[OPE-L:2298] Re: civil society

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Sun Jan 30 2000 - 09:31:57 EST

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Paul C wrote in [OPE-L:2283]:

> Civil society is a euphemistic translation of the german, bourgeois
> society is an equally valid one.

Hmmm. What is the German word that you think can be equally translated
as bourgeois society? (and, if this is correct, can "the economic law of
motion of modern society" be equally translated into "the economic law of
motion of civil society"???).

Perhaps we should discuss whether the concept of civil society, especially
in Hegel, has relevance for our (and Marx's) understanding of capitalism.

On Hegel's conception of civil society, see Sub-section ii in the Third
Part ("Ethical Life") of _Hegel's Philosophy of Right_ (Oxford University
Press, 1952; pp. 122-155). Within Hegelian theory, civil society should
not be confused with the state.

And, of course, Marx incorporated an understanding of "civil society" in
his early works (at least up until the _Economic and Philosophic
Manuscripts of 1844_).

Did it remain a component part of his theory in his later writings? It
appears to have been used at least through the time that he wrote the
_Grundrisse_ (Interestingly, Alan Oakley in _The Making of Marx's Critical
Theory: A Bibliographic Analysis_ on p. 61 uses the term "civil society"
in the "Third _Grundrisse_ plan" whereas it is translated as "bourgeois
society" in the Penguin edition of the _Grundrisse_, p. 264, and _CW_, Vol
28, p. 195).

The question I have is: to what extent is a concept of civil society
required (or not required) to conceptualize the state? Certainly it is
important for the authors of VFS, for instance. When the subject of civil
society is developed, though, how does this affect our conception of the
state and related matters (e.g. bourgeois democracy)?

I, for one, am very uncomfortable with the idea that there is some type
of systematic necessity between capitalism and (bourgeois) democracy.
While it is true that the freedom to buy and sell labour-power is required
for the reproduction of capitalism, what other freedoms not directly
related to the use of private property are integrally linked to the
reproduction of capitalist social relations? It seems to me to be unwise
and ahistorical to generalize the particular form of governance in certain
countries into a systematic necessity for capitalism. In particular, I am
very uncomfortable with the idea that bourgeois democracy, as outlined in
VFS, pp. 181-182, is in some sense what capitalism is driven to attain.

Any thoughts?

In solidarity, Jerry

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