Philip Oxhorn, “From controlled inclusion to coerced marginalization: the struggle for civil society in Latin America,” in J. Hall, ed., Civil Society: Theory, History and Comparison (1995).

Argument:  socio-economic and political changes in the region over the past 30 years are propitious for the emergence of civil societies similar to those found in Western Europe. The associational life which appeared to flourish during the 70s and into the 80s is a result of this context and reflects the incipient emergence of civil society in many countries. In contrast to Western Europe, however, there is also the potential for ‘democratizing’ civil society which is paradoxically the result of the authoritarian experience itself. Whether or not incipient civil societies will continue to grow (let alone become more democratic) will be dependent on the role played by political parties in relation to both civil society and the state, since parties can undermine the emergent civil society.

 

Method: includes the discussion of some Latin American cases.

 

Important Insight: political parties and their relationship with popular organizations provide a central axis around which the fate of civil society will revolve. Parties are the principal mechanism for inclusion under the democratic regimes that have emerged in Latin America in recent years: where they are weak (e.g. Brazil) their very weakness tends to reinforce the clientelism and populist tendencies which have historically circumscribed the development of civil society; where party system are strong (e.g. Chile) or dominated by a single hegemonic party (e.g. Mexico), the sheer strength of political parties seems to smother the potential for civil society’s emergence. Parties should therefore ideally incorporate some participatory tendencies so as not to undermine civil society.

 

 

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Notes

 

-political parties and their relationship with popular organizations provide a central axis around which the fate of civil society will revolve. Parties are the principal mechanism for inclusion under the democratic regimes that have emerged in Latin America in recent years: where they are weak (e.g. Brazil) their very weakness tends to reinforce the clientelism and populist tendencies which have historically circumscribed the development of civil society; where party system are strong (e.g. Chile) or dominated by a single hegemonic party (e.g. Mexico), the sheer strength of political parties seems to smother the potential for civil society’s emergence.

-tensions between popular organizations and political parties result from a number of causes:

-the presence of multiple parties competing for popular-sector support is divisive and fragments popular organizations.

-there is a clash between the participatory and democratic organizational style characteristic of popular organizations and the more hierarchical style of political parties.

-these tensions are not inevitable, and democratic party structures can help ameliorate many of these problems:

-to avoid confrontation, political parties could adopt some of the participatory values expressed by popular organizations if they wish to interact with them.

 

-the civil society approach, as a collectivist perspective, equates strong civil societies with a high level of institutionalized social pluralism. This has two implications: individual units should have a high degree of autonomy in defining their collective interests (to ensure that all are effectively represented); and political democracy is the result rather than the cause of a civil society, since civil society works to disperse political power throughout entire polities, thereby contributing to the advent of stable democratic regimes.

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