumbled history of humbled big ideas, eyebrows may well
cock at the large claim made in this slim book. Concerned with glob-
alisation and its discontents, it puts forward the thesis that a big but
modest idea with fresh potency “ global civil society “ is today on the
rise. The book explores the historical origins of this planetary vision and
analyses its present-day meanings and usages and future political po-
tential. Not only does the argument suppose that periodic fascination
with big ideas is a necessary condition of politically imagining a social
order. The book also notes the unusual promiscuousness of the idea of
global civil society “ its remarkable ability to attract a wide variety of
supporters in all four corners of the earth. It sees this promiscuity as a
symptom of contemporary struggles to make sense of the growth spurt
of globalisation now unfolding before our eyes. So attention is paid to
the forces “ turbocapitalism, global media, social movements, publicly
funded universities and other governmental agencies “ that are currently
nurturing its growth. Violence, xenophobia, hunger, fatalism and other
forces presently thwarting this new global vision are also foregrounded.
Political distinctions and theoretical quali¬cations are made, including
the point that global civil society “ a neologism of the 1990s “ is a big
idea with a radical difference. When used by its friends as an ethical
standard, I argue, it champions the political vision of a world founded

xii Preface

on non-violent, legally sanctioned power-sharing arrangements among
many different and interconnected forms of socio-economic life that are
distinct from governmental institutions. The pluralist ideal of a global
civil society openly challenges previous big ideas, all of which were held
together by monistic presumptions of one sort or another. The whole
image of a global civil society ¬nds monism distasteful. To speak of a
global civil society in empirical terms is to emphasise the fact that most
people™s lives today dangle on ten thousand different global strings. To
speak of a global civil society in normative terms is to dismiss the big
ideas of the past as wooden horses used by certain power groups to build
unaccountable institutions wrapped in ideological deception “ in the ex-
treme case, by pushing victims down the dark alleyways of terror, cruelty
and organised murder.
These re¬‚ections on global civil society may be seen as an experiment
conducted in the laboratories of contemporary democratic thinking.
Their ¬ndings are neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but they are def-
initely pitted against the widespread feeling that the world is going to
the dogs: that it is both too complex or too violent and crazy to deserve
serious re¬‚ection. The experiment draws upon a variety of scholarly dis-
ciplines, including political science, modern history, geography, anthro-
pology, economics and international relations. The work is intended as a
contribution to the ¬eld of applied political philosophy, as a small gift to
those who are interested in the practical importance of ideas. The vision
of a global civil society is presented as a challenge to the normative silence
or confusion within much of the contemporary literature on globalisation
and global governance. In opposition to mounting fears of terrorism, ris-
ing tides of bigotry and nationalism and loose talk of ˜anti-globalisation™,
the defence of global civil society mounted here implies the need for a de-
fence of democratic ways of life “ and for brand-new democratic thinking
about such matters as violence, global markets, and government with a
global reach. The claims made in support of a global civil society try hard
to be hard-nosed. They are not simple-minded defences of ˜the West™,
or of ˜liberalism™, or of ˜cosmopolitanism™ or empire: they are something
different, something new.
Some readers may be surprised to discover that the case presented here
challenges those who are enamoured of the idea of a ˜civil society™, espe-
cially those purists (as I call them) who set aside the muck of markets,
con¬‚ict and violence and treat this society as a pleasant and peaceful
form of voluntary cooperation “ as something of a recipe for heaven on
earth. This book calls on these purists to move on in their thinking. It re-
minds them and others that the resurgence of the concept of civil society
is among the most signi¬cant developments within the contemporary
Preface xiii

human sciences. This originally eighteenth-century ideal continues to
gain ground both inside and outside of academia; and it now seems proba-
ble that it will dominate the intellectual agenda in the years to come. That
is why this book sides with efforts to radicalise the language of civil society.
Against the forces of parochialism and social injustice, hubris and cruelty,
it tries to breathe new life into this old language by pushing for answers
to the following types of questions: supposing that the ˜real-world™ rela-
tionship between civil societies and territorial state forms is not necessary
but contingent, does it make sense to say that a borderless ˜global civil
society™ is today emerging? If so, what does the term mean? What are its
origins? Is it important to distinguish among its different “ descriptive,
strategic, normative “ uses? Can radically different understandings of the
term ˜civil society™ in regions with different histories “ in the Indian sub-
continent, no less than in Muslim societies and in China “ be represented
within the idea of a global civil society? Given that such a society is fun-
damentally important in providing ˜nests™ and livelihoods for millions of
people, and in constraining the unaccountable and bellicose governmen-
tal and corporate powers that currently shadow the world, how can a
global civil society “ a basic precondition of the democratisation of the
emerging global order “ be politically and legally secured? From ˜below™,
through non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social action
alone? Through the in¬‚uence and war-¬ghting capacity of the world™s
dominant power, the United States? Via the United Nations, or per-
haps through a variety of context-dependent social and political strate-
gies? What roles can global civil society play in the process of global
governance? Can this society perhaps help to rede¬ne the universal
entitlements and duties of the peoples of the world, across borders?
Hannah Arendt once observed that giving a stray dog a name greatly
increases its chances of staying alive. So might it be that a clearly articu-
lated vision of global civil society “ calling upon its friends to unite against
misery and unfreedom “ is a signi¬cant ¬rst step in the political task of
re-naming our world, of offering it hope by freshly de¬ning its future?

® «®
London 1 August 2002
Unfamiliar words

A new cosmology
All human orders, hunting and gathering societies included, have lived
off shared images of the cosmos, world-views that served to plant the
feet of their members ¬rmly in space and time. Yet very few have fan-
tasised the linking of the ¬ve oceans, six continents and peoples of our
little blue planet wrapped in white vapour. Each of these world-views
in the strict sense emerged only after the military defeats suffered by
Islam, in early modern Europe. They included the forceful global ac-
quisition of territory, resources and subjects in the name of empire; the
efforts of Christendom to pick-a-back on imperial ventures for the pur-
pose of bringing spiritual salvation to earth; and the will to unify the world
through the totalitarian violence of fascism and Marxism“Leninism. Each
of these globalising projects left indelible marks on the lives of the world™s
peoples, their institutions and ecosystems, but each also failed to accom-
plish its mission. In our times, against the backdrop of those failures,
the image of ourselves as involved in another great human adventure,
one carried out on a global scale, is again on the rise. A new world-view,
radically different from any that has existed before, has been born and is
currently enjoying a growth spurt: it is called global civil society.
These unfamiliar words ˜global civil society™ “ a neologism of the
1990s “ are fast becoming fashionable. They were born at the con¬‚uence
of seven overlapping streams of concern among publicly-minded intel-
lectuals at the end of the 1980s: the revival of the old language of civil
society, especially in central“eastern Europe, after the military crush-
ing of the Prague Spring; a heightening appreciation of the revolution-
ary effects of the new galaxy of satellite/computer-mediated communi-
cations (captured in Marshall McLuhan™s famous neologism, ˜the global
village™); the new awareness, stimulated by the peace and ecological move-
ments, of ourselves as members of a fragile and potentially self-destructive
world system; the widespread perception that the implosion of Soviet-type
communist systems implied a new global political order; the world-wide

2 Global Civil Society?

growth spurt of neo-liberal economics and market capitalist economies;
the disillusionment with the broken and unful¬lled promises of post-
colonial states; and the rising concern about the dangerous and misery-
producing vacuums opened up by the collapse of empires and states and
the outbreak of uncivil wars.1 Fed by these developments, talk of global
civil society has become popular among citizens™ campaigners, bankers,
diplomats, NGOs and politicians. World Bank documents welcome ˜the
opportunity to work with civil society™; the Asian Development Bank
(ADB) similarly speaks of the need to ˜strengthen cooperation with civil
society™; and even the World Trade Organisation (WTO) declares its sup-
port for dialogue with the world™s civil society institutions.2 The phrase
˜global civil society™ becomes protean and promiscuous. It even peppers
speeches of prominent ¬gures like UN Secretary-General Ko¬ Annan,
former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, and Chancellor
Schroder, sometimes to the point where the words themselves become as
¬ckle as they are fashionable.
There is today much chatter about global civil society, but too little
thinking about it. That is why the phrase ˜global civil society™ must be
used with caution. Like all other vocabularies with a political edge, its
meaning is neither self-evident nor automatically free of prejudice. So
how can we best think about these words? Current usages are quite con-
fused. There is general agreement that talk of global civil society is a
response to rising concerns about the need for a new social and eco-
nomic and political deal at the global level. And parallels are sometimes
observed with the early modern European invention of the distinction
between ˜government™ and ˜civil society™, which emerged during the pe-
riod of questioning of the transcendental foundations of order, especially
1 Among the earliest expressions of these concerns is the theory of a ˜world civic culture™
in Elise Boulding, Building a Global Civic Culture. Education for an Interdependent World
(New York, 1988); the idea of ˜global civilization™ in the working paper by Richard Falk,
˜Economic Dimensions of Global Civilization™ (Global Civilization Project, Center for
International Studies, Princeton University, 1990); the theory of the ˜internationalisa-
tion™ of civil society and the terms ˜cosmopolitan civil society™ and ˜global™ or ˜transna-
tional™ civil society in John Keane, ˜The Future of Civil Society™, in Tatjana Sikosha,
The Internationalisation of Civil Society (The Hague, 1989) and The Media and Democracy
(Cambridge, 1991), pp. 135ff.; and Morten Ougaard, ˜The Internationalisation of Civil
Society™ (Center for Udviklingsforskning, Copenhagen, June 1990). Among the ¬rst ef-
forts to draw together this early work is Ronnie Lipschutz, ˜Reconstructing World Politics:
The Emergence of Global Civil Society™, Millennium, 21:3 (1992), pp. 389“420.
2 Each case is cited in Aziz Choudry, ˜All this ˜civil society™ talk takes us nowhere™,
http://globalresearch.ca/articles/AZ1201A.html, p. xxi; cf. the call for ˜a new international
social covenant between markets, states and civil society™, in Gerhard Schroder (ed.),
Progressive Governance for the XXI Century (Munchen, 2002), p. xxi; ˜The United Na-
tions: Partners in Civil Society™, www.un.org/partners/civil society/home.htm; Madeleine
Albright, Focus on the Issues. Strengthening Civil Society and the Rule of Law. Excerpts of Tes-
timony, Speeches and Remarks by US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright (Washington,
DC, 2000).
Unfamiliar words 3

of monarchic states claiming authority from God.3 Beyond this elemen-
tary consensus, many discrepancies and disagreements are evident. Some
writers see in the idea of global civil society a way of analysing the empiri-
cal contours of past, present or emergent social relationships at the world
level. Others mainly view the concept in pragmatic terms, as a guide to
formulating a political strategy; still others view it as a normative ideal.
In practice, these different emphases often criss-cross and complement
each other. Yet since they can and do also produce divergent types of
claims, it is important to distinguish among them and, as far as possible,
to avoid mixing them up and producing confusion.4
Analytic“descriptive usages of the term ˜global civil society™ selectively
name key institutions, actors and events, examine their complex dynam-
ics and “ using theoretical distinctions, empirical research and informed
judgements “ attempt to draw some conclusions about their origins, cur-
rent development patterns and (unintended) consequences. Within such
analyses “ the ¬rst and second sections of this book are an example “
the concept of global civil society is used to probe either the past or the
present, or both past and present simultaneously. The aim of such probes
is not to recommend political strategies or to pass normative judgements
on the world; they rather seek an explanatory understanding of the world™s
complex socio-political realities. The term global civil society also can be
used as an aid to strategic political calculation. In this second approach,
evident in this book™s treatment of global social movements, the term
serves as a campaigning criterion “ to establish what must be done (or
what must be avoided) in order to reach goals, like freedom and justice,
whose desirability is more or less presumed. Strategic uses of the term
are directly concerned with political questions. They concentrate upon
institutional constraints and opportunities as well as the manoeuvres of
power groups and movements “ upon the (potential) political gains and
losses of supporters and opponents that operate from within or outside
the structures of global civil society. The normative concerns that in-
evitably attend such ˜tactical™ approaches are treated as a given; their

3 Compare my ˜Despotism and Democracy: The Origins and Development of the Distinc-
tion Between Civil Society and the State 1750“1850™, in John Keane (ed.), Civil Society
and the State: New European Perspectives (London and New York, 1988 [reprinted 1998]
pp. 35“72 and Adam Seligman, ˜Civil Society as Idea and Ideal™, in Simone Chambers and
Will Kymlicka (eds.), Alternative Conceptions of Civil Society (Princeton, 2002), pp. 13“33.
In my view, Seligman™s explanation of the rise of the ideal of a civil society suffers from the
same weakness evident in Marxian accounts: their one-sided emphasis upon the growth
of market economies and the corresponding search for a new ethical order in which
individual interests could be reconciled with the public good.
4 The importance of distinguishing among these different usages is analysed in more detail
in my introduction to Civil Society and the State: New European Perspectives and Civil
Society: Old Images, New Visions (Oxford and Stanford, 1998).
4 Global Civil Society?

main preoccupation is with the calculation of the means of achieving or
stabilising a global civil society. Finally “ as evidenced by the ¬nal section
of this book “ the term global civil society can be wielded as a normative
ideal. The ethic or big idea of a global civil society is said to be warranted
and plausible and desirable, and on that basis it can be used in two com-
plementary ways: as a precautionary concept that serves to issue warnings
about the undesirable or unworkable consequences of practical efforts
to weaken or abolish the institutions of global civil society, for instance
through unilateral military intervention, or the imposition of martial law.
Such precautionary usages of the norm are usually reinforced by its advo-
cacy function: gentle or strong efforts to explain and highlight the reasons
why a global civil society, ethically speaking, is a good thing.

Empirical contours
Given the versatility of the term, which is surely one of the reasons for
its rising popularity, it follows that its different usages should not be con-
¬‚ated, as is typically done when the words global civil society are ¬‚ung
about in vague, simplistic or tendentious speech. This is the point at
which empirically minded researchers arrive on the scene. They point
out that the quest to map and measure the contours of global civil society
is essential for clarifying its empirical scope and complexity, its strategic
or political capacity and its normative potential. They call upon the facts
to speak for themselves. They pursue (what appears to them, anyway)
a straightforward empirical approach that supposes (as the American ex-
pression has it) that if something in the world walks like a duck and quacks
like a duck, then it is a duck. The approach points to the sketchy data that
are available, thanks to the path-breaking contributions of bodies like the
Union of International Associations, the Index on Civil Society project
supported by CIVICUS (World Alliance for Citizen Participation), a
Ford Foundation-funded comparative study of civil society in twenty-two
countries and other recent publications. These data-gathering efforts are
seen to con¬rm the widespread impression that, during the twentieth
century, the world witnessed a tectonic “ perhaps two hundred-fold “
increase in the number and variety of civil society organisations operating
at the planetary level.5 Today, in addition to many hundreds of thousands

5 See www.ids.ac.uk; Helmut Anheier et al. (eds.) Global Civil Society 2001 (Oxford, 2001);
and the data covering the period 1909“7 presented in the Union of International Asso-
ciations (ed.), Yearbook of International Organizations, 34th edn. (Munchen, 1997“8),
vol. 4, p. 559; compare Ren´ -Jean Dupuy (ed.), Manuel sur les organisations interna-
tionals (Dordrecht, 1998); Thomas Risse-Kappen (ed.), Bringing Transnational Relations
Back In. Non-State Actors, Domestic Structures and International Institutions (Cambridge,
Unfamiliar words 5

of small, medium and large ¬rms doing business across borders “ a trend
that is dealt with shortly in this book “ there are an estimated 5,000 world
congresses held annually and some 50,000 non-governmental, not-for-
pro¬t organisations operating at the global level. The numbers of these in-
ternational non-governmental organisations (INGOs) have grown rapidly
in recent years; helped along by access to money and communications
technology, many thousands have come into being since 1985. Nearly
90 per cent of them have been formed since 1970.6 While a dispropor-
tionate number (over one-third) have their main of¬ces in the European
Union and Switzerland, these INGOs now operate in all four corners
of the earth, including sub-Saharan Africa, where hundreds of main of-
¬ces are now based. INGOs employ or use volunteer labour of several
millions of people: one study estimates that in Germany, France, Spain,
Japan, Brazil, Argentina, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands alone,
INGOs employ over 110,000 full-time equivalent workers as well as many
more full-time equivalent volunteers.7 INGOs currently disburse more
money than the United Nations (excluding the World Bank and the Inter-
national Monetary Fund (IMF)); more than two-thirds of the European
Union™s relief aid is currently channelled through them; and in many
parts of the world there is a strong trend towards the disbursement of
governmental funds “ currently totalling $US 7 billion per annum “
more or less exclusively through INGOs.8
Empirical perspectives on global civil society have limitations. In spite
of a growing body of data, the actual contours of global civil society
remain elusive, for understandable reasons. Histories of the globalisation
of civil society “ studies of the rise of cross-border business, religion and
sport, for instance “ are in short supply.9 Lots of activities within this
society, for instance the travel patterns of individuals, the initiatives of
grass-roots groups, the loose networks of organisations and the growth

1995); Jessica T. Matthews, ˜Power Shift™, Foreign Affairs, 76: 1 (January“February 1997),
pp. 50“66; and the misleadingly titled, country-by-country study by Lester M. Salamon
et al., Global Civil Society. Dimensions of the Non-Pro¬t Sector (Baltimore, 2001).
6 See the country-by-country ¬gures “ covering only the numbers of secretariats of not-for-
pro¬t NGOs that operate transnationally “ in Anheier et al. (eds.), Global Civil Society,
table R19, pp. 283“6; cf. Michael Edwards, ˜Herding Cats? Civil Society and Global
Governance™, New Economy (Summer 2002).
7 See the ¬gures drawn from The Johns Hopkins Comparative Non-Pro¬t Sector Project
(1999), originally published as Salamon et al., Global Civil Society, summarised in Anheier
et al. (eds.), Global Civil Society, table, R24, p. 302.
8 OECD, Geographical Distribution of Financial Aid to Developing Countries (Paris, 1997);
compare Anheier et al. (eds.), Global Civil Society, table R19, pp. 283“6.
9 But on these topics see, for instance, Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire 1875“1914 (New
York, 1989); Jack Beeching, An Open Path. Christian Missionaries 1515“1914 (London,
1979); Joseph Maguire, Global Sport. Identities, Societies, Civilizations (Oxford, 1999); and
Lincoln Allison, ˜Sport and Civil Society™, Political Studies, 46 (1998), pp. 709“6.
6 Global Civil Society?

of public opinion across borders, are informally structured, and for that
reason do not register (easily) as ˜data™. Much of the data that is available is
also highly imperfect.10 It presents a picture of the actually existing global
civil society that is no more than a torn-edged daguerrotype. Very little
reliable empirical data from the past has survived intact, or was collected
in the ¬rst place “ which is not surprising, considering that the concept
of global civil society itself had not even been invented. This present-day
bias is compounded inadvertently by other forms of bias, for instance in
favour of the clusters of northern hemisphere INGOs, whose visibility is
greatest because they tend to be based there; data from elsewhere, for
instance that related to protests in defence of aboriginal rights or civil
liberties or ecological complexity, either go unnoticed or unnoted.
Much potentially usable data on global civil society is distorted by
a form of conceptual nationalism. The fact is that most systems of
national accounting provide few detailed statistics on either INGOs or
social movements or the economic contributions and activities of corpo-
rations with a global reach. That is why, sadly, global statistical agencies
usually rely on empirical data supplied on a country-by-country basis by
individual governments and nationally based organisations. Only a few
organisations, for instance some agencies within the United Nations, are
experienced collectors of standardised data about global ¬‚ows of people,
goods, information and services.11 Even then, despite stringent efforts
to collect, process and disseminate statistics on a standardised basis,
huge gaps remain. Statistics on the landscapes of global poverty well
exemplify these problems of coverage, comparability and reliability: about
one-third of the countries of the world have either no data or inadequate
data on the incidence of poverty and malnourishment, and around one-
half are similarly lacking information on rates of literacy among youth.12
Researchers also disagree about which criteria “ book translations,
diasporas, links among global cities, the spread of the English language,
telephone traf¬c, geographic locations of websites, the mobility patterns
of corporate nomads “ are the most pertinent for picturing the complex
interdependencies of the emerging global society. In-depth, qualitative
accounts of global summits, forums and other eye-catching events “ like
the global campaign against landmines and public protests against the G7
powers “ are also rare. And “ despite catchy titles that imply more than

10 Some of the empirical problems are discussed in Helmut Anheier, ˜Measuring Global
Civil Society™, in Anheier et al. (eds.), Global Civil Society, pp. 221“30.
11 See the report of the OECD Development Cooperation Directorate, Partnerships in
Statistics for Development in the 21st Century (Paris, 2001).
12 See the UNDP™s Human Development Report 2000: Human Rights and Human Development
(New York, 2000); www.undp.org/hdr2000/english/book/back1.pdf.
Unfamiliar words 7

they deliver13 “ studies of the intimate details of everyday life, espe-
cially research that concentrates on the socialising and civilising effects
at the global level of matters like food consumption and television news-
watching, are either non-existent or con¬ned to comparative national
surveys that neglect cross-border trends.
These empirical and technical barriers to mapping and measuring
global civil society are compounded by a basic epistemological dif¬culty.
Simply put, its actors are not mute, empirical bits and bytes of data.
Linked to territories but not restricted to territory, caught up in a vast
variety of overlapping and interlocking institutions and webs of group af-
¬liations, these actors talk, think, interpret, question, negotiate, comply,
innovate, resist. Their recalcitrance in the face of classi¬cation is a basic
feature of global civil society, which is never a ¬xed entity, but always a
temporary assembly, subject to reshuf¬‚ing and reassembly. Static mea-
sures, like the numbers of INGOs registered within a country, fail to
capture many of its qualities. Dynamism is a chronic feature of global
civil society: not the dynamism of the restless sea (a naturalistic simile
suggested by Victor P´ rez-Diaz14 ), but a form of self-re¬‚exive dynamism
marked by innovation, con¬‚ict, compromise, consensus, as well as rising
awareness of the syncretic architecture, the contingencies and dilem-
mas of global civil society itself. Beck™s terse formulation is correct: the
emergent global civil society is not only marked by ˜non-integration™ and
˜multiplicity without unity™, but its actors treat it as ˜perceived or re¬‚exive™.15
At each moment, the threads of this civil society are deliberately spun,
dropped, taken up again, altered, displaced by others, interwoven with
others, then deliberately re-spun, again and again. In this way, global
civil society enables its participants “ athletes, campaigners, musicians,
religious believers, managers, aid-workers, teleworkers, medics, scien-
tists, journalists, academics “ not only to regard this society as theirs
but also to see through global civil society by calling it (more imperson-
ally) this world or that world. For this reason alone, those who speak of
global civil society should not lose sight of its elusive, idealtypisch quality.
The concept of global civil society has what Wittgenstein called ˜blurred
edges™. This does not mean “ pace Anheier and others “ that the term is
uniquely imprecise or ˜fuzzy™ because of its youth.16 Those who speak

13 An example is Ronald Inglehart, ˜Globalization and Postmodern Values™, The Washington
Quarterly (Winter 2000), pp. 215“28
14 Victor M. P´ rez-Diaz, The Return of Civil Society. The Emergence of Democratic Spain
(Cambridge, MA and London, 1993), p. 62; compare my remarks on the self-re¬‚exivity
of actually existing civil societies in Civil Society: Old Images pp. 49 ff.
15 Ulrich Beck, What is Globalization? (Cambridge, 2000), p. 10.
16 Anheier, ˜Measuring Global Civil Society™, p. 224.
8 Global Civil Society?

like that unfortunately bring discredit to the term which, like all concepts
in the human sciences, is an ill-¬tting term clumsily in search of an in-
telligent object that is always a subject on the run, striding unevenly in
many different directions. Anheier is correct: ˜Any measurement of global
civil society will be simpler and less perfect than the richness, variety,
and complexity of the concept it tries to measure.™ But the converse of
Anheier™s rule must also be borne in mind: the conceptual theory of global
civil society is in¬nitely ˜purer™ and much more abstract than the form
and content of actually existing global civil society.

An ideal-type
So the principle is clear “ theories without observations are bland, ob-
servations without theories are blind “ even if the task of clarifying what
we mean when we speak of a global civil society is dif¬cult. For purposes
of descriptive interpretation, or so this book argues, it is best to use the
concept carefully as an ideal-type “ as an intentionally produced mental
construct or ˜cognitive type™17 that is very useful for heuristic and ex-
pository purposes, for naming and clarifying the myriad of elements of a
complex social reality, even though it cannot be found in such ˜pure™ form
anywhere within the social world itself. When the term global civil society
is used in this way, as an ideal-type, it properly refers to a dynamic non-
governmental system of interconnected socio-economic institutions that straddle
the whole earth, and that have complex effects that are felt in its four corners.
Global civil society is neither a static object nor a fait accompli. It is an
un¬nished project that consists of sometimes thick, sometimes thinly stretched
networks, pyramids and hub-and-spoke clusters of socio-economic institutions
and actors who organise themselves across borders, with the deliberate aim of
drawing the world together in new ways. These non-governmental institutions
and actors tend to pluralise power and to problematise violence; consequently,
their peaceful or ˜civil™ effects are felt everywhere, here and there, far and wide,
to and from local areas, through wider regions, to the planetary level itself .
We need to look carefully at the elements of this rather abstract def-
inition. Considered together, ¬ve tightly coupled features of this global
civil society mark it off as historically distinctive. To begin with, the term
global civil society refers to non-governmental structures and activities.
It comprises individuals, households, pro¬t-seeking businesses, not-for-
pro¬t non-governmental organisations, coalitions, social movements and
linguistic communities and cultural identities. It feeds upon the work of
media celebrities and past or present public personalities “ from Gandhi,

17 Umberto Eco, Kant and the Platypus. Essays on Language and Cognition (London, 2000).
Unfamiliar words 9

Bill Gates, Primo Levi and Martin Luther King to Bono and Aung San
Suu Kyi, Bishop Ximenes Belo, Naomi Klein and al-Waleed bin Talal. It
includes charities, think-tanks, prominent intellectuals (like Tu Wei-ming
and Abdolkarim Soroush), campaigning and lobby groups, citizens™
protests responsible for ˜clusters of performances™,18 small and large
corporate ¬rms, independent media, Internet groups and websites, em-
ployers™ federations, trades unions, international commissions, parallel
summits and sporting organisations. It comprises bodies like Amnesty
International, Sony, Falun Gong, Christian Aid, al Jazeera, the Catholic
Relief Services, the Indigenous Peoples Bio-Diversity Network, FIFA,
Transparency International, Su¬ networks like Qadiriyya and Naqsha-
bandiyya, the International Red Cross, the Global Coral Reef Monitor-
ing Network, the Ford Foundation, Shack/Slum Dwellers International,
Women Living Under Muslim Laws, News Corporation International,
OpenDemocracy.net, and unnamed circles of Buddhist monks, dressed
in crimson robes, keeping the mind mindful. Considered together, these
institutions and actors constitute a vast, interconnected and multi-layered
non-governmental space that comprises many hundreds of thousands of
more-or-less self-directing ways of life. All of these forms of life have at
least one thing in common: across vast geographic distances and despite
barriers of time, they deliberately organise themselves and conduct their
cross-border social activities, business and politics outside the boundaries
of governmental structures.
Sometimes those who use and defend the term global civil society “ the
World Passport initiative, for instance19 “ think of it in no other way than
as a synonym for an unbounded space of non-governmental institutions
and actors. This rather monistic understanding has the advantage of high-
lighting one of its principal qualities “ that it is neither an appendage nor
a puppet of governmental power. Yet the price that is paid for this limited
de¬nition is high: it enables the critics of the vision of global civil society
to accuse their opponents of careless blindness. These critics insist, with
some justi¬cation, that the term global civil society is too often used as a
residual or dustbin category that describes everything and nothing. The
term is used to refer to all those parts of life that are not the state; it seems
that it is a synonym for everything that exists outside of and beyond the
reach of the territorial state and other institutions of governance “ that it

18 Charles Tilly, ˜From Interactions to Outcomes in Social Movements™, in Marco Giugni
et al. (eds.), How Social Movements Matter (Minneapolis and London, 1999), p. 263.
19 www.worldservice.org/docpass.htmil: ˜The World Passport is . . . a meaningful symbol
and sometimes powerful tool for the implementation of the fundamental human right
of freedom of travel. By its very existence, it challenges the exclusive assumption of
sovereignty of the nation-state system.™
10 Global Civil Society?

includes not only businesses and not-for-pro¬t organisations and initia-
tives, but ˜ma¬as, extremist networks of various kinds, and terrorists™.20
The picture presented by the critics is overdrawn, even inaccurate, for
global civil society, when carefully de¬ned, is not a simple-minded alter
ego of ˜the state™. The truth is that in a descriptive sense global civil society
is only one special set of ˜non-state™ institutions. Hunting and gathering
societies and tribal orders, insofar as they have survived under modern
conditions, comprise ˜non-state™ institutions, but it would be wrong to
describe them as ˜civil society™ orders. The same point applies to ma¬as
and ma¬a-dominated structures, which have destructive effects upon civil
society institutions precisely because ma¬osi rely upon kinship bonds,
blood imagery, violence and intrigue to dissolve the boundaries between
the governmental and civilian domains.21 The same point can be put in
another way: global civil society is indeed an extra-governmental space,
but it is much more than that. It is de¬ned by other qualities that beg us
to see it with different eyes . . .
To say that global civil society is not merely a non-governmental phe-
nomenon, for instance, is to con¬rm “ this is its second feature “ that
it is also a form of society. Global civil society is a dynamic ensemble of
more or less tightly interlinked social processes.22 The quest to unlock its
secrets cannot be pursued through the biological or mechanical sciences,
for this emergent social order is neither an organism nor a mechanism.
It is not a thing that grows according to the blind logic of dividing cells,
untouched by human judgement and human will, by recursive re¬‚ection
and self-generated learning; global civil society is also not a piece of ma-
chinery which can be assembled and re-assembled according to human
design. The processes and methods through which it is produced and
reproduced are unique.
So what does it mean then to speak of global civil society? The word
˜society™ is one of those household concepts that help us economise on
lengthy and pedantic explanations “ by hiding away or setting aside their
complicated (sometimes self-contradictory) genealogy. The concept of
society certainly has a complicated history, with two distinct and tensely
related connotations. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,

20 Barry Buzan, ˜An English School Perspective on Global Civil Society™, unpublished
paper (Centre for the Study of Democracy, 17 January 2002), p. 1; cf. p. 3: ˜In descriptive
mode, civil society = non-state, and therefore includes ma¬as, pornography merchants,
terrorists and a host of other dark side entities as well as the nicer side of civil society
represented by humanitarian, animal welfare and humanitarian organizations.™
21 Anton Blok, Honour and Violence (Oxford 2001), chapter 5.
22 On the sociological concept of ˜society™, see Claus Offe, ˜Is There, or Can There Be,
a “European Society”?™, in John Keane (ed.), Civil Society: Berlin Perspectives (London,
2004), forthcoming.
Unfamiliar words 11

especially in the Atlantic region, the term came to be used as a signi¬er
of a whole totality of interrelated processes and events, stretching from
(and including) households to governmental institutions. This under-
standing of ˜society™ as a whole way of life, as a ˜social organism, a holistic
system of social relations, the social formation™ (Lenin), can be thought of
as a depoliticised, less normative version of the much older, early mod-
ern idea of a Civill Society, which referred to a well-governed, legally
ordered whole way of life. Both usages of ˜society™ differ from a second,
originally medieval meaning of the term: society as a particular fellow-
ship or partnership of equals. St Augustine™s description of the Church
as the true ˜society of the Father and the Son™, identical neither with the
City of Man nor with the City of God, pointed in this direction. ˜Society™
means sociable interaction at a distance from government and law. Voca-
tional fellowships and commercial partnerships, the Dutch matshappeij,
the German Gesellschaft, the English ˜Societie of Saynt George™ (1548)
and the Anti-Slavery Society, or today™s Society of Authors or the Society
of Black Lawyers, all fall in this category. So do eighteenth-century refer-
ences to the style-setting circles of the upper class, le Monde, or what the
Germans called ˜Die Soziet¨ t™, the same group described in Byron™s Don
Juan: ˜Society is now one polished horde, Formed of two mighty tribes,
the Bores and the Bored.™
We can say that global civil society means something quite different from
these older usages, to which it is nevertheless genealogically related. It
refers to a vast, sprawling non-governmental constellation of many insti-
tutionalised structures, associations and networks within which individ-
ual and group actors are interrelated and functionally interdependent.
As a society of societies, it is ˜bigger™ and ˜weightier™ than any individual
actor or organisation or combined sum of its thousands of constituent
parts “ most of whom, paradoxically, neither ˜know™ each other nor have
any chance of ever meeting each other face-to-face. Global civil society
is a highly complex ensemble of differently sized, overlapping forms of
structured social action; like a Tolstoy novel, it is a vast scenario in which
hundreds of thousands and millions of individual and group adventures
unfold, sometimes harmoniously through cooperation and compromise,
and sometimes con¬‚ictually. The key point is that General Motors plus
Amnesty International plus the Ruckus Society plus DAWN (Develop-
ment Alternatives With Women for a New Era) does not equal global
civil society. Its social dynamics are more intricate, more dynamic, and
more interesting than that.
Like all societies in the strict sense, it has a marked life or momentum
or power of its own. Its institutions and rules have a de¬nite durability,
in that at least some of them can and do persist through long cycles of
12 Global Civil Society?

time. Global civil society, as we shall see in the coming pages, has much
older roots. Most non-European civilisations have made contributions
to it, and the effects upon our own times of early modern European
developments “ the ground-breaking paci¬st tradition23 and the growth
spurt of globalisation during the half-century before the First World War “
are easily observed. The institutions of present-day global civil society,
like those of any functioning society, both predate the living and outlive
the life-span of this society™s individual members, every one of whom is
shaped and carried along in life by the social customs and traditions of
this global society. In various ways, the social actors of global civil society
are both constrained and empowered by this society. These actors are
enmeshed within codes of unwritten and written rules that both enable
and restrict their action-in-the-world; they understand that many things
are possible, but that not everything goes, that some things are desirable,
and that some things are not possible, or that they are forbidden. Within
global civil society “ which is only one particular form of society “ social
actors™ involvement in institutions obliges them to refrain from certain
actions, as well as to observe certain norms, for instance those that de¬ne
what counts as civility.
Civility “ respect for others expressed as politeness towards and ac-
ceptance of strangers “ is a third quality of this global society. Different
civilisations entertain different notions of civility “ they each make civil
persons, as John Ruskin said “ but because our world is comprised of
intermingling civilisations that are not in any sense self-contained or
˜pure™,24 global civil society is a space inhabited by various overlap-
ping norms of non-violent politeness covering matters of indirection, self-
restraint and face-saving. This society is a complex and multi-dimensional
space of non-violence, even if it is not an irenic paradise on earth. On the
outskirts of global civil society, and within its nooks and crannies, das-
tardly things go on, certainly. It provides convenient hideouts for gang-
sters, war criminals, arms traders and terrorists.25 It contains pockets of
incivility “ geographic areas that coexist uneasily with ˜safe™ and highly
˜civil™ zones, dangerous areas like the Strasbourg district of Neuhof, with
its crumbling buildings, walls splattered with graf¬ti and streets littered
with car wrecks; the Los Angeles suburb of South Central, considered
23 A good discussion of the long-term impact of the world™s ¬rst peace movement, which
appeared during the 1790s, as a reaction against the French wars, is Martin Ceadl,
The Origins of War Prevention. The British Peace Movement and International Relations,
1730“1854 (Oxford, 1996).
24 Felipe Fern´ ndez-Armesto, Millennium: A History of Our Last Thousand Years (London,
1995), chapter 1 and Civilizations (London, 2000).
25 See Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God. The Global Rise of Religious Violence
(Berkeley, 2000).
Unfamiliar words 13

by many a ˜no-go area™ whose night streets are owned by black, Latino
and Asian gangs; and whole cities like Ahmadabad in Gujarat, where in
early 2002 many hundreds of people, mainly Muslims, were killed and
wounded by semi-planned rioting, sabotage and ethnic cleansing, helped
by local police with blind eyes. The spaces of freedom within global civil
society also enable individuals and groups to network, in the form of
criminal gangs that run world-wide industries. An example is the sale
and sex traf¬cking of young girls and boys “ an industry that is now
contested by both governments (as in the 1996 Stockholm declaration
of 122 countries against all forms of child sexual exploitation) and so-
cial campaign networks, like Plan International and End Child Prosti-
tution, Pornography and Traf¬cking. These social initiatives specialise
in repairing the torn fabric of global civil society. They organise against
harmful prejudices (for instance, the belief that sleeping with a child can
give protection against, or even cure HIV infection). They press polit-
ical authorities to engage in legal and policing reforms which serve to
restrict access to predator groups like tourists, businessmen and soldiers
on overseas duty. These initiatives also dig away at the root causes of child
prostitution: the enforced sale of children by families suffering pauperi-
sation and the orphaning of children by the upheavals caused by war and
the AIDS epidemic.26
In the wider schema of things, such initiatives provide the reminder “
analysed in the third section of the book “ that global civil society is
marked by a strong and overriding tendency to both marginalise or avoid
the use of violence and to take pleasure in violence. Its actors do not es-
pecially like mortars or tanks or nuclear weapons. They have an allergic “
sometimes disgusted “ reaction to images of gunmen ¬ring rockets, or to
supersonic ¬ghter planes, or to tanks crashing mercilessly into people or
buildings. The actors of global civil society, in their own and varied ways,
admire the peaceful. Some do so after witnessing or suffering violence.
Others believe that the peaceful right to have rights is fundamental to
all human beings. Still others are disgusted by violence because of their
belief in a peaceful and loving God, or their attempts to live the princi-
ple of Karma. All of them more or less observe the rule that non-violent
respect for others overrides any considerations of their national identity
or skin colour or religion or sex, or that murder and other forms of vio-
lence against others is undesirable, and should be minimised, or strictly
prohibited. Thanks to such shared norms, the participants within this
society are prone to exercise physical restraint, to mix non-violently with

26 See www.ecpat.net/eng/index.asp; and Dennis Altman, Global Sex (Chicago and
London, 2001).
14 Global Civil Society?

others, ˜foreigners™ and ˜strangers™ included. Normatively speaking, the
killing rituals of hunting and gathering orders, or tribal violence, or ma¬a
thuggery tend to have no place within this society. Its extra-governmental
institutions and forms of action are marked by a proclivity towards non-
violence and respect for the principles of compromise, mutual respect,
even power-sharing among different ways of life. The implication is clear:
global civil society is not just any old collection of ways of life that
have nothing in common but their non-identi¬cation with governing in-
stitutions. Factually speaking, this society encourages compromise and
mutual respect. There is (to speak literally and metaphorically) plenty
of room within its walls for people who believe in God, as well as for
religious people for whom the idea of a creator God is anathema, as well
as for people who feel only diffuse respect for the sacred, as well as for
people who believe in nothing else except themselves. Insofar as these
various actors have a more or less deep sensitivity towards violence and
violence-prone institutions, they enable global civil society to be ˜civil™ in
a double sense: it consists of non-governmental (or ˜civilian™) institutions
that tend to have non-violent (or ˜civil™) effects.
Precisely because global civil society harbours many ways of life it
means many different things to those who live their lives within its struc-
tures. This is its fourth quality: it contains both strong traces of pluralism “
and strong con¬‚ict potential. Within its economic domains “ as the second
section of the book explains “ this society sustains the livelihoods of many
hundreds of millions of people. It is a dynamic source of technological
innovation, capital investment, production, distribution and consump-
tion stretched across vast distances. It is home to businesses of all shapes
and sizes, ranging from the self-employed importer of goods produced
on the other side of earth to retail companies like Sears Roebuck, whose
annual sales of commodities produced in more than a hundred countries
are comparable to the total annual income of the 100 million citizens of
one state alone, Bangla Desh. None of this economic activity could take
place unless the institutions of global civil society performed other, non-
economic functions: like that of providing social ˜homes™ or ˜nests™ within
which individuals and groups fashion and re-fashion their identities, fa-
miliarise and make sense of each other, ¬nd meanings in life, get their
bearings through activities that cross borders, which are seen as bridges
rather than as places where wars start or trouble begins.
The cross-border links and activities also help to draw boundaries be-
tween themselves and governmental power, for instance by pressuring
and bouncing off territorial states and their sub-units, as well as regional
and supranational government bodies. To speak (as some do) of a ˜world
order™ or ˜one world™ or ˜a global community™ is misleading: the world is in
Unfamiliar words 15

fact sub-divided in two basic ways by the emergent global society. First,
its civilian institutions place limits upon government. They guarantee
power-sharing by ensuring that cross-border contests with governmental
power become commonplace. Global civil society serves as a brake or
potential check upon various forms of government, and especially ab-
solutist political rule. All governmental institutions, from local councils
through territorial states and regional and supranational institutions like
the United Nations and the WTO, are now feeling the pinching effects
of this civil society. Meanwhile “ secondly “ scuf¬‚es and skirmishes over
the distribution of socio-economic power also regularly take place within
global civil society itself. These contests typically become visible through
media coverage, which attracts witnesses to both local and world-wide
disputes concerning who gets what, when and how. In this way, global
civil society functions as a monitoring and signalling platform, from
which both local matters “ mimicking the ˜butter¬‚y effect™ that has been
held responsible for ¬‚uctuations in whole weather patterns “ can assume
global importance, and global-level problems (like nuclear weapons, ter-
rorism, the environment) are named, de¬ned and problematised. A sense
of ˜the world™ and ˜humanity™ as complex and vulnerable totalities conse-
quently strengthens. Global civil society “ contrary to its communitarian
interpreters “ does not resemble a ˜global community™.27 For its partici-
pants, rather, this society nurtures a culture of self-awareness about the
hybridity and complexity of the world.
The heterogeneity of global civil society works against enforced unity.
It throws into question presumptions about spontaneous sympathy and
automatic consensus.28 It heaps doubt upon claims (famously associ-
ated with Seneca) that all human beings are ˜social animals™,29 or that
they stand ¬rm upon some bedrock of essential ˜humanity™. This com-
plex society is not a space wherein people naturally touch and feel good
about the world. Certainly that happens. Dressed in the clothing of hon-
est pilgrims, young people take time off, travel the world, odd-job, sleep
rough, sleep around, wonder and marvel at the complexity and beauty of
the world, just like a satis¬ed botanist observing and contemplating the
extraordinary complexity of plant life. Others meanwhile dedicate their
lives to charitable or volunteer work by putting their minds and hearts
to work with others. They speak of compassion, and practise it. Yet de-
spite all this, the world of global civil society can be tough, calculating

27 Amitai Etzioni, Implications of the American Anti-Terrorism Coalition for Global
Architectures, European Journal of Political Theory, vol. 1, no. 1 (July 2002), 9“30.
28 Francis Fukuyama, The Great Disruption. Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social
Order (London, 1999), chapter 13.
29 Seneca, De Bene¬ciis (Cambridge, MA and London, 1935), book 7, section 1.
16 Global Civil Society?

and rough n tumble. It looks and feels expansive and polyarchic, full of
horizontal push and pull, vertical con¬‚ict and compromise. Take a stroll
through the heart of Riyadh, a city of astonishing contrasts between an-
cient social customs and ultra-modern norms: women shrouded in black
abayas shop at Harvey Nichols inside a Norman Foster building, their
eyes fully covered; the street corner McDonald™s close ¬ve times a day
for prayers; men crowd into mosques surrounded by giant neon signs
advertising Sony. Global civil society “ to use a term of psychoanalysis “
is richly con¬‚icted. That fact helps many participants within this society
to know and to understand that it is neither self-reproducing nor spon-
taneously self-regulating. They are more or less re¬‚exively aware of its
contingency. They sense that its dynamic structures and rules and various
identities “ even supposedly ˜ascriptive™ primary groups like kinship ties “
are not somehow naturally given, for all time; they see that they are subject
to strenuous negotiation and modi¬cation, through complex processes “
parallel summits, blockades, media events, for instance “ whose con-
sequences are often better understood after the fact, with hindsight.
This shared sense of contingency de¬es presumptions about the ˜nat-
ural sociability of humans™.30 It also feeds social con¬‚ict, thus ensuring
that global civil society stands precariously between the boundaries of
orderly equilibrium and disorder at the edge of chaos.
The volume of this worldly self-awareness of the complexity of the
world, should not be exaggerated. It is hard to estimate its extent, but pro-
bably only 5 per cent of the world™s population has an acute awareness of
the tightening interdependence of the world, its ecosystems, institutions
and peoples. Perhaps another 25 per cent are moderately or dimly aware
of this interdependence.31 While most others have not (yet) thought over
the matter, or don™t much care, or are too cynical or self-preoccupied to
open their eyes and ears, the aggregate numbers of those who are globally
aware are weighty enough to spread awareness that global civil society
exists; that it is a force to be reckoned with; that it both operates
within, and resembles, a patchwork quilt of power relations. Global civil

30 Buzan, ˜An English School Perspective™, p. 3.
31 Data generated by recent World Values Surveys suggests that ˜almost one-¬fth of the baby
boomers born after World War II see themselves as cosmopolitan citizens of the globe,
identifying with their continent or the world as a whole, but this is true of only one in ten
of the group brought up in the interwar years, and of even fewer of the prewar generation™;
see Pippa Norris, ˜Global Governance and Cosmopolitan Citizens™, in Joseph S. Nye
and John D. Donahue (eds.), Governance in a Globalizing World (Cambridge, MA and
Washington, DC, 2000), p. 175. From a global civil society perspective, the concept of
˜cosmopolitan citizens™ is unfortunate, if only because awareness of the interdependence
of the world is both more subtle and different than positive ˜identi¬cation™ with one™s
own ˜continent™ or ˜the world™.
Unfamiliar words 17

society is most de¬nitely riddled with power relations.32 Its social groups
and organisations and movements lobby states, bargain with international
organisations, pressure and bounce off other non-state bodies, invest in
new forms of production, champion different ways of life and engage in
charitable direct action in distant local communities, for instance through
˜capacity-building™ programmes that supply jobs, clean running water,
sporting facilities, hospitals and schools. In these various ways, the mem-
bers of global civil society help to conserve or to alter the power relations
embedded in the chains of interaction linking the local, regional and plan-
etary orders. Their cross-border links and networks help to de¬ne and
rede¬ne who gets what, when, and how in the world. Of great importance
is the fact that these cross-border patterns have the power to stimulate
awareness among the world™s inhabitants that mutual understanding of
different ways of life is a practical necessity, that we are being drawn into
the ¬rst genuinely bottom-up transnational order, a global civil society,
in which millions of people come to realise, in effect, that they are in-
carnations of world-wide webs of interdependence, whose complexity is
riddled with opportunity, as well as danger.
To say this is to note “ this ¬fth point is obvious, but most crucial “
that global civil society is global. To speak of a global civil society is to
refer to politically framed and circumscribed social relations that stretch
across and underneath state boundaries and other governmental forms.
This ˜macro-society™ or ˜society of interlocking societies™ consists of a
myriad of social interactions stretched across vast geographic distances.
Global civil society is the most complex society in the history of the
human species. It comprises a multitude of different parts, which are
connected in a multitude of different ways. These diverse components
interact both serially and in parallel, and they produce effects that are
often both simultaneous and sequential. These effects, while normally
generated by local interactions and events, have emergent properties that
tend to be global. We are not exactly speaking here of a ˜vast empire of
human society, as it is spread over the whole earth™ (Wordsworth33 ) “
global civil society is neither a new form of empire nor encompassing of
the whole earth34 “ but it certainly is a special form of unbounded society
marked by constant feedback among its many components.

32 On the concept of power and its wide variety of forms, see my V´ clav Havel: A Political
Tragedy in Six Acts (London and New York, 1999).
33 From William Wordsworth™s Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, with Other Poems (2nd edn.,
London, 1800).
34 Compare the claim that there is a spreading new form of empire “ a ˜global society of
control™ “ ruled by global capital in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire
(Cambridge, MA and London, 2000), esp. pp. 325“50.
18 Global Civil Society?

Global civil society can be likened “ to draw for a moment upon eco-
logical similes “ to a vast, dynamic biosphere. It comprises a bewildering
variety of interacting habitats and species: INGOs, voluntary groups,
businesses, civic initiatives, social movements, protest organisations,
whole nations, ethnic and linguistic clusters, pyramids and networks. To
compare this society with a vast biosphere that stretches to every corner
of the earth is to underscore both the great complexity of its linkages
and (as we shall see) its vulnerability to internal and external interfer-
ence. Just as nearly every part of the Earth, from the highest mountains
to the deepest seas, supports life, so too global civil society is now found
on virtually every part of the earth™s surface. To be sure, everywhere it
is tissue-thin “ just like the natural biosphere, which resembles a paper
wrapping that covers a sphere the size of a football “ and its fringes, where
ice and permafrost predominate, are virtually inhospitable. In the inte-
rior of the Antarctic, only restricted populations of bacteria and insects
are to be found; and even on its coasts there are very few living inhab-
itants, among which are a handful of ¬‚owering plant species, as well as
seals, whales, penguins and other birds. Global civil society is similarly
subject to geographic limits: whole zones of the earth, parts of contempo-
rary Afghanistan, Burma, Chechenya and Sierra Leone for instance, are
˜no-go areas™ for civil society actors and institutions, which can survive
only by going underground, living in microniches, like the tens of millions
of little invertebrates that run the biosphere.35
But in those areas of the earth where it does exist, global civil society
comprises many biomes “ whole areas (like North America and the
European Union and parts of the Muslim world) characterised by
speci¬c animals and plants and climatic conditions. Each biome in turn
comprises large numbers of living ecosystems made up of clusters of
organisms living within a non-living physical environment of rocks, soil
and climate. These ecosystems of global civil society “ cities, business
corridors and regions for instance “ are interconnected. And they are
more or less intricately balanced, through continuous ¬‚ows and recycling
of efforts among (as it were) populations of individuals of the same
species, which thrive within communities (such as smaller cities) that
are themselves embedded within non-living geographic contexts.
Biospheric similes are helpful in picturing the cross-border contours of
global civil society, but they should not be overextended, if only because
this society is not simply a naturally occurring phenomenon. Although it
is embedded within a terrestrial biosphere “ it is the ¬rst-ever planetary

35 See Edward O. Wilson, ˜The Little Things that Run the World™, in Edward O. Wilson,
In Search of Nature (Washington, DC, 1996), pp. 141“5.
Unfamiliar words 19

order to understand itself as precarious, as naturally embedded “ global
civil society is socially produced. Its intricate social linkages stretched
across vast distances are puzzling, indeed so dif¬cult to grasp that new
metaphors are urgently needed to help us to picture and understand them.
Perhaps (to take an example) it is better to liken this society to the tens
and hundreds of thousands of ˜nested systems within nested systems™ de-
scribed in certain versions of complexity theory.36 Certainly, this global
society is both integrated and de-centred. It draws upon and is sustained
by many different actually existing societies, whose members regularly
interact and/or feel the effects of others™ actions across political bound-
aries. These effects are not due to proximity alone; they are felt at great
distances, usually by social actors who have no direct contact with one
another, and who are otherwise fated to remain ˜strangers™ to one another.
The complexity and interdependence of the linkages is staggering, and
striking as well is their combined effect, which is to ˜socialise™ actors in
ways that ˜thicken™ or increase the density of social interactions across
political borders. Consider one example: the luxuriant variety of lan-
guages spoken within global civil society. While today™s 6,000 languages
are rapidly disappearing, one by one, on average every two weeks, many of
them still spawn pidgins (rudimentary languages concocted to facilitate
communication among speakers of mutually unintelligible tongues) that
sometimes mutate into Creoles (pidgins that have matured into the ¬rst
language of a community). Meanwhile, global efforts to revive dying or
dead languages, such as Ainu in Japan and Romansch in Switzerland, are
underway. Strong resistance to extinction is also evident in the fact that the
remaining top twenty languages that are today spoken by over 95 per cent
of the world™s population are deeply resilient; they are highly complex
clusters of intermingling sub-languages and dialect families. None of
them is ˜pure™ “ 99 per cent of words in the Oxford English Dictionary
are of foreign descent “ and all of them are split into sub-varieties that
are constantly subject to further hybridisation.37 Or consider one other
example: the rapidly increasing mobility of people across borders in re-
cent decades, especially into and out of rich countries (nearly 90 million
people enter Britain annually, for instance). The trend has many faces:
it includes the in¬‚ux of visitors, working migrants and their households,
refugees and asylum seekers, all of whom have made many so-called
˜national™ societies both much more heterogeneous and other-regarding.
Cultural minorities are no longer easily assimilated, partly because of the

36 The vast literature includes David Bohm and F. David Peat, Science, Order, and Creativity
(London, 2000) and John Briggs and F. David Peat, Turbulent Mirror (New York, 1990).
37 John McWhorter, The Power of Babel. A Natural History of Language (London, 2002).
20 Global Civil Society?

speed and volume of migration, but also because of their socially diverse
origins and the ease with which they remain in contact with their soci-
ety of origin. Many countries consequently contain whole categories of
people who can be described as ˜denizens™ (Tomas Hammar), people
who are foreign citizens enjoying permanent legal resident status, or
as ˜margizens™, long-term immigrants who lack secure residence status:
illegal workers, unauthorised family entrants, asylum seekers, refused
asylum seekers who have not (yet) been deported, and temporary workers
who are in fact permanently integrated into the workforce.38

Old habits
De¬ned in this way, as a vast, interconnected and multi-layered non-
governmental space that comprises many hundreds of thousands of self-
directing institutions and ways of life that generate global effects, the
ideal-type concept of global civil society invites us to improve our under-
standing of the emerging planetary order. It calls on us to think more
deeply about it, in the hope that we can strengthen our collective pow-
ers of guiding and transforming it. This clearly requires sharpening up
our courage to confront the unknown and to imagine different futures.39
And it most de¬nitely obliges us to abandon some worn-out certainties
and outdated prejudices. Let us dwell for a moment on what the new
understanding of global civil society obliges us to give up.
The words ˜global civil society™ may be said to resemble signs that ¬x
our thoughts on winding pathways that stretch not only in front of us,
but also behind us. To utter the words ˜global civil society™, for instance,
is to sup with the dead, with an early modern world in which, among the
educated classes of Europe, ˜world civil society™ meant something quite
different than what it means, or ought to mean, today. Just how different
our times are can be seen by revisiting this older, exhausted meaning of
˜world civil society™.
Consider the works of two in¬‚uential authors of the eighteenth century:
Emmerich de Vattel™s Le droit des gens (1758) and Immanuel Kant™s Idee
zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltb¨ rgerlicher Absicht (1784) and Zum
ewigen Frieden (1795). These books stand at the end phase of a long

38 Stephen Castles and Alistair Davidson, Citizenship and Migration. Globalization and the
Politics of Belonging (Basingstoke, 2000).
39 A stimulating example of such rethinking that is guided by the idea of a global civil
society is Michael Edwards, Future Positive. International Co-Operation in the 21st Century
(London, 2000).
40 Emmerich de Vattel, Le droit des gens, ou principes de la loi naturelle, appliqu´s a la con-
duite et aux affaires des nations et des souverains (London, 1758); Immanuel Kant, Idee
Unfamiliar words 21

cycle of European thinking that understands civil society (societas civilis)
as the condition of living within an armed legal order that guarantees
its subjects stable peace and good government. ˜A State is more or less
perfect according as it is more or less adapted to attain the end of civil
society™, wrote Vattel, for whom the distinction between state and civil
society was literally unthinkable. A civil society is a special form of gov-
ernment. It ˜consists in procuring for its citizens the necessities, the com-
forts, and the pleasures of life, and in general their happiness; and in
securing to each the peaceful enjoyment of his property and a sure means
of obtaining justice, and ¬nally in defending the whole body against all
external violence.™41 Kant joined him in making it clear that civil society
in this normative sense was not necessarily synonymous with the modern
territorial state and its legal codes (ius civile). Their classically minded
theory of civil society emphasised that war-mongering among states and
what Kant called the ˜unsocial sociability™ of subjects could be cured by
subordinating them within a cosmopolitan alliance of states that is over-
ridden and protected by its own legal codes. Vattel insisted that states are
obliged to respect and to protect what he called the universal society of
the human race. ˜When . . . men unite in civil society and form a separate
State or Nation . . . their duties towards the rest of the human race re-
main unchanged.™42 Kant went further. He envisaged a two-tiered ˜law of
world citizenship™ [ius cosmopoliticum] which binds citizens and states into
a higher republican commonwealth of states. This commonwealth, which
resembles not a peace treaty [pactum pacis] but a league of peace [foedus
paci¬cum], would put an end to violence forever by treating its subjects
as citizens of a new law-governed political union. This union he called
˜universal civil society™ (einer allgemein das Recht verwaltenden b¨ rgerlichen
The invention of the distinction between government and civil society,
and the subsequent birth of modern colonial empires, the rise of nation-
alism from the time of the French Revolution, and the trend towards a
global system of complex governance, or cosmocracy “ analysed below “
arguably confounded this eighteenth-century vision of two-tiered global
government, or a world civil society. Two centuries later, the concept

zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltb¨ rgerlicher Absicht, ¬rst published in the Berlin-
ische Monatsschrift (Berlin), November 1784, pp. 385“411, and Zum ewigen Frieden.
Ein philosophischer Entwurf (Konigsberg, 1795). The emergence of the distinction be-
tween civil society and governmental/state institutions is examined in my ˜Despotism
and Democracy: The Origins and Development of the Distinction between State and
Civil Society, 1750“1850™, in John Keane (ed.), Civil Society and the State: New European
Perspectives (London and New York, 1988 [reprinted 1998]).
41 42 Ibid., book 1, introduction, section 11.
Vattel, 1758, chapter 1, section 6.
43 Kant, Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltb¨ rgerlicher Absicht, ¬fth thesis.
22 Global Civil Society?

of ˜international society™, familiar in the early work of Philip Marshall
Brown and the work of later scholars like Hedley Bull and Martin Wight,
tried both to register this historical change and to preserve something
of the old-fashioned meaning of societas civilis. The global system of
interlocking territorial states was said not to resemble Hobbes™ classic
description of a lawless state of nature racked by deathly strivings af-
ter power over others. Territorial states were rather seen by Bull and
others as socialised by the behaviour of other states. They were linked
into ˜the most comprehensive form of society on earth™,44 an increasingly
global framework of mutually recognised, informal customs and formal
rules “ diplomatic protocol, embassy functions, multilateral treaties, and
laws governing matters as diverse as trade and commerce, war crimes
and the right of non-interference. These state-enforced customs and
rules that limit sovereignty by respecting it came to be called interna-
tional society, a strangely state-centred term that Hedley Bull considered
to be a basic precondition of contemporary world order. International
society, he wrote, ˜exists when a group of states, conscious of certain
common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that
they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in
their relations with one another, and share in the working of common
The terms ˜world civil society™ and ˜international society™ still have
their champions,46 but from the standpoint of the new concept of global
civil society their ˜governmentality™ or state-centredness are today deeply
problematic. Neither the classical term societas civilis nor the state-centric
concept of ˜international society™ is capable of grasping the latter-day
emergence of a non-governmental social sphere that is called global civil
society. These words, ˜global civil society™ may well sound old-fashioned,
44 Martin Wight, Power Politics, eds. Hedley Bull and Carsten Holbraad (Leicester,
1978), p. 106; cf. Philip Marshall Brown, International Society. Its Nature and Interests
(New York, 1928).
45 Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society. A Study of Order in World Politics, 2nd edn. (New York,
1995 [1977]), p. 13; see also his ˜The Importance of Grotius in the Study of International
Relations™, in Hedley Bull et al. (eds.), Hugo Grotius and International Relations (Oxford,
1990), pp. 64“93.
46 Examples include Ralf Dahrendorf™s stimulating neo-Kantian defence of a universal
civil society in The Modern Social Con¬‚ict. An Essay on the Politics of Liberty (London,
1988), p. 189: ˜The next step towards a World Civil Society is the recognition of universal
rights of all men and women by the creation of a body of international law.™ Compare the
systems-theoretical interpretation of ˜world society™ (Weltgesellschaft) in Niklas Luhmann,
Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft, vol. 1 (Frankfurt am Main, 1998), pp. 148“71, and the
argument that a ˜mature anarchy™ among states is a precondition of a strong ˜international
society™, in Barry Buzan, People, States and Fear. An Agenda for International Security
Studies in the Post-Cold War Era (New York and London, 1991), pp. 174“81.
Unfamiliar words 23

but today they have an entirely new meaning and political signi¬cance.
Sustained and deeper re¬‚ection on the subject “ and a willingness to
puncture old thinking habits “ is de¬nitely warranted. Some examples are
especially pertinent in this book™s attempt to de¬ne and to understand
global civil society in fresh ways.

Among the primary needs is to question the current habit among re-
searchers of speaking of civil societies as ˜national™ phenomena and, thus,
of supposing or implying that global civil society and domestic civil so-
cieties are binary opposites. Many are still tempted to think in (architec-
tural) terms of two different ˜levels™ of civil society “ the ˜national™ and
the ˜global™ “ as if homo civilis was a divided creature, strangely at odds
with itself, rather like a ¬gure in the prose of Kleist: a ¬gure pulled si-
multaneously in two different directions, towards ˜home™ and away from
˜home™. ˜Global civil society™, runs one version of this way of thinking, is
˜a transnational domain in which people form relationships and develop
elements of identity outside their role as a citizen of a particular state™. It
˜represents a sphere that thus transcends the self-regarding character of
the state system and can work in the service of a genuinely transnational,
public interest™.47 Note the strong presumption that politically de¬ned
territory remains the ultimate foundation of civil society institutions “
as if ˜the global™ was an add-on extra, a homeless extra-territorial phe-
nomenon. Note as well how such images of global civil society draw upon
architectural metaphors of up and down, here and there. They imply that
the world of civil societies is split into two levels “ that ˜domestic™ civil
society is ˜self-regarding™, whereas the other-regarding global civil society
is ˜above and beyond national, regional, or local societies™, or ˜above the
national level™.48 Exactly how the two ˜levels™ are related, or how ˜citizens™
climb up and down the ladders in between, is left unclear.
In fact “ the exemplary case is that of Ireland, easily the most globalised
country in the world, according to the Globalisation Index49 “ the lan-
guage of ˜domestic™ and ˜foreign™ or ˜the local™ and ˜the global™, as well as
the architectural simile of ˜above and beyond™, are downright misleading.

47 Paul Wapner, ˜The Normative Promise of Nonstate Actors: A Theoretical Account of
Global Civil Society™, in Paul Wapner and Lester Edwin J. Ruiz (eds.), Principled World
Politics. The Challenge of Normative International Relations (Lanham, MD, 2000), p. 261.
48 Helmut Anheier et al., ˜Introducing Global Civil Society™, in Anheier et al. (eds.), Global
Civil Society, pp. 4, 3.
49 Financial Times (London), 9 January 2002.
24 Global Civil Society?

Within the forces and processes that operate from within global civil so-
ciety there is no clear line separating the ˜national™ from the ˜global™; the
two dimensions “ the ˜inside™ and the ˜outside™ “ constantly intersect and
co-de¬ne each other. Take a simple example: jeans. This item of cloth-
ing is worn world-wide, and one might even say, with just a touch of
exaggeration, that jeans are the prized uniform of millions of people who
live, work and play within civil societies. As an item of clothing, every-
body knows that it had local American origins, and that as an American
commodity jeans have travelled well. They are today a relatively cheap
and popular form of casual dress on every continent, in over a hundred
countries. Yet this globalisation of jeans has not been synonymous with
the homogenisation of meaningful ways of life. Jeans are not worn in
identical ways with identical connotations “ Marlboro Man on his ranch
competes for attention with Thai youths on motorcycles and Lebanese
young women, veiled and unveiled, relaxing together in esplanade caf´ s, e
all wearing jeans, in non-standard ways. All these ¬gures are incarnations
of world-wide cultural webs that are themselves bound up with latticed
global networks of production “ including raw and processed materi-
als like copper from Namibia, cotton from Benin and Pakistan, zinc from
Australia, thread from Northern Ireland and Hungary, synthetic dye from
Germany, pumice from Turkey, polyester tape from France, and steel zips
machined in Japan. This single example highlights the normal patterns
of complexity in the globalisation of civil society. It drives home the point
that the so-called domestic and the global “ to draw upon similes from
the ¬eld of physics “ are marked by strong interactions of the kind that
hold together the protons and neutrons inside an atomic nucleus; or, to
switch to the language of complexity theory, the domestic and the global
are normally linked together in complex, cross-border patterns of looped
and re-looped circuitry. When it comes to understanding the dynamics of
global civil society, there is no de¬nable or decidable boundary between
interiority and exteriority. The ˜micro™ and the ˜meso™ and the ˜macro™
dimensions of this society are both interconnected and co-determinant
of each other. The tiniest and the largest operations and events are impli-
cated in loops that produce feedback “ ranging from system-simplifying
and system-upsetting (or negative) forms through to feedback that is
more positive, in that it produces effects that are disproportionate to
their causes, so adding to the overall heterogeneity and dynamism of the
components of the global social system.
To repeat: the use of ecological similes and themes drawn from com-
plexity theory may be questionable, but they serve the basic purpose
of identifying the urgent need to develop theoretical imagery for better
imagining global civil society, as it is and as it might become. The rule
Unfamiliar words 25

of thumb, both in the past and in the present, is that the liveliest ˜local™
civil societies are those enjoying the strongest world-wide links. To speak
of a global civil society is to highlight the intricate patterns of interdepen-
dence and co-dependence of its many different parts, their implication
as nodal points within an open system of networks fuelled by feedback
and feed-forward loops. It is important to see that just as within locally
bounded societies larger social aggregates like trade unions often rein-
force (rather than simply subsume) the power and status of smaller social
units, like households, so the relationship between these more local civil
society units and their more distant or globalising connectors is not a
zero-sum relationship.
Instead of a single commodity like jeans, consider a whole country,
such as contemporary Japan: its government of¬cials once regarded civil
society organisations as interlopers in affairs of state, and it is there-
fore unsurprising that in 1960, the density of its non-pro¬t associations
(11.1 associations per 100,000 people) was only one-third that of the
United States (34.6). By the early 1990s, the density had reached a level
of more than 80 per cent of that of the United States (29.2 per 100,000
people versus 35.2).50 Many factors help to explain this transformation,
but among the principal causes has been the country™s internationalisa-
tion (the local term is kokusai-ka), beginning with the widespread pub-
lic involvement of citizens in assisting refugees from Indochina during
1979, and greatly boosted by a series of conferences hosted by the United
Nations during the 1990s and media events like World Cup 2002. The
result has con¬rmed the interdependence of ˜the national™ and ˜the inter-
national™: faced with the growing de facto involvement of civil society or-
ganisations in shaping foreign policy, Japanese government of¬cials were
pressured into including representatives of these organisations in their
policy deliberations (during the G-8 Summit held in Japan, the govern-
ment even appointed a special ˜Ambassador in Charge of Civil Society™
[shibiru sosaeti tantshibiru]), while the shift from patron“client relations
in the foreign policy sector of government towards a model of political
negotiation with civil society actors has been replicated in various ¬elds
of domestic policy.51

50 Yutaka Tsujinaka, ˜Interest Group Structure and Regime Change in Japan™, in I. M.

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