civil society

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From the archaic sense of civil, “peaceful and well-ordered”. Later senses of civil society reflect 19th-century Hegelian influence, as well as the earlier argument that tyrannical governments exist in the state of nature in relation to their subjects.


English Wikipedia has an article on:

civil society (countable and uncountable, plural civil societies)

  1. All of the institutions, voluntary organizations and corporate bodies that are less than the state but greater than the family. [from 19th c.]
  2. Those things expected of a democratic society, such as free speech and human rights. [from 20th c.]
  3. (philosophy) Organized, internally peaceful human society; civilization. [from 17th c.]
    Antonym: state of nature
    • 1689, John Locke, Two Treatises of Government; republished as The Works of John Locke Esq., volume 2, 1727, page 185:
      The only Way whereby any one divests himself of his natural Liberty, and puts on the Bonds of civil Society, is by agreeing with other Men to join and unite into a Community, for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure Enjoyment of their Properties, and a greater Security against any that are not of it.
    • 1953, Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, page 282:
      Rousseau, however, thought that civil society as such [] is characterized by a fundamental self-contradiction and that it is precisely the state of nature which is free from self-contradiction; man in the state of nature is happy because he is radically independent, whereas man in civil society is unhappy because he is radically dependent.
    • 1989, Gary B. Herbert, Thomas Hobbes: The Unity of Scientific and Moral Wisdom, →ISBN, page 12:
      Man’s decision to leave the state of nature is a natural decision. [] Civil society is, in effect, nature rendered reasonable.