. 6
( 8)


40 Uncivil wars are analysed in my Re¬‚ections on Violence, pp. 131ff.
41 See Francis Deng, War of Visions (Washington, DC, 1995); Abdelwahab El-Affendi, For
a State of Peace. Con¬‚ict and the Future of Democracy in Sudan (London, 2002); and the
report by the International Crisis Group, God, Oil and Country. Changing the Logic of
War in Sudan (Brussels, 2002).
150 Global Civil Society?

and resources. Whole populations are consequently dragged down into
dark holes of violence. The results can hardly be described or analysed
as ˜civil war™, a term that supposed that the combatants were locked
into a violent but disciplined struggle for control over the key resources
of territorial state power. Civil wars are carefully planned and executed
struggles to seize or to preserve the means of state power by using rational-
calculating violent methods. They are considered civil because civilians
participate in the struggles for state power; and they are considered to be
wars because violence is used as a tactical means by all parties.
The problem here with the concept of civil war is its inability to grasp
the ways in which struggles for political power can and do easily become
a euphemism for the most terrible experience of criminal anarchy, de-
struction and death. The Sudan, Sierra Leone, Kashmir, the ill-named
Democratic Republic of the Congo are just a few of the many con¬‚icts
just beyond the boundaries of global civil society in which combatants™
violent struggle makes a terrible descent into hell “ towards a place where
the means and acts of violence seem to take on a life of their own, so that
violence becomes a grisly end in itself. It is as if the violent can af¬rm
their identity only through violence projected onto others. The violent
need enemies who appear to threaten them with extinction, and who
therefore must be persecuted, tortured, mutilated and annihilated. In
uncivil war zones, violence has a profound functional advantage. Rival-
ries, jealousies, quarrels within the community of the violent are projected
outwards, onto others, in life-af¬rming acts of desperate cruelty against
˜surrogate victims™.42 All sober restrictions governing the ground rules
of war are swept aside. The enemy is demonised as all-powerful, as all-
threatening, as all-violent. Hence, the rituals of violence against them are
repeated endlessly, shamelessly. Acts of violence become gratuitous. The
killers™ faces look blank. Sometimes they smile. Their words are cynical,
or clich´ d accounts of their private or group fantasies. There are plenty of
alibis, certainly, but the laws of engagement are unnervingly transparent:
murder and counter-murder innocents, sever the hands and genitals of
the enemy, cut out their tongues or stuff their mouths with stones, de-
stroy graveyards, rape women, poison or torch food, make sure their blood
¬‚ows like water. Guarantee that there are no innocent bystanders. Punish
waverers “ like the moderate Hutu leader, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who
was murdered by her fellow Hutus for her moderation, her half-naked
body left dumped on a terrace, a beer bottle shoved up her vagina.

42 Ren´ Girard, La violence et le sacr´ (Paris, 1972); cf. the ¬ne study of the uncivil war
e e
in the Lebanon by Samir Khalaf, ˜The Scares and Scars of War™, in Cultural Resistance.
Global and Local Encounters in the Middle East (London, 2001), esp. pp. 201“33.
Paradise on earth? 151

Everybody on the side of the violent must be baptised in blood, made
into an accomplice of the crimes. Ensure that they witness rape, torture
and murder. Make sure that they do not forget what they have done.
Trouble global civil society with painful questions: what class of unrea-
son prompts a Rwandan priest to set ¬re to his own church where terri¬ed
citizens have sought sanctuary, or Serbian bulldozer drivers to dig mass
graves before murders begin? What instincts drive Bosnian Serb torturers
to amuse themselves by forcing their Muslim victims to bite off the tes-
ticles of other Muslims? What manner of people are we who accept such
degradation in our midst? Finally, when all is said and done: be prepared
to boast to journalists or courts of law that the butchers are heroes, that
the victims are ¬ctions or that they deserved what they got “ that this was
no crime against humanity.

Every nook and cranny of global civil society, including its more local
networked components, is threatened by another, relatively more recent
form of violence: apocalyptic global terrorism. Terroristic violence of this
kind arguably dates from the early 1980s. Of course, the phenomenon of
terrorism “ the word itself dates from the revolutionary terrorisme of the
period from March 1793 to July 1794 in France “ is not new. Its so-called
˜classical™ forms include operations that use (or threaten to use) violence
to instil fear into others for the purpose of achieving de¬ned political
goals. While states can certainly be terrorist, in the sense that they can
use assassins and other violent under-cover agents to govern through their
subjects™ fear of violent death, terrorism of the non-state variety is typically
the work of ¬ghters who are neither uniformed soldiers nor organised in
elaborate hierarchical command structures. They are trained in the arts
of handling explosives and light weaponry, usually within urban areas.
Unlike guerrillas, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC), terrorists do not seek to occupy their enemy™s territory; even
though they too use lightning attacks and swift retreats, terrorists have
neither the numerical strength nor military capacity nor the will to physi-
cally defeat their opponents. Like rats in a sewer, they operate in small and
practically autonomous units within the more or less invisible channels of
the local civil society, in order to wear down and demoralise their govern-
mental enemy, whom they suppose “ ultimately, despite everything “
to be capable of negotiation, concession and retreat. New means of
communication, such as mobile phones and the Internet, de¬nitely en-
able terrorists to widen and multiply their contacts into all-channel
networks, all the while keeping their activities invisible or ˜private™ in
152 Global Civil Society?

order “ paradoxically “ to win over public support for their case. Propa-
ganda of the violent deed is among their specialties. So too is the struggle
for victory by means of fear induced by measured acts of violence that
have socially and politically disruptive effects.
The cruel but measured deployment of violence “ not indiscriminate
killing on a large-scale “ was always and still remains a critical feature of
classical terrorism. Basque, Irish and Colombian gunmen, hijackers and
bombers mean business and want publicity, but the cruelty and panic
they in¬‚ict is restrained. They do not wish to kill lots of people, which
is why terrorism of the apocalyptic kind is a new departure. It is true
that strongly ˜classical™ elements of terrorism are evident in the suicide
attacks on American and French military facilities in Beirut in the early
1980s, the sarin attack on the Tokyo Metro, the bombing in early 1995
of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the simultaneous attacks on
the American embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in August 1998,
and the assaults on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in Septem-
ber 2001. Each one of these attacks aimed at a fundamental change of
the political order; and each unleashed violence in urban settings with-
out however attempting to occupy its territory. Yet each one of these
attacks also represented a rupture with past tactics. Their protagonists
supposed that they were engaged in total war against an enemy unwor-
thy of negotiation and incapable of compromise. The enemy was seen as
both morally null and void and worthy of annihilation. Hence unlimited
violence, bloodcurdling in its technical simplicity and witnessed by mil-
lions, is justi¬ed. The aim is to choose targets “ key symbols of American
power, for instance “ and then to kill indiscriminately on a massive scale.
The point is neither to win over public support nor to negotiate political
deals. A deathly zero-sum game has to be played. Responsibility need not
be claimed. The rottenness of the present-day world should be exposed.
Nothing but catastrophe should result.

The politics of civility
Future historians may well look back on the past half-century and see
in each of these depressingly violent trends not only the end of the dis-
tinction between war and peace. They may also record that we lived in
times when the three sides of the triangle became so tightly linked that (as
two Chinese military scholars, Liang and Xiangsui, have argued43 ) a new
form of ˜unrestricted warfare™ swallowed up the whole world. Is the tri-
angle of violence that now surrounds global civil society a prelude to

43 Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare (Beijing, 1999).
Paradise on earth? 153

a more quarrelsome and barbarous Hobbesian world “ perhaps even
(as Guglielmo Ferrero ¬rst envisaged44 ) a regression into ˜medievalism™?
Are we fated to live in a global order riddled with violence, suspicion
of enemies and restless struggles that produce universal fear “ an order
in which civil society institutions and customs have little or no place?
Nobody of course knows. Perhaps indeed our fate has been so decided.
Perhaps the capacity of the late modern world to draw a triangle around
itself “ a triangle bounded by apocalyptic terrorism, uncivil war and
nuclear annihilation “ and, within its bounds, to imagine and then to
execute the end of its own existence, will prove to be self-con¬rming.
The challenge for the defenders of global civil society is to ¬nd fresh
beginnings, to invent long-term remedies against violence, in order to
prove that our fate has not yet been decided, and that this special form
of society after all still has a future. A positive counter-trend in all this
rather depressing reality should certainly not be overlooked. For among
the most promising features of global civil society is its self-spun traditions
of civilising politics “ its actors™ capacity to nurture networks of publicly
organised campaigns against the archipelagos of incivility existing within
and beyond its frontiers. These campaigns have a long history.45 They
extend well back in time, for instance to include the ¬rst transnational
social movement in modern times: the campaign to abolish the slave
trade, which had the backing of groups like the Pennsylvania Society for
Promoting the Abolition of Slavery (formed in 1775), the Soci´ t´ des ee
Amis des Noirs (formed in France in 1788) and the British and Foreign
Anti-Slavery Society. This cross-border campaign “ explicitly religious
movements aside “ was arguably the ¬rst moral entrepreneur to emerge
out of the structures of civil society, to play a prominent role in world
politics by pressing for new prohibition laws that would apply globally.46
During the nineteenth century, networks of activists also sprang up to
publicise the need to halt the traf¬cking in women and children within
and across borders; in the same period, civil initiatives pressing for

44 Guglielmo Ferrero, Peace and War (London, 1933), p. 96.
45 See L. C. White, International Non-Governmental Organisations (New Brunswick, 1951);
Chiang Pei-heng, Non-Governmental Organizations at the United Nations. Identity, Role,
and Functions (New York, 1981), chapter 2; and Bill Seary, ˜The Early History: From
the Congress of Vienna to the San Francisco Conference™, in Peter Willetts (ed.), ˜The
Conscience of the World™: The In¬‚uence of Non-Governmental Organisations in the UN System
(Washington, DC, 1996), pp. 15“30.
46 See Mary Stoughton Locke, Anti-Slavery in America (Cambridge, MA, 1901), pp. 87“98;
Betty Fladeland, Men and Brothers: Anglo-American Antislavery Cooperation (Urbana,
1972), p. 258; David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770 “
1823 (New York, 1999); and Ethan A. Nadelmann, ˜Global Prohibition Regimes: The
Evolution of Norms in International Society™, International Organization, 44 (1990),
pp. 479, 495.
154 Global Civil Society?

relief from the violence of war also became prominent. Prototypical was
the International Committee of the Red Cross (¬rst named the Inter-
national Committee for the Relief of Wounded Soldiers). Born after the
1859 Battle of Solferino, its ¬rst outlines appeared after the Geneva Pub-
lic Welfare Society voted to set up a committee in support of wounded
soldiers. That committee called for the establishment of voluntary so-
cieties in every country of the world, and for an international confer-
ence of state and non-state delegates, subsequently held in 1864, at
which approval was given to both the ¬rst-ever Geneva Convention and
the committee that became the International Committee for the Relief
of Wounded Soldiers.47 The founding of The Save the Children Fund
after the First World War is part of the same longer story of civil society
initiatives against wanton violence. M´ decins Sans Fronti` res, formed
e e
after the Biafran War, and Oxfam “ established to provide civilian relief
to Greece, when it was still under Nazi occupation, against the wishes of
the British government “ count as other examples.
Such civil initiatives against incivility, the attempts to nurture civility
within global civil society and in turn to build ˜bridgeheads™ that expand
the geographic reach of global civil society, are today a feature of all zones
of violence. Some efforts, like protests against nuclear weapons and in-
stallations, engage in direct action, for the purpose of publicising to the
world the grave risks linked to the global spread of nuclear technolo-
gies. A similar global focus is evident in the activities of organisations like
Saferworld “ a London-based research and lobby group that specialises in
efforts to publicise the potentially deadly effects of global arms ¬‚ows and
to pressure bodies like the European Union into restricting arms sales
to dictatorial states and armies that abuse human rights in uncivil war
zones. Other organisations, like Human Rights Watch, actively ˜witness™
others™ suffering in violent areas like Burma, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and
southern Sudan. Or they push for the elimination of landmines, or bi-
ological weapons, or (like Amnesty International, which has more than
1 million members in 162 countries) campaign against political repres-
sion, especially maltreatment of the body and unfair imprisonment. Still
others attempt to act as human shields against aggressors (in defence of
the Palestinians against Israeli troops in the West Bank, for instance);
or they negotiate cease¬res, or provide comfort for lives ruined when
civilians are turned into refugees. And some groups “ for their pains “
¬nd themselves targets of global criticism for prolonging or complicating
47 James Avery Joyce, Red Cross International and the Strategy of Peace (London, 1959); and
Martha Finnemore, ˜Rules of War and Wars of Rules: The International Red Cross and
the Restraint of State Violence™, in John Boli and George M. Thomas (eds.), Constructing
World Culture (Stanford, 1999), pp. 149“65.
Paradise on earth? 155

uncivil wars, for instance by sheltering hostages, feeding aggressors, or
serving as cover for warring armies.

A dilemma “ and a strategy
Social campaigns to civilise global civil society “ to democratise or publicly
control the use of violent means48 “ are among the vital preconditions of
its survival and growth. These campaigns throw into question the trian-
gle of violence by robbing it of its supposed ˜naturalness™ or inevitability.
Violence is seen to be a temporal, all too temporal affair. And the im-
plication is clear: with will and effort, these means of violence could be
eradicated from the world. This much is clear. Yet social campaigns to
democratise the means of violence are presently hampered by complex-
ities and countervailing trends, which are perhaps better described as a
single dilemma that the defenders of global civil society need to recognise,
to worry about, and practically to address.
Put simply, the dilemma that confronts global civil society is that it is
incapable of bringing peace to the world through its own efforts. Global
civil society thrives upon non-violence “ yet it arguably requires violence
to preserve and nurture its non-violence. Since it is vulnerable to various
forms of violence, that stem either from within or without its boundaries,
global civil society needs political/constitutional protection backed up
by armed force. Quite aside from the deep uncertainty about whether
adequate governing institutions can be developed at the global level to
do this (see the earlier discussion of cosmocracy), its civilian members by
de¬nition do not have the available means of violence (police and standing
armies) to eradicate that violence. Of course “ as happens always at the
point at which a civil society degenerates into an uncivil society “ civilians
can themselves resort to picking up guns, to point them at their violent
opponents who lurk within or on the fringes of the global civil society.
But that would undermine the shared culture of civility on which global
civil society rests.
This institutional weakness of global civil society is compounded by its
own plural freedoms: to the extent that global civil society enjoys such
civil freedoms it can easily be taken for a ride by mercenaries, gangs,
wired-up hooligans, ma¬a, arms traf¬ckers, terrorists, private security
agents and psycho-killers, all of whom cavort with the devil of violence
by using, misusing and abusing the peaceful freedoms of that society.49

48 The idea of democratising violence is explained in my Re¬‚ections on Violence.
49 See Mark Findlay, The Globalisation of Crime. Understanding Transitional Relationships in
Context (Cambridge and New York, 1999).
156 Global Civil Society?

Global civil society is further threatened by the fact that the organised
violence (potentially) needed to protect its citizens has a nasty habit of
getting out of hand “ arms breed hubris “ thereby threatening everything
that global civil society stands for. As the merchants of the early civil
societies of the Italian city-states ¬rst recognised,50 standing armies, with
their sanguinary arrogance, are as dangerous as they are necessary. The
citizens of global civil society thus require limited armed protection by
authorities who can themselves turn against (or turn their backs on) those
citizens, or act recklessly or foolishly, or contrary to their own and others™
best interests.
Exactly what all this means in practice is context-dependent and can-
not therefore be decided in advance, in accordance with some or other
set of universal rules.51 Every effort to reduce or to rid global civil society
of violence must: pay attention to the degree of compatibility between
the chosen means and the de¬ned end; consider the possible or prob-
able unintended consequences of a chosen course of action; be on the
lookout for hubris in all its forms “ and, as well, be alert constantly to
the overriding need to preserve and nurture the non-violent plural free-
doms of the global civil society itself. For this reason, despite contrary
claims about imperatives of secrecy, the use of armed force, which al-
ways involves two-edged swords that easily slash ¬ngers, is best guided
by publicly scrutinised judgements, especially when it is used in the name
of fostering civility. Gung-ho militarism and blind or one-eyed paci¬sm
are enemies of global civil society. The awareness of complexity and dan-
gerous unintended consequences is its friend.
Examples of this mode of political reasoning about violence easily
spring to mind. Given that the act of ridding the world of nuclear
weapons is desirable, how is this best achieved? What weapons systems
would replace the bomb? How will nuclear plants and weapons be de-
commissioned, and can legal compensation and something like ˜truth
and reconciliation™ processes help the world come to terms with the long
history of suffering and long-term damage caused by the invention of
the bomb? Given that the new form of apocalyptic terrorism operates
like a deadly enemy from within the entrails of global civil society, what
activist forms of surveillance, policing and military action are required
to reduce the civil fear that it induces and to defeat it militarily? Are
these means at all compatible with the preservation of the institutions and
˜spirit™ of civil society, which can suffer implosion and “ under extreme

50 See the remarks on the relationship between markets and organised violence by Harold
D. Lasswell, World Politics and Personal Insecurity (Chicago, 1935), p. 23.
51 See my Re¬‚ections on Violence, pp. 61“104.
Paradise on earth? 157

conditions “ suffer sociocide when threatened by fear and violence?52
Are there other limits upon what can be achieved through the counter-
violence of police and the armed forces?
These questions are challenging, and they suggest “ in the case of
uncivil wars “ the need for bold and imaginative practical answers that
must bite the bullet, quite literally. For among the most dif¬cult political
problems yet to be solved is if, how and when armed intervention can
legitimately be used to put an end to uncivil war and so to keep alive, even
to extend, the project of global civil society. Reactions to this ˜Guernica
paradox™53 “ the need to use violence to stop violence “ range from suspi-
cion to resistance. Activist supporters of global civil society understand-
ably worry about the general erosion of civil freedoms that normally ac-
companies military and police action. Civilian life does not take kindly
to the loss of sleep and frayed nerves induced by orders to strip and be
searched, or by helicopter gunships hovering over the heads of urban res-
idents, or by ¬‚ag-waving and talk of the need for permanent war against
evil. Political power may well grow out of the barrel of guns, but the vel-
vet power of civil institutions thrives on permanent de-commissioning of
weapons and strategies of social paci¬cation. That is why many friends
of global civil society understandably shy away from talk of violence: like
the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, they have a principled
commitment to active non-violence, or they have simply seen enough of
violence, and therefore pragmatically prefer paci¬c means of protecting
and nurturing the lives of defenceless citizens. Conventional ˜realists™, by
contrast, doubt that civil society can become the good-natured cavalry
of peace and freedom. They point out that might often triumphs over
right. They defend the formula that sovereign are those who actually de-
cide to use force to protect citizens, which begs hard normative questions
about who can and who should shield our emerging global civil society
from violence, and under what circumstances. The answer provided by
the post-Shoah advocates of ˜just™ or humanitarian war “ that the violent
enemies of global civil society should be fought wherever they make a
move “ arguably legitimates eternal war, particularly in a world bristling
with incivility. ˜If wars should be waged everywhere that human rights
are derided™, comments one observer sarcastically, ˜then they would em-
brace the whole of the planet, from Korea to Turkey, from Africa to

52 See my ˜Fear and Democracy™, in Kenton Worcester et al. (eds.), Violence and Politics.
Globalization™s Paradox, pp. 226“43.
53 Geoffrey Robertson, Crimes Against Humanity. The Struggle for Justice (London, 2000),
chapter 11.
54 Jean Clair, ˜De Guernica a Belgrade™, Le Monde, 21 May 1999, p. 16.
158 Global Civil Society?

Does that necessarily follow? Arguably not, if only because the geo-
military scope of non-nuclear humanitarian intervention is constrained by
the fact that the United States, the world™s dominant-power “ despite its
ability to act as a rogue power that can act with impunity “ is presently
forced, within the structures of cosmocracy, to co-exist and interact
peacefully with the four great powers of Europe, Japan, China and Russia.
Not only that, but especially under ˜post-Vietnam™, conditions, when
log-rolling politicians™ fear of casualties leads them to rely on the use of
computerised, ˜low-risk™, aerial bombardment as their preferred means
of ˜humanitarian intervention™, war can be waged only by the dominant
power and its allies, in a very limited number of uncivil contexts: like those
of Kosovo and Afghanistan, where the marauding forces to be bombed are
geographically strategic but without powerful friends, and weak enough
to be defeated easily but suf¬ciently strong to make the sensible calcula-
tion to lay down their arms and refrain from using further violence.55
These preconditions of successful military intervention are exact-
ing, to say the least. They imply that talk of the ˜end of geography™
(Paul Virilio) is premature; and that exaggerated contrasts between the
nineteenth-century struggle for mastery over territory and the ˜post-
modern™ weaponry of ˜speed and facility of movement™ (Bauman) must
be doubted. The bitter fact is that there are presently territorial limits
upon global civil society. That is not to say that the whole idea and nor-
mative ideal of a global civil society is mere bunk “ or that it has ˜hardly
started anywhere except in philosophers™ study rooms™.56 Global civil so-
ciety has an un¬nished quality about it. There are whole patches of the
earth where its institutions and ethos have made little or no headway “
Russia, China, Pakistan, North Korea, Algeria, Saudi Arabia “ and where
zones of uncivil war “ Chechenya, Kashmir, the Democratic Republic of
Congo “ are effectively ˜no-go™ areas for military intervention. For the
moment, in other words, all these geographic areas are safe in their out-
right opposition to, or violation of, the principles and practice of global
civil society.

Social paci¬cation
There are perverse ironies in all this, above all that most uncivil wars are
fuelled by armaments that are disproportionately produced and supplied

55 See Edward Luttwak, ˜No-Score War™, Times Literary Supplement, 14 July 2000, p. 11.
Other limitations of ˜post-heroic™ aerial bombardment are examined in Michael Ignatieff,
Virtual War (London 2000), and in ˜The New American Way of War™, The New York
Review of Books (20 July 2000), pp. 42“6.
56 Zygmunt Bauman, ˜Wars of the Globalization Era™, European Journal of Social Theory,
4:1 (2001), p. 14.
Paradise on earth? 159

globally by turbocapitalist ¬rms based in the old civil societies of coun-
tries like the United States, France and Britain (which in 1998 alone sold
weapons worth £9 billion). There are as well profound dif¬culties gener-
ated by efforts to stop uncivil war. In the limited number of cases where
military (˜humanitarian™) intervention has put an end to those con¬‚icts by
force of arms, the political project of extending the reach of global civil
society has had to learn the dif¬cult art of social paci¬cation. Military
interventions, for instance those in Afghanistan and Kosovo, resemble
hit-and-run affairs. Like a metal hammer that pounds a wooden stake
into the earth, their aim is to beat the enemy into submission, in the ex-
pectation that the earthly elements of time will dissolve the sentiments
that once nurtured the foe. The military action is reminiscent of nomads™
strikes against their adversaries. Armed to the teeth, the attackers travel
light; they rely on their ability to swoop down on their victims, to in¬‚ict the
maximum harm, then to retreat, all the while knowing that there will be no
retaliation by those who have been violated. One trouble with the strategy
is obvious: the power to force others into submission does not translate
spontaneously into the power of the survivors to form themselves into
stable government and a law-enforced civil society. The psychic traumas,
damaged tissues of sociability and ecological and infrastructural damage
in¬‚icted by the war of intervention are left untreated.
In some quarters of the victors™ camp, nobody cares: when the job is
done, the vanquished are tacitly written off (as Kipling once put it) as
˜lesser breeds without the Law™. From the point of view of the survivors
on the ground, things look rather different. It is as if the power to act
in the world has stopped ¬‚owing through people™s veins. Their trust in
themselves and others, their ability to make long-term plans through
households, partnerships, neighbourhoods and other associations, has
been badly damaged. Efforts to build or re-build civil society out of the
ruins of war start from this point.57 So do the dif¬culties. Although the
crafting of peaceful social relations is an essential antidote to the ruins
left behind by uncivil war, talk of the need for a civil society is no all-
purpose magic wand. Dahrendorf™s sober warning is well-taken: ˜It takes
six months to create new political institutions, to write a constitution and
electoral laws. It may take six years to create a half-way viable economy.
It will probably take sixty years to create a civil society. Autonomous
institutions are the hardest things to bring about.™58

57 Compare the Commission of the European Communities document, Linking Relief,
Rehabilitation and Development (Brussels, 1996), p. 6: ˜Rehabilitation must be conceived
and implemented as a strategy encompassing institutional reform and strengthening . . .
People “ both victims and participants “ must be reintegrated into civil society.™
58 Ralf Dahrendorf, ˜Has the East Joined the West?™, New Perspective Quarterly, 7:2 (Spring
1990), p. 42.
160 Global Civil Society?

Why should civil society institutions “ more broadly de¬ned here than
in Dahrendorf ™s use “ be so dif¬cult to reconstruct? There are several
reasons. Turbocapitalist ¬rms are often reluctant to play the role of eco-
nomic wizards by taking risks and investing in the social and economic
infrastructure wrecked by uncivil war. Meanwhile, in matters of relief and
rehabilitation, compared with governments, NGOs are often compara-
tively ¬‚exible and innovative, low cost, and responsive to grass-roots pres-
sures. But their qualities do not arise spontaneously or automatically. They
are often constrained by counter-trends and unintended consequences.
For instance, the task of rebuilding a civil society from the ground up-
wards is not a substitute for the essential task of building effective and
legitimate governmental structures, which is why relief and development
work is frequently scuppered by local warlords and armed gangs and pri-
vate armies.59 To the extent that civil society-building relies upon NGOs
as conduits for aid money, in the expectation that this maximises sus-
tainable development, it often turns them into hostages of fortune, with
mixed dividends. Donor funding can and does overwhelm or distort the
goal of creating a civil society. It tends to create local organisations that
are excessively self-centred and blessed with power that is publicly unac-
countable, partly because they are so heavily dependent on their donors;
and partly because the staff of these NGOs (as the South African joke has
it) En-J-Oy all sorts of privileges otherwise denied those living in misery
around them. Finally, the institutional rules and organisations of civil so-
ciety presuppose the emotional willingness of actors to get involved with
others, to talk with them, to form groups, to change loyalties. In a civil so-
ciety, this propensity of women and men to associate freely and to interact
with others is not linked to any one particular identity or group, whether
based on blood, geography, tradition or religion. The capacity for free as-
sociation also requires women and men to renounce ideological groups,

59 See I. William Zartman (ed.), Collapsed States. The Disintegration and Restoration of Legit-
imate Authority (Boulder and London, 1995) and D. Porter and P. Kilby, ˜Strengthening
the Role of Civil Society in Development? A Precariously Balanced Answer™, International
Affairs, 50:1 (1996), p. 32: ˜civil society is not likely to thrive, unless there is an effective,
strong state which can establish the rules of the game and provide some discriminatory
framework for civil society activities.™ Rather than speaking in the idealised Woodrow
Wilsonian language of an ˜effective, strong state™ that is territorially sovereign, it would
be much better to speak about the imperative of instituting ˜governmental structures™
that can tame lawlessness and bring violence to an end. In reality “ the Lebanon is a case
in point “ so-called sovereign states can very often not be built at all; where they can, they
are certainly not constructed overnight. The theory of cosmocracy anyway implies that
our world is not principally composed of sovereign states; that the peaceful integration
of political structures into governmental hybrid forms is a precondition of a global civil
society; and that political order therefore can be restored in a variety of ways, not simply
by chasing after the will-o™-the-wisp ideal of state integrity.
Paradise on earth? 161

movements and parties driven by nationalism or xenophobic racism. A
civil society supposes that women and men can live with a variety of oth-
ers in complex ways, that they can control their vengeful impulses, that
they are capable of sociability and therefore have in their hearts the ability
to trust and be loyal to others “ so loyal, in fact, that they feel strong
enough to stand up to others and to organise against them. The trouble
is that these dispositions can neither be agreed and written in round-table
meetings or conventions, like constitutions, nor manufactured on assem-
bly lines, like automobiles. These delicate ˜civil™ qualities take time to
grow. They cannot be planned or legislated from above. They best hatch
and grow in milieux like urban areas, where ˜the transformation of the
geography of fear into a culture of tolerance™60 can take place through
architectural design, the regeneration of small and large businesses, the
staging of popular culture and the performing arts, and the promotion of
curricular reform at schools and a wide variety of clubs and competitive

It is a well-known rule that the ambitious desire to have more than
one™s share of power is a chronic feature of social and political life,
and one that inevitably produces disastrous effects.61 The tendency to-
wards hubris certainly applies to global civil society and its dynamics.
The critics of global civil society, including those who question the very
concept because there is ˜no common global pool of memories; no com-
mon global way of thinking; and no “universal history”, in and through
which people can unite™,62 overlook or understate the advantages of its
heterogeneity in warding off hubris. Global civil society resembles a
bazaar, a covered kaleidoscope of differently sized rooms, twisting alleys,
steps leading to obscure places, people and goods in motion. It is
marked by increasing differentiation, thickening networks of structures
and organisations with different but interdependent modi operandi, mul-
tiplying encounters among languages and cultures, expanding mobility,

60 See C´ lestin Monga, The Anthropology of Anger. Civil Society and Democracy in Africa
(Boulder and London, 1996); and the important re¬‚ections on efforts in urban settings
to ˜pacify the pathos™ left behind by uncivil wars in Samir Khalaf, Cultural Resistance.
Global and Local Encounters in the Middle East (London, 2001), esp. chapters 10 and 11.
61 See the account of hubris in my V´ clav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts (London
and New York, 2000), pp. 278“86.
62 David Held, Democracy and the Global Order. From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan
Governance (Stanford, 1995), p. 125. The same point is made in A. B. Bozeman, ˜The
International Order in a Multicultural World™, in Hedley Bull and Adam Watson (eds.),
The Expansion of International Society (Oxford, 1984).
162 Global Civil Society?

growing unpredictability, even (despite growing numbers of full-time
moderators and mediators) a certain depersonalisation and abstractness
of its social relations. Such complexity is sometimes said to be a threat to
democracy.63 That is false, as John Dewey long ago emphasised, for the
struggle against simpli¬ed de¬nitions of social life and ˜the social good™
is a hallmark of a mature civil society.64
It is nevertheless true that complexity alone does not release global civil
society from the laws of hubris. It is not only that the plural freedoms of
global civil society are potentially disabled by the political framework of
cosmocracy within which it operates. The problem of hubris is internal
to global civil society as well: just like the domestic civil societies that
form its habitats, global civil society also produces concentrations of ar-
rogant power that threaten its own openness and pluralism. Stronger legal
sanctions, governmental regulation and armed protection can ameliorate
these inequalities, but are there additional ways of ensuring that its social
freedoms can be nurtured and redistributed more equally at the world
The growth, since the mid-nineteenth century, of a globe-girdling,
time“space conquering system of communications is arguably of basic
importance in this respect.65 Communications media like the wheel and
the press had distance-shrinking effects, but genuinely globalised com-
munications began only with inventions like overland and underwater
telegraphy and the early development of Reuters and other interna-
tional news agencies. The process has culminated in the more recent
development of geo-stationary satellites, computer-networked media and
the expanding and merging ¬‚ows of international news, electronic data
exchange and entertainment and education materials, thanks to giant
¬rms like Thorn“EMI, Time“Warner, News Corporation International,
Disney, Bertelsmann, Microsoft, Sony and CNN.
The globalisation of communications media has had several long-term
effects upon global civil society. Most obviously, global media linkages
have helped to do something much more persuasively than the maps
of Gerardus Mercator ever did: to deepen the visceral feelings among
millions of people that our world is ˜one world™, and that humans share
some responsibility for its fate.

63 Jessica Matthews, ˜Power Shift™, Foreign Affairs, 76:1 (January“February 1997), p. 64.
64 The point is made in a little-known essay entitled ˜Civil Society and the Political State™,
in Jo Ann Boydston (ed.), John Dewey. The Middle Works, 1899“1924 (Carbondale and
Edwardsville, 1978), pp. 404“33.
65 Peter J. Hugill, Global Communications Since 1844. Geopolitics and Technology (Baltimore
and London, 1999).
Paradise on earth? 163

Eagle on the Moon
Consider just one watershed media event: the coverage of the day “ Mon-
day 20 July 1969 “ two men openly de¬ed the laws of gravity to set foot
on the Moon™s crinkled surface. ˜Forty feet, down two and a half. Pick-
ing up some dust™, crackled Buzz Aldrin™s voice from the landing craft
Eagle towards the Earth™s radios and television sets. A few more min-
utes, a few more fuzzy words. ˜Contact light. Okay. Engines stop.™ After a
string of procedures designed to ˜safe™ the vehicle, Neil Armstrong spoke:
˜Houston, Tranquillity base here. The Eagle has landed.™ An estimated
world-wide audience of 600 million people, one-¬fth of the world™s pop-
ulation, watched the events of the rest of that day on television. The
two-man crew of the Eagle told their navigators back on Earth that
they weren™t sleepy. So Aldrin and Armstrong were given permission
to prepare for a two-hour expedition. They would collect rock samples,
plant the Stars and Stripes, perform simple experiments, take more pho-
tographs, set up a television camera and solar-powered instruments to
send information a quarter-of-a-million miles back to Earth. Just before
ten o™clock that evening, American Central Daylight Time, Armstrong
eased his white-suited bulk down a ladder. He paused, squinting through
a gold-plated visor designed to re¬‚ect the sun™s un¬ltered glare. ˜The sur-
face appears to be very, very ¬ne-grained as you get close to it™, he said.
˜It™s almost like a powder.™ He again paused, then carefully lowered his
left boot onto the grimy black surface of the Moon. ˜That™s one small step
for [a] man™, he said excitedly, the ¬rst human ever to peer back towards
Earth from the surface of the Moon, ˜one giant leap for mankind™.66
Around the world, public reactions to these words varied. Con¬dent
euphoria predominated. Most commentators “ echoing the words of John
F. Kennedy when announcing, some years earlier, that an attempt would
be made to get hold of the Moon and put it in our pockets “ said that
a page of human history had been turned. They spoke of the landing
as a human triumph over nature, a challenge to go forward, a call to
apply human know-how to the task of improving the human condition.
Some saw it as a target of colonisation, a new holiday destination, a
place where food could be grown in glasshouses, or some part of the
66 Either because of a communications glitch, or because he forgot the article ˜a™,
Armstrong™s words were received on Earth as ˜That™s one small step for man, one giant
leap for mankind™. He was later nonplussed and emphasised that the sentence was un-
grammatical. That was so, but everyone understood its intended meaning. See Andrew
Chaikin, A Man on the Moon. The Voyage of the Apollo Astronauts (London and New York,
1994), esp. pp. 206“19, and Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, Apollo. The Race
to the Moon (London, 1989), pp. 354“6.
164 Global Civil Society?

world™s population housed. Not everybody agreed. Some reacted ¬‚ip-
pantly, or sarcastically. The words of Armstrong prompted women in a
north London neighbourhood to paint a large sign on a long brick wall,
proposing that since a man had now landed on the Moon, all men should
now be rocketed there. Others, bearing the weight of the world on their
shoulders, grew convinced that God no longer was prepared to keep
wolves and the Moon apart; amid the raw display of technological power,
they smelled hubris. ˜I don™t know whether you™re frightened™ remarked
Europe™s most prominent philosopher. ˜I am when I see TV transmis-
sions of the earth from the Moon. We don™t need an atom bomb. Man
has already been uprooted from the earth. What™s left are purely technical
relations. Where man lives today is no longer an earth.™67
Arguably that view “ that the Western project of human lordship over
nature had taken an arrogant, twenty thousand-league stride forwards and
upwards into the air “ proved incorrect. The ˜step forward for mankind™
served to bolster public perceptions, however vague, about the breathtak-
ing scale and complexity of the universe in which planet Earth is embed-
ded. Such perceptions are different, say, than those commonly expressed
at the end of the nineteenth century, when human beings unimpressed
by religion did not know where they had come from, where they were,
indeed did not even realise that they did not know any of this. Matters of
that kind were seen to be the subject of metaphysics, or of meditations,
like those found in Blaise Pascal™s Pens´es (1670), on the ˜disproportion-
ality™ of humankind in comparison with the in¬nity of the solar system.
By contrast, the expedition to the Moon bolstered many people™s feel-
ing of smallness and insigni¬cance. They sensed not only that Earth is a
modestly sized planet, but also that our galaxy, the milky ribbon that is
barely visible to the naked eye on moonless nights, is itself part of a group
of around thirty galaxies, the so-called Local Group, that measures some
4“5 million light years in diameter and is separated from other galaxies
by huge distances of black space.
So, although this was not intended, the expedition to the Moon fed
feelings about how, from simple beginnings, the universe has spawned
ever more intricate structures, of which human life on Earth is one result.
Astronomers have supported these feelings by pointing out that we have
reached something like a natural limit in our ability to see beyond our
horizons within the universe as we know it. This is not for lack of more
powerful instruments, but because far-distant objects “ and the light trails
they leave “ are moving away from our Earth and its Moon faster and

67 From a posthumously published interview with Martin Heidegger in Der Spiegel, 23
(31 May 1976), pp. 193ff.
Paradise on earth? 165

faster, some of them at or beyond the speed of light.68 The ˜event horizon™,
they say, is proving to be a natural limit upon what we can know of our
environment. We know only that our universe has boundaries of which
we are condemned to know little or nothing. That ignorance contradicts
the unduly pessimistic, strangely homocentric conclusion that the Moon
landing endangered humanity by tempting it to play dice with God “
today the Moon, tomorrow the universe.
That conclusion proved to be wrong on another front, for the most
astute witnesses of the Moon landing foresaw that it would have the un-
intended effect of breathing new life into the old principle “ vital for global
civil society “ of human responsibility for the Earth. Buzz Aldrin himself
later captured something of this implication by pointing to a paradox:
while standing on the Moon, he and Armstrong were farther from the
Earth than anybody had been, he said, and yet both of them at the time
had felt an almost mystical sense of closeness and unity with the rest
of humankind.69 Why was this so? The Moon landing arguably had the
effect of making life on Earth seem more fragile. Not only did it serve
as yet another reminder that only in the last tick of geological time did
humans appear on Earth “ that our world is but a parenthesis in eter-
nity. The landing also served as a humbling reminder that human life
rests precariously on an unknowable foundation of deep time “ perhaps
4.5 billion years “ within a vast universe of unknowable extent. Conse-
quently, human life seemed more closely bound up with the fate of the
world as we experience it: the world of rocks and rivers, birds and ¬‚owers,
winds and clouds. The Gaia hypothesis developed by James Lovelock “
Gaia was the Greek goddess of the Earth “ is one version of this sense that
humans and nature are in it together.70 The hypothesis underscores the
tightly coupled quality of Earth™s physical and biological systems. The
living organisms that comprise its biota of living plants, birds and ani-
mals do not simply adapt passively to the material environment, which
comprises the atmosphere, the oceans and surface rocks; these organ-
isms change it constantly by selectively taking advantage of it. The Gaia
hypothesis sees humanity as merely one element within this constantly
changing process of cycling and recycling. It thereby warns against the
simple-minded presumption that Earth is the slave of humanity. Although
humans are latecomers to the world scene, it implies, we are currently
doing things that may well have incalculably large effects on the biota, the
physical environment, and upon ourselves as well. Earth could well take
68 Armand Delsemme, Our Cosmic Origins. From the Big Bang to the Emergence of Life and
Intelligence (Cambridge and New York, 1998).
69 Chaikin, A Man on the Moon, p. 213.
70 James Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia. A Biography of our Living Earth (Oxford, 1995).
166 Global Civil Society?

its revenge on humanity. Indeed, the tight coupling of the environment of
the Earth makes it impossible to predict the effects of such developments
as the quickening depletion of natural resources, the extinction of other
organisms at about a thousand times the natural rate, or the rising carbon
levels in the atmosphere. That same tight coupling rules out simple so-
lutions, like proposals that humans be stewards of the Earth. Given
their history of heavy-handedness towards Earth, the hypothesis suggests,
humans are as quali¬ed to be its stewards as goats are to be garden-
ers. This leaves but one thing certain: that nothing is certain except that
humanity must stand more humbly in the presence of Gaia.

Global publics
Granted that media coverage of the Moon expedition helped nurture our
sense of worldly interdependence, what else can be said about the rela-
tionship between communications media and global civil society? It goes
without saying that today™s global communications system is an integral “
aggressive and oligopolistic “ sector of the turbocapitalist system. Ten or
so vertically integrated media conglomerates, most of them based in the
United States, dominate the world market.71 They prioritise advertising-
driven commercial ventures: music, videos, sports, news, shopping, chil-
dren™s and adults™ ¬lmed entertainment. Programme-making codes, in
the ¬eld of satellite television news for instance, are consequently biased
along turbocapitalist lines. They are subject to speci¬c rules of market
mise-en-sc`ne. For instance, special emphasis is given to ˜news-breaking™
and ˜block-busting™ stories that concentrate upon accidents, disasters, po-
litical crises and war. And the material fed to editors by journalists report-
ing from or around trouble spots (called ˜clusterfucks™ in the vernacular)
is selected “ many stories are judged a non-story “ shortened, simpli¬ed,
repackaged and transmitted in commercial form. Staged sound-bites and
˜live™ or lightly edited material are editors™ favourites; so, too, are ˜¬‚ashy™
presentational technologies, including the use of logos, rapid visual cuts,
and ˜stars™ who are placed centre-stage. News exchange arrangements “
whereby subscribing news organisations exchange visual footage and
other material “ then take care of the rest, ensuring a substantial ho-
mogenisation of news stories in many parts of the globe, circulated at the
speed of light.

71 R. Burnett, The Global Jukebox (London, 1996); A Mohammadie (ed.), International
Communication and Globalization (London, 1997); and Edward S. Herman and Robert
W. McChesney, The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism (London
and Washington, DC, 1997).
Paradise on earth? 167

These trends lead some observers to conclude that global communica-
tions media produce turboprogrammes for turbocapitalist audiences who
are politically inactionary. They warn of the embourgeoisement of the skull.
They insist that American-style, turbocapitalist culture is becoming uni-
versal because it is universally present. Algerian-desert dwellers smoke
Marlboro. Nigerian tribespeople huddle around their televisions watch-
ing hand-me-down Dallas. Chinese peasant workers dream of driving a
Chrysler. So global civil society is under great pressure to adopt more or
less unaffordable turbocapitalist living standards adjusted to local condi-
tions, many of them originally American, like automobility, Windows xP,
Nike trainers, skateboards, Mastercards, shopping malls and endless
chatter about ˜choice™. If during the eighteenth century a cosmopolitan
was typically someone who thought a la fran¸aise, who in other words
` c
identi¬ed Paris with cosmopolis, then three centuries later, thanks to tur-
bocapitalism, a cosmopolitan might turn out to be someone whose tastes
are ¬xated on New York and Washington, Los Angeles and Seattle. Tur-
bocapitalism produces ˜McWorld™: a universal tribe of consumers who
dance to the music of logos, advertising slogans, sponsorship, brand
names, trademarks and jingles.72 ˜The dictatorship of the single word and
the single image, much more devastating than that of the single party™,
laments Eduardo Galeano, ˜imposes a life whose exemplary citizen is
a docile consumer and passive spectator built on the assembly line fol-
lowing the North American model of commercial television™.73 Using
ugly words, others express similar concerns about ˜monoculture of the
mind™ (Vandana Shiva) or ˜global cultural homogenization™ in the form
of ˜transnational corporate cultural domination™: a world in which ˜pri-
vate giant economic enterprises pursue “ sometimes competitively, some-
times co-operatively “ historical capitalist objectives of pro¬t making and
capital accumulation, in continuously changing market and geopolitical
Such laments correctly warn of the dangers of cultural monopolies,
but they are overdrawn, partly for reasons to do with the marketing
72 Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World
(New York, 1995).
73 Eduardo Galeano, cited as the epigram in Herman and McCheshey, The Global Me-
dia, p. vi. More prudent assessments are presented in Aihwa Ong, Flexible Citizenship:
The Cultural Logics of Transnationality (Durham, 1999); Richard Packer, Mixed Sig-
nals: The Prospects for Global Television News (New York, 1995); Michael Schudson, ˜Is
There a Global Cultural Memory?™, unpublished paper (University of California at San
Diego, 1997); and Mike Featherstone, ˜Localism, Globalism and Cultural Identity™, in R.
Wilson and W. Dissanayake (eds.), Global“Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational
Imaginary (New York, 1996), pp. 46“77.
74 Herbert Schiller, ˜Not Yet the Post-Industrial Era™, Critical Studies in Mass Communica-
tion, 8 (1991), pp. 20“1.
168 Global Civil Society?

process itself: as we have seen already, the retailing of consumer products
like McDonald™s, Dominos and Pepsi, if anything, has had the effect of
accentuating cultural diversity within global civil society. Partly this is be-
cause pro¬t-seeking, turbocapitalist retailers themselves see the need to
tailor their products to local conditions and tastes (hence the statements
by Coca-Cola: ˜We are not a multinational, we are a multi-local™). It is
also partly because local consumers of commercial media reciprocate:
they display vigorous powers of reinterpreting these commodities, of giv-
ing them new and different meanings. True, globally marketed culture
is not the product of an equal contribution of all who are party to it, or
exposed to it. Few are consulted in its manufacture “ and yet, despite
everything, that culture, disproportionately Atlantic in style and content,
remains permanently vulnerable to the universal power to make and take
meanings from it. The American golf star Tiger Woods, who once de-
scribed himself as ˜Cablinasian™ (a blend of Caucasian, black, Indian
and Asian), is one symbol of this power.75 Boundary-crossing cultural
mixtures “ ˜creolisation™ in the form of chop suey, Irish bagels, Hindi
Rap, Sri Lankan cricket, ˜queer jihad™, veiled Muslim women logging on
to the Internet, the fusion of classical European, aboriginal and Japanese
themes in the scores of Peter Sculthorpe “ are consequently widespread.
Examples of the survival and ¬‚ourishing of diasporic culture are also
commonplace, as are the commercial global successes of cultural prod-
ucts from peripheral contexts “ like Iranian and Chinese ¬lms, Brazilian
telenovelas (exported to more than eighty countries) and the Mexican
soap opera ˜Los Ricos Tambien Lloran™ (˜The Rich also Cry™), which
was among the biggest television hit in early post-communist Russia. The
consequence: culturally speaking, global civil society is a hotch-potch
space of various blends and combinations, fusions and disjunctions.
The globalisation of media constantly produces social hybridities. But
especially from the time of the world-wide protest of youth against the
Vietnam War, the globalisation of media has also had unanticipated po-
litical effects: it has contributed to the growth of a plurality of differently
sized public spheres, some of them global, in which many millions of
people witness mediated controversies about who gets what, when, and
how.76 Global media conglomerates create global products for imaginary
global audiences: simultaneously, they suppose and nurture a theatrum

75 International Herald Tribune (Paris), 24 April 1997, p. 3.
76 See John Keane, ˜Structural Transformations of the Public Sphere™, The Communication
Review, 1:1 (1995), pp. 1“22. Adam Michnik has suggested that the recent growth of
global public opinion can be seen as the rebirth in different form of an earlier parallel
trend, evident within nineteenth-century socialist internationalism, that came to an end
with the First World War (interview, Washington, DC, 21 April 2001).
Paradise on earth? 169

mundi. There is something necessary about this development, in that
journalists and broadcasters must presuppose the existence of ˜a pub-
lic™ that is listening, reading, watching, chatting, on- or off-line. They
know that witnesses of media programmes and outputs are required “
that these outputs cannot play for long to an empty house. Of course, not
all global media events “ sporting ¬xtures, blockbuster movies, media
awards, for instance “ sustain global public spheres, which is to say that
public spheres are not domains of entertainment or play. They are scenes
of the political: within their imagined bounds, power con¬‚icts and contro-
versies erupt and unfold before millions of eyes and ears. They are made
possible by wide-bodied jet aircraft, computerised communications and
satellite broadcasting with large footprints, thanks to which the public
practice of non-violently monitoring the exercise of power across borders
has taken root. These global public spheres “ the term is used here as
an idealtyp “ are sites within global civil society where power struggles
are visibly waged and witnessed by means other than violence and war:
they are the narrated, imagined, non-violent spaces within global civil
society in which millions of people at various points on the earth witness
the powers of governmental and non-governmental organisations being
publicly named, monitored, praised and condemned, in de¬ance of the
old tyrannies of time and space.
Global public spheres are still rather issue-driven and more effective at
presenting effects than probing the intentions of actors and the structural
causes of events. Global public life is also highly vulnerable to implosion:
it is neither strongly institutionalised nor effectively linked to mechanisms
of representative government. It is a voice without a body politic. Yet in
spite of everything, global public spheres have begun to affect the suit-
and-tie worlds of diplomacy, global business, intergovernmental meetings
and INGOs. Helped along by initiatives like the People™s Communica-
tion Charter and Transparency International, and nurtured by around-
the-clock broadcasting organisations like CNN (available in over 800
million households and many thousands of hotels) and the BBC World
Service (which attracts 150 million viewers and listeners each week),
global publics have several interesting effects. Few of these are reducible
to the dynamics of rational“critical argumentation about matters of sober
truth and calm agreement, although this sometimes happens.77 Some

77 Some limits of the rational communication model of the public sphere, originally out-
lined in the important work of Jurgen Habermas, Strukturwandel der Offentlichkeit: Un-
tersuchungen einer Kategorie der b¨ rgerlichen Gesellschaft (Neuwied, 1962), are sketched
in John Durham Peters, ˜Distrust of Representation: Habermas on the Public Sphere™,
Media, Culture and Society, 15 (1993), pp. 541“71, and my ˜Structural Transformations
of the Public Sphere™.
170 Global Civil Society?

of their effects are ˜meta-political™. Global public spheres, for instance,
interpolate citizens of the new global order, in effect telling them that
unless they ¬nd some means of showing that global civil society is not
theirs, then it is. In this way, global public spheres function as temporary
resting places beyond familiar horizons; they give an entirely new mean-
ing to the old watchword of Greek colonisation, ˜Wherever you go, you
will be a polis.™ ˜Dwelling is the manner in which mortals are on the earth™,
wrote Heidegger,78 but the implication in that passage that mortals are
bound to geographic place misses the new spatial polygamy that global
publics make possible. Within global public spheres, people rooted in
local physical settings increasingly travel to distant places, without ever
leaving home, to ˜second homes™ within which their senses are stretched.
They live locally, and think globally.
Thanks to media narratives that address audiences and probe the wider
world in intimate (if ironic) tones, the members of global civil society
become a bit less parochial, a bit more cosmopolitan. This is no small
achievement, especially considering that people do not ˜naturally™ feel
a sense of responsibility for faraway events. Ethical responsibility often
stretches no farther than their noses. Yet when they are engaged by me-
dia stories that originate in other contexts “ when they are drawn into
the dynamic of a global public sphere “ their interest is not based simply
on prurience, or idle curiosity, or Schadenfreude. They rather align and
assimilate these stories in terms of their own existential concerns, which
are thereby altered. The world ˜out there™ becomes ˜their™ world. Global
publics are taught lessons in the art of what can be called ¬‚exible citi-
zenship: they learn that the boundaries between native and foreigner are
blurred, that their commitments have become a touch more multiversal.
They become footloose. They are here and there; they learn to distance
themselves from themselves; they discover that there are different tem-
poral rhythms, other places, other problems, other ways to live. They
are invited to question their own dogmas, even to extend ordinary stan-
dards of civility “ courtesy, politeness, respect “ to others whom they will
never meet.79 Global public spheres centred on ground-breaking media
events like Live-Aid (in 1985 it attracted an estimated 1 billion view-
ers) can even be spaces of fun, in which millions taste something of the
joy of acting publicly with and against others for some de¬ned common

78 Martin Heidegger, ˜Building Dwelling Thinking™, in The Question Concerning Technology
and Other Essays (New York, 1982), p. 146.
79 See Stephen Toulmin™s useful re¬‚ections on civility as the antidote to dogma in ˜The
Belligerence of Dogma™, in Leroy S. Rounder (ed.), Civility (Notre Dame, 2000),
pp. 94“100.
Paradise on earth? 171

purpose. Global publics, staged for instance in the form of televised world
news of the suffering of distant strangers, or of multimedia initiatives in
campaigns of the kind that led to the UN Declaration for the Elimina-
tion of Violence Against Women,80 can also highlight cruelty; and global
publics can also be sites of disaster, spaces in which millions taste unjust
outcomes, bitter defeat and the tragedy of ruined lives. The old motto
that half the world does not know how the other half lives is no longer
true. Media representation spreads awareness of others™ damned fates. Its
portrayal of disasters does not (automatically, or on a large scale) produce
ethically cleansed cynics, lovers of entertainment sitting on sofas, enjoy-
ing every second of the blood and tears. The publics that gather around
the stages of cruelty and humiliation make possible what Hannah Arendt
called the ˜politics of pity™81 : by witnessing others™ terrible suffering, at
a distance, millions are sometimes shaken and disturbed, sometimes to
the point where they are prepared to speak to others, to donate money or
time, or to support the general principle that the right of humanitarian in-
tervention “ the obligation to assist someone in danger, as contemporary
French law puts it “ can and should override the old crocodilian formula
that might equals right.
The public spheres housed within global civil society have other polit-
ical effects. Especially during dramatic media events “ like the nuclear
meltdown at Chernobyl, the Tiananmen massacre, the 1989 revolu-
tions in central-eastern Europe, the overthrow and arrest of Slobodan
Milosevi´ , the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington “ public
spheres intensify audiences™ shared sense of living their lives contingently,
on a knife edge, in the subjunctive tense. The witnesses of such events
(contrary to McLuhan and others) do not enter a ˜global village™ dressed
in the skins of humankind and thinking in the terms of a primordial ˜vil-
lage or tribal outlook™.82 As members of a public sphere, audiences do
not experience uninterrupted togetherness. They instead come to feel
that the power relations of global civil society, far from being given, are
better understood as ˜an arena of struggle, a fragmented and contested
80 Charlotte Bunch et al., ˜International Networking for Women™s Human Rights™, in
Michael Edwards and John Gaventa (eds.), Global Citizen Action (Boulder, 2001),
pp. 217“29.
81 Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (Harmondsworth, 1990), pp. 59“114; and the develop-
ment of Arendt™s idea by Luc Boltanski, La Souffrance a Distance (Paris, 1993).
82 See the introduction to Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan (eds.), Explorations
in Communication (Boston, 1966), p. xi: ˜Postliterate man™s [sic] electronic media contract
the world to a village or tribe where everything happens to everyone at the same time:
everyone knows about, and therefore participates in, everything that is happening the
minute it happens . . . This simultaneous sharing of experiences as in a village or tribe
creates a village or tribal outlook, and puts a premium on togetherness.™
172 Global Civil Society?

area™,83 the resultant of moves and counter-moves, controversy and con-
sent, compromise and resistance, peace and war. Public spheres not only
tend to denaturalise the power relations of global civil society. They most
de¬nitely increase its self-re¬‚exivity, for instance by publicising con¬‚ict-
ing images of civility, civilisation and civil society. Publicity is given as
well to the biased codes of global media coverage, and to hostile cov-
erage of global civil society itself, for instance by airing claims that it is
a soft term without speci¬c gravity, a Western dogma, a mere smoke-
screen for turbocapitalism, that is, a mere vehicle for ˜the useful idiots of
In these various ways, global public spheres heighten the topsy-turvy
feel of global civil society. Doubt is heaped upon loose talk that anthro-
pomorphises global civil society, as if it were a universal object/subject,
the latest and most promising substitute for the proletariat, or for the
wretched of the earth. Global public spheres make it clearer that ˜global
civil society™, like its more local counterparts, has no ˜collective voice™, that
it is full of networks, ¬‚ows, disjunctions, frictions, that it alone does noth-
ing, that only its constituent individuals, group initiatives, organisations
and networks act and interact. Global publics consequently heighten the
sense that global civil society is an un¬nished “ permanently threatened
project. They shake up its dogmas and inject it with energy. They enable
citizens of the world to shrug off bad habits of parochialism, to see that
talk of global civil society is not simply Western bourgeois ideology “ even
to appreciate that the task of painting a much clearer picture of the rules
of conduct and dowries of global civil society, a picture that is absent
from most of the current literature on globalisation, is today an urgent
ethical imperative.
The contemporary growth of global publics certainly points to the need
to bring greater democracy to global civil society.85 By throwing light on
power exercised by moonlight, or in the dark of night, global publics
keep alive words like freedom and justice by publicising manipulation,
skulduggery and brutality on or beyond the margins of global civil society.
Global publics, of the kind that in recent years have monitored the fate
of Aung San Suu Kyi or Yasser Arafat, muck with the messy business of
83 Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders. Advocacy Networks in
International Politics (Ithaca and London, 1998), p. 33.
84 David Rieff, ˜The False Dawn of Civil Society™, The Nation, February 22, 1999.
85 The exclusion of the theme of public spheres from virtually all of the current literature on
globalisation is criticised by Tore Slaatta, ˜Media and Democracy in the Global Order™,
Media, Culture and Society, 20 (1998), pp. 335“44. A similar point is made implicitly
by Arjun Appadurai, ˜Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination™, Public
Culture, 12:1 (2000), pp. 1“19.
Paradise on earth? 173

exclusion, racketeering, ostentation, cruelty and war. They chart cases
of intrigue and double-crossing. They help audiences to spot the various
¬gures of top-down power on the world scene: slick and suave managers
and professionals who are well practised at the art of deceiving others
through images; king¬shers who ¬rst dazzle others then stumble when
more is required of them; quislings who willingly change sides under
pressure; thugs who love violence; and vulgar rulers, with their taste for
usurping crowns, assembling and ¬‚attering crowds, or beating and tear-
gassing them into submission.
Global public spheres can also probe the powers of key organisations
of global civil society itself. While the multiple voices of this society func-
tion as vital checks and balances in the overall process of globalisation and
cosmocratic government, very few of the social organisations from which
these voices emanate are democratic.86 Publicity can serve as a reminder
to the world that these organisations often violate the principle of public
accountability. Reminders are served to those who read, listen and watch
that its empty spaces have been ¬lled by powerful but unaccountable or-
ganisations (such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee,
IOC) or by pro¬t-seeking corporate bodies (like Monsanto) that perma-
nently aggravate global civil society by causing environmental damage, or
swallowing up others by producing just for pro¬t, rather than for sustain-
able social use. Global public spheres can help to expose malfeasance “
accounting and stock market frauds of the kind (in the United States,
during 2002) that rocked the industrial conglomerate Tyco Interna-
tional, the energy trader Enron, the cable company Adelphia, and the
telecommunications giant WorldCom. Global publics can as well help
question some of the more dubious practices of some non-pro¬t INGOs:
for instance, their bureaucratic in¬‚exibility and context-blindness, their
spreading attachment to market values or to clich´ s of project-speak,
or their mistaken belief in the supply-side, trickle-down model of social
development. Public spheres can point to the post-colonial presump-
tuousness of some INGOs, their bad habit of acting as their brothers™
keepers, like missionaries, in so-called ˜partnerships™ that are publicly
unaccountable. And public spheres can criticise their smartly-dressed,
self-circulating, middle-class elites, sometimes dubbed the ˜Five Star
Brigade™, whose privileges and privileged behaviour contradicts the prin-
ciples for which global civil society should otherwise be rightly cherished:
its diversity of equal organisations, its open toleration of differences,

86 See the important introductory remarks by Michael Edwards in Michael Edwards and
John Gaventa (eds.), Global Citizen Action (Boulder, 2001), esp. pp. 6“8.
174 Global Civil Society?

the speed and ¬‚exibility with which it forms complex, shifting alliances
around a plurality of shared values and interests.87
Exactly because of their propensity to monitor the exercise of power
from a variety of sites within and outside civil society, global public
spheres “ when they function properly “ put matters like representation,
accountability and legitimacy on the political agenda. They pose ques-
tions like: Who bene¬ts and who loses from global civil society? Who
currently speaks for whom in the multiple and overlapping power struc-
tures of global civil society? Whose voices are heard, or half-heard, and
whose interests and concerns are ignominiously shoved aside? How could
there be greater equality among the voices that emerge from the nooks
and crannies of this society? And through which institutional procedures
could these voices be represented? By formulating such questions, some-
times succinctly, global publics can help to ensure that nobody monop-
olises power at the local and world levels. By exposing corrupt or risky
dealings and naming them as such; by wrong-footing decisionmakers and
forcing their hands; by requiring them to rethink or reverse their deci-
sions, global public spheres help remedy the problem “ strongly evident
in the volatile ¬eld of global ¬nancial markets, which turn over US$1.3
trillion a day, 100 times the volume of world trade “ that nobody seems
to be in charge. And in uneven contests between decisionmakers and
decisiontakers “ as the developing controversies within bodies like the
IOC show “ global public spheres can help to prevent the powerful from
˜owning™ power privately. Global publics imply greater parity. They sug-
gest that there are alternatives. They inch our little blue and white planet
towards greater openness and humility, potentially to the point where
power, whenever and wherever it is exercised across borders, is made to
feel more ˜biodegradable™, a bit more responsive to those whose lives it
shapes and reshapes, secures or wrecks.

87 Some of these undemocratic tendencies within NGOs “ satirised in the South African
joke that those lucky to have an NGO job can ˜En-J-Oy™ life “ are discussed in Stephen N.
Ndegwa, The Two Faces of Civil Society. NGOs and Politics in Africa (West Hartford, CT,
1996), esp. chapter 6; Brian H. Smith, More than Altruism: The Politics of Private Foreign
Aid (Princeton, 1990); and Steven Sampson, ˜The Social Life of Projects™, in Chris Han
and Elizabeth Dunn (eds.), Civil Society: Challenging Western Models (London, 1996).
Ethics beyond borders

A travelling ideal
In recent decades, the growth of cross-border publics has led to a rising
awareness of the factual growth of global civil society.1 This awareness,
like a shell covering a kernel, contains another insight: that the emerging
civil society on a world scale is breathtakingly complex. That is perhaps an
understatement, because in reality global civil society is so complex that
it appears to our senses as an open-ended totality whose horizons are not
fully knowable. Those who try to survey and summarise its contours have
the feeling that they are blind geographers. The global circulation of books
and magazines, Internet messages, and radio and television programmes
combine to spread the sense that this civil society resembles a kaleido-
scope of sometimes overlapping or harmonious, sometimes con¬‚icting
and colliding groups, movements and non-governmental institutions of
many different, often changing colours. Perhaps it is better to speak of
global civil society as a dynamic space of multiple differences, some
of which are tensely related or even in open con¬‚ict. It resembles the
inner structures and dynamics of global cities like New York, London,
Berlin, Paris or Sydney: a complex and dynamic three-dimensional land-
scape of buildings of all shapes and sizes, sought-after and down-market
areas, organisations of all descriptions, cheerfulness and cursing, public
generosity and private thuggery, millions of people on the move, using
many forms of transport, in many directions.
This being so, a vital philosophical question with practical implications
arises. It is this: given that global civil society has its enemies, and that in
any case it contains a plurality of actors living by different norms, is there
an ethical language that is politically capable of normatively justifying
this civil society? Can a straight answer with a straight face be given to
the question, often asked by critics, ˜What™s so good about global civil
society, anyway?™ In short, is there an ethic that can do two things: reply
1 See my ˜Global Civil Society?™, in Helmut Anheier et al. (eds.), Global Civil Society 2001
(Oxford and New York, 2001), pp. 23“47.

176 Global Civil Society?

forcefully and unambiguously to the doubters and critics of global civil
society; and speak to the civil society itself, with the aim of strengthening
its reputation, showing its constituents why they should non-violently
stand up for their freedoms, work together to observe their duties, strive
for mutual recognition and reconciliation, thereby helping to add calm
and rigour to the confused or ˜battle¬eld™ atmosphere within global civil
society “ in short, to make it a more liveable space of many kinds of
different civil organisations and ways of life?
The search for a new ethic of global civil society is dif¬cult, for several
reasons. To begin with, there are few theoretical precedents to fall back
on. Research on global civil society is generally undeveloped and nowhere
is this more so than within the subject of ethics. When the subject arises,
the most common reaction “ among the friends of global civil society, at
least “ is to provide a list of its supposed good qualities, in no special order,
often in quite general formulations that sometimes trail off into vague-
ness. Global civil society is said to be a value-laden term “ a ˜progressive
anticipatory concept™2 “ that is guided by ˜normative expectations of a
more humane and inclusive world™. There is talk of ˜the possibility of an
ethical consensus™ about the need to support ˜global level aspirations for
human rights and the rule of law, peace, sustainability, and social jus-
tice™. It is also observed that global civil society is a safe haven for values
˜like non-violence, tolerance, solidarity, compassion, and stewardship of
the environment and cultural heritage™. What these values might mean,
whether they are mutually compatible, why they might be desirable, and
what practical implications they might have in the hands of a diverse
audience of researchers, activists and policymakers “ none of this is nor-
mally made clear in discussions of the ethical dimensions of global civil
society.3 There is instead quiet agreement that a global civil society is a
good ideal. Why it should be so regarded, and how and why its citizens
should behave well, and in what sense, are matters left for the birds of
this world.
The consequence is that global civil society becomes a heavily contested
term, normatively speaking. The contestation is partly due to its strange
elusiveness. Exactly because it implies, minimally, greater dignity and
freedom among equals on a global scale “ their freedom from bossing,
violence, and injustice “ the ideal of a global civil society demands more
than humans seem willing or are capable of giving. What we call global

2 Klaus von Beyme on the ˜unthinkability™ of a civil society without the concept of ˜a state™
in ˜Die Liberale Konzeption von Gesellschaft und Politik™, unpublished paper (Wien,
3 See the remarks of Helmut Anheier, ˜Measuring Global Civil Society™, in Helmut Anheier
et al. (eds.), Global Civil Society 2001 (Oxford, 2001), p. 224.
Ethics beyond borders 177

civil society is never ˜pure™ or ˜authentic™. There is never enough of it. It
often seems too weak, or absent. We are always chasing it around corners,
through halls of mirrors, across uncharted landscapes, up into blue skies.
Improvement, perfectibility “ and failure “ is inscribed within the very
ideal of a global civil society.
The job of answering questions about why global civil society is to be
preferred is also hampered by the confused and confusing range of di-
vergent claims that are usually marshalled in its favour. That confusion
is a de¬nite hurdle in the search for an ethic of global civil society. The
confusion may be said to be the end game, or the end result, of a long
historical process, dating from the end of the nineteenth century, when
the ideal of a civil society was strongly linked with the bourgeoisie, a
group that comprised only about one-eighth of the Western population.
Its critics had a ¬eld day in pointing out that bourgeois values, especially
their appeal to ˜conscience™ and ˜charity™ and ˜self-government™, were of-
ten a veil thrown over the lust for money and control of others. That was
true, but equally undeniable was the wide social impact of its values. The
bourgeoisie got involved in public affairs “ at the level of local govern-
ment, for instance “ and its arrogance was often tempered with self-doubt
about ideals it considered universal. It disliked action based on aggres-
sive impulses. Considered as a whole, it was troubled by the beating of
children, the maltreatment of servants, the exploitation of workers and
the execution of criminals. So it strongly disliked the passions of the poor
and the aristocratic fetish of organised murder that they called war . . .
In retrospect, we can see that the ethic of a civil society gradually lost
its direct link with urban ˜bourgeois™ social groups and instead became
˜scattered™ across an ever-widening variety of social and political support-
ers, who are now located geographically in all four corners of the earth.
This scattering of civil society values may be interpreted as the social basis
of ˜the continuing stability and attractiveness of civil society as a societal
model™.4 It certainly puts paid to the reductionist view that civil society is a
merely ˜bourgeois™ or ˜liberal™ phenomenon. The standard version of this
view goes something like this: the ideal of a civil society evolved within the
Western tradition of political thought. It found its empirical moorings in
the emerging liberal, bourgeois societies of the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, especially in the liberal wing of the property-owning classes.
Talk of civil society especially ¬‚ourished in countries distinguished by
a stable conjunction of limited constitutional government and private
economic enterprise. That continues to be the case, which shows “ so

4 Guido Hausmann and Manfred Hettling, ˜Civil Society™, in Peter Stearns (ed.), Encyclo-
pedia of European Social History From 1350 to 2000 (New York, 2001), p. 495.
178 Global Civil Society?

the argument runs “ that both the idea and the ideal of civil society is
historically speci¬c, a contextually speci¬c good that can be transported
to other contexts only at the price of exposing its ˜liberal™ or ˜bourgeois™
biases. It thus makes no sense to speak of an ethic of civil society in India5 ;
or in China6 ; or in Africa7 ; or even in Poland.8 It is even less sensible to
imagine an ethic of global civil society.
In contrast to these reductionist views of global civil society as a ˜liberal™
or ˜bourgeois™ ideal, the following re¬‚ection on the subject of ethics and
civil society takes a more nuanced “ and positive “ view. It rejects the
backward-looking essentialism of those approaches and instead explores
the possibility of understanding civil society as a socially mobile ideal with
a good deal of travelling potential “ with perhaps even a propensity to be-
come a global ideal. Once upon a time, talk of civil society was certainly
associated with ˜the better sort™, good decent men, many of them prop-
ertied, some of them willing to support revolutionary acts, or instead to
crush revolutionaries in the name of a property-owning civil society. Two
hundred years later, things are different. The language of civil society has
become ˜unhinged™ from its middle-class and professional and aristocratic
origins; like the veritable genie that escaped its bottle, it has wandered off,
in several directions. At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, the change
that has come over the language of civil society can be put in the terms of
the railway simile popularised by Max Weber: given that socio-economic
and political groups are self-interested, the norms associated with civil
society are the switchmen (die Weichensteller) that determine the rails on
which their self-interested group action moves. The fact that these rail-
way routes now fan outwards in the shape of global networks means
not only that the normative ˜reach™ of the language of civil society has
been greatly extended, certainly when compared with the one-hundred

5 David L. Blaney and Mustapha Kamal Pasha, ˜Civil Society and Democracy in the Third
World: Ambiguities and Historical Possibilities™, Studies in Comparative International De-
velopment, 28:1 (Spring 1993). A non-standard view “ which still shares the reductionist
view of civil society as a ˜liberal™ phenomenon “ asserts that civil society, considered as ˜a
historical phenomenon as well as a theoretical concept™, was ˜tied to the rise of liberalism™,
but that today it is important to ask ˜the intriguing question of whether it makes sense
to think about nonliberal or even nonpluralist civil society™ (see the editorial introduc-
tion by Simone Chambers and Will Kymlicka to Alternative Conceptions of Civil Society,
Princeton, 2002, p. 5).
6 David L. Wank, ˜Civil Society in Communist China? Private Business and Political Al-
liance, 1989™, in John A. Hall (ed.), Civil Society: Theory, History, Comparison (Cambridge,
1995), pp. 55“79.
7 Peter Lewis, ˜Political Transition and the Dilemma of Civil Society in Africa™, Journal of
International Affairs, 46:1 (Summer 1992), pp. 31“54.
8 Adam B. Seligman, The Idea of a Civil Society (Princeton, 1995); and his ˜Civil Society as
Idea and Ideal™, in Chambers and Kymlicka (eds.), Alternative Conceptions of Civil Society,
pp. 13“33.
Ethics beyond borders 179

year period 1750“1850, the century of its birth and popularisation.9 It
implies as well that the meanings of this ethical language perforce mul-
tiply, essentially because the numbers of locomotives that are steered by
this language have greatly expanded, as have the goods and passenger
carriages in their tow to all four corners of the earth.
From an ethical standpoint, this globalisation of the language of civil
society is a mixed blessing.10 While it brings hope to millions whose lives
are otherwise smothered in violence, poverty and bigotry, it also poten-
tially multiplies the ethical meanings of civil society to the point where the
ideal becomes self-contradictory and publicly unconvincing “ and pub-
licly attacked as a universally modish weasel word.11 It is true that there
are some signs that this pluralisation of meanings across the globe func-
tions as the condition of a fruitful cross-interrogation of these con¬‚icting
meanings and, hence, serves as the prelude to a more cosmopolitan un-
derstanding of the ethics of civil society. Certainly, a more cosmopolitan
understanding of civil society “ of the kind that this theorisation of global
civil society is attempting “ is much needed. But in the interim, prudence
counsels that the recent globalisation of the language of civil society ren-
ders it highly vulnerable to the more or less pessimistic judgement that
the search for an ethical language that can help in practice to smooth the
ruf¬‚ed feathers of global civil society, to soothe and reconcile its irrec-
oncilable differences and plausibly justify them to the outside world, is
nothing but a fool™s errand.

The School of Cantankerousness
According to this criticism “ let us call it the School of Cantankerousness “
global civil society evidently contains a huge variety of ethical ways of life
that do not cohere into an ethical consensus. That heterogeneity cannot
be reduced to one de¬nition, which is unsurprising, according to some
writers, because the human condition is riddled with ethical disagreement
that ensures permanent con¬‚ict and power struggles at the heart of global
9 See Manfred Riedel, ˜Der Begriff der “Burgerliche Gesellschaft” und das Problem seines
geschichtlichen Ursprungs™, in Ernst-Wolfgang Bockenforde (ed.), Staat und Gesellschaft
(Darmstadt, 1976), pp. 77“108; and my ˜Despotism and Democracy: The Origins and
Development of the Distinction 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]).
10 John Keane, Civil Society: Old Images, New Visions (Oxford and Stanford, 1998),
pp. 32ff.
11 S. Gaschke, ˜Irgendjemand wird schon helfen™, Die Zeit, 30 (22 July 1999), p. 8; cf.
the diatribe against the concept of civil society as ˜overused, overrated, and analytically
insubstantial™, in Katherine Fierlbeck, Globalizing Democracy. Power, Legitimacy and the
Interpretation of Democratic Ideas (Manchester and New York, 1998), chapter 6.
180 Global Civil Society?

civil society. This society ˜is a geographically and socially uneven land-
scape, re¬‚ecting inequalities in society at large: landlords and landless
labourers, ¬nanciers and slumdwellers, people of different religions or
ethnic origins. It is and always will be contested terrain.™12
Chantal Mouffe™s recent work on the ethics of ˜antagonism™ and
˜agonism™ exploits this point, twisting it against the very ideal of a global
civil society.13 In effect, her argument is this: social relations are shot
through with power and difference, and difference breeds antagonisms,
which are resolvable, if they are resolvable at all, through the development
of political strategies “ the stabilisation of a system of differences through
processes of ˜mise-en-forme™ “ that rely upon tactical calculations, espe-
cially de¬nitions of friends and opponents, who are sometimes outright
enemies. The reasoning (as we shall see) has a suspiciously ontological
ring to it, despite its avowed opposition to all forms of ˜essentialism™. It
supposes that civil society is full of potential or actual scoundrels. Stripped
down to its premises, the argument is that the normative ideal of global
civil society is thoroughly incoherent, as one would expect in a world
¬lled with cantankerousness: ˜there is no true meaning of civil society™,
comments Mouffe, adding that that is fortunate, since ˜it is important
that a confrontation exists between different understandings of the good
society™. The normative ideal of a civil society is also unfeasible. Not only
are its various usages bound together by ˜a common distrust of the state™
(an exaggeration that contradicts the prior claim that the language of civil
society has no semantic centre). That vision of a world with less govern-
ment is utterly na¨ve, says Mouffe, since much more probable, unless
strictly regulated, is a world in which the principle of homo homini lupus
(man a wolf to men) operates to draw everybody into a state of nature.
The view owes much to Thomas Hobbes and, more recently, to the
work of Carl Schmitt, whose classic essay on the concept of the political
supposed the world to be a dangerous place pushed and pulled “
sometimes torn apart “ by struggles among allies and opponents to de-
cide who gets what, when and how in the name of some or other ethical
principle.14 The world is a pluriverse, a dangerous jungle of self-interested
partnerships, venomous tongues, open disagreements, shifting tactical al-
liances, even outbreaks of violent con¬‚ict. These phenomena re¬‚ect the

12 Jamie Swift, Civil Society in Question (Toronto, 1999), p. 148.
13 Chantal Mouffe, ˜Civil Society Beyond Liberalism and Communitarianism™, typescript
of a public lecture delivered in Vienna (30 November 2001).
14 Here I am drawing on a previous study, ˜Dictatorship and the Decline of Parliament. Carl
Schmitt™s Theory of Political Sovereignty™, in John Keane, Democracy and Civil Society.
On the Predicaments of European Socialism, the Prospects for Democracy, and the Problem of
Controlling Social and Political Power (London 1998 [1988]), pp. 153“89.
Ethics beyond borders 181

fact that human beings “ here Schmitt acknowledges an insight drawn
from Machiavelli “ are dynamic and often dangerous creatures who are


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