in a New Politics
Around the world politics is in
disrepute. It has become detached from
society, and unresponsive to its needs.
It has been captured by elites. It
seems incapable of solving the big
economic, social and environmental
challenges of our time. Public leadership remains
important, but politics everywhere is
In western societies, politics no longer
inspires, cynicism rules, and citizens feel
In post-communist societies, initial
enthusiasm for democracy has given way
to detachment and cynicism. Citizens feel powerless.
In emerging democracies, citizenship is
fragile, institutions are weak,
and corruption abounds. Citizens feel
This is a global problem. Is there a
solution to the crisis of democracy, the
politics and citizen detachment?
For more than a century, political
movements, governments and public policy
have focussed almost exclusively on
states and markets, and ignored civil
society (the sphere of life that is most
important for most of us, most of the
Civil Society comprises the
relationships and activities that
constitute our lives, the things we do
as civilians, freely and voluntarily, in
association with others, outside the
state and the market.
Social well-being is largely determined
in and through our relationships in
civil society. Our experience of care
and belonging is formed by these
Civil society relationships are
horizontal, relational and voluntary.
State-citizen interactions are vertical
Business-customer interactions are
When political movements, governments
and public policy focussed exclusively
on states and markets for a century,
they focussed only on state-citizen and
business-customer interactions and
ignored the things that are most
important to us.
Why was civil society marginalised for a
the 20th century was
the century of concentrated power
(Communism, Fascism, World Wars, Big
Business). Civil society is dispersed, localised, small in scale.
the philosophies of
the 20th century were
Marxism, Nazism, Existentialism,
Scientific Management, Neo-Liberalism).
Civil society is relational and
labour unions and
corporations were easy to organize,
being large in scale and mass in
Before the Internet it was difficult and
costly to organise the disparate,
components of civil society.
In 20th Century Politics, notions of
Left and Right formed a stable linear
structure for politics without civil
society. Right and Left corresponded
with the individualist-collectivist
In the 20th
Century, this structure felt like the natural order of
things, the natural way
of thinking about politics… without
Four Features of Left and Right
1. Left and Right see the
public sector or the private
as the solution to every problem.
They see the imposition of state or market
solutions on society as the proper
business of government.
2. Left and Right see only
individuals and governments
as social actors. They cannot see
associations of citizens and their
interactions. They do not see
individualism-collectivism as flip sides
of the same coin.
3. Left and Right serve core
public and private
employees for the Left; corporates and
private sector professional groups for the Right).
Both ignore the third sector (households,
associations, charities, social
enterprises, cooperatives). Both ignore
family and small-businesses and the
self-employed (a vast and growing sector
but one which does not fit the
management goals of Left or Right).
4. Left and Right see politics as
execution of top-down, corporate-style
administration. Both use political parties as
their instruments of management, based
cultures. These parties no longer need
citizens, and now comprise professional
operatives, ‘career politicians’, a
This is the politics that we have
inherited from the 20th century.
It is a
politics that cannot solve 21st century
active participation of citizens
is required to solve the pressing
social, economic and environmental
problems of our time. The imposition of
state or market prescriptions on society
does not work.
Associations of citizens,
big and small, are key social actors.
Self-employed people, micro and family
are a vast and growing sector that does
not fit the traditional public or
private sector, and does not fit the
management goals of Left or Right.
of society and organisations runs
counter to the practice of participation
in distributed networks in the 21st
What then comes after 20th Century Politics?
Civil Society Politics
Civil society constitutes vast social
constituencies anchored in communities.
Family, kinship and friendship networks
Household or domestic economies
Neighbourhoods and informal social
Voluntary associations, self-help and
NGOs, charities and social enterprises
Cooperatives and mutuals
Religion, faith and spirituality
These diverse social forms have three
features that are the basis for
Relational – they are defined by
Associational – they are driven by
formal or informal bonds
Voluntary – they are formed without
Public policy can either strengthen or
weaken these social forms and their
States and markets can either erode
these formations, or be reconfigured to
Civil Society Politics
A response to the marginalisation of
civil society in the political arena.
A response to the invisibility of civil
society in policy making.
A response to the exclusion of civil
society from public decision-making.
Civil Society Politics seeks:
a. Representation of civil society in
b. Policy making that strengthens civil
c. Transfer of power from states and
markets to civil society.
d. Renewal of democracy by placing
citizens and civil society at the
Civil Society Politics has
advantages over 20th Century Politics:
1. It is anchored in communities.
2. It aims to capture power not for itself
but for civil society.
3. It has rich
and diverse intellectual
and cultural resources with which to reform politics
Civil Society Politics has
advantages over other political reform
It accepts the globalisation of culture,
trade and people and aims to empower
people and localities within it. It does
not strive to build barriers of
protection and isolation.
2. It accepts a market economy with
limited government and aims to empower
civil society as the primary generator
of cohesion, belonging, capital,
ownership of assets, and public
3. In its focus on capturing power
not for its own sake but for civil
society, it has a built-in safeguard
against extremism and the abuse of
Power to the People
Civil Society Politics is the only
practical way to devolve Power to the
People. In 20th Century Politics, 'power
to the people' movements invariably
ended up transferring power to the state
or to markets (from Fidel Castro to
Civil Society Politics is
made viable by new technology.
Individuals and groups can connect and
organise online, locally, nationally and
The financial cost of political
organising and electoral activity can be
reduced significantly in the 21st
century by low-cost networking and
So how can Civil Society Politics
take the world by storm?
Politics is in disrepute around the
world, but the challenge of organising
change seems too big and too daunting
for many. Some opt for single-issue
campaigns, or pursue social change
through enterprise initiatives. Others
opt to influence institutions where they
can. All of these are valuable, but they
leave mainstream politics unrenovated and
governments unreformed, and civil
society stranded as an outsider.
It is proposed that Civil Society
a. A movement - which individuals may
b. Global in scope - a new political movement
being needed in every country.
c. Open to members of existing parties
and members of none, including those who
seek new parties or electoral activity
based on civil society politics.
Members in each country may network with
each other and take initiatives as they
see fit (including those who are members
of the same political party, those who
seek to form a new party or undertake
electoral activity based on civil
Invitation to participate
Individuals and groups in every
country are invited to participate in
Civil Society Politics
- Power to the People through
A Code of Conduct for members is
stipulated (the text of the Code is
An International Coordinating Council
has been established to guide the
development of the movement.
and comments are welcome.
You may participate in a discussion
forum on Civil Society Politics at
Civil Society Global Network
Or send your comments to