chapter  3
21 Pages

Top-Down Approaches to Civil Society

In this chapter, we will closely evaluate the civil society solutions to the problem of liberal democratic political culture developed by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice and Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato in Civil Society and Political Theory.1 Both agree that the liberal democratic political culture required to achieve modern liberal democracy is generated and sustained within civil society. Further, both regard civil society, generally speaking, as a realm of voluntary association distinct from the political culture and the political framework. Using the distinctions we developed at the end of the previous chapter, we can say that both are working in a theoretical mode of conceptualization and Rawls is working out of the “liberal egalitarian” strand and Cohen and Arato are working out of the “critical theory” strand. In other words, both are operating under the “Sphere concept” of civil society. Further, in that context, both are working primarily in the “theoretical mode.” The thread uniting them is what we might call the “top down” nature of their approaches. Both begin with a highly abstract, integrated theory of the socio-political ideal, isolating a conception of civil society along the way as they construct the broader account.2