Soenke Zehle: After the NGO Revolution: Non-state actors at a CrossRoads

"international civil society" to describe the plurality of non-state actors, whose transnational activism has placed questions of environmentalism, human rights, or the structure of international financial institutions on the agenda of world politics

Vectors of inquiry/critical reappropriation:


- geographical: Latin America (NGO origins in alliance with unions, peasant associations, popular movements and their responses to military dictatorship), Africa (anti-colonial struggle and de-colonization)), Asia 1) India (tradition, indigenous philanthropy and Gandhian teachings created a strong home-grown understanding of voluntary action and NGOs) 2) Philippines and Thailand (popular action against civilian dictatorship and military rule that spawned politically oriented NGO leaders 3) China, Laos, Vietnam (remain inhospitable ground for growth of autonomous civic organizations 4) Nepal (rapid and opportunistic local NGDO growth in response to regime change) 5) Bangladesh (struggle for independence created a context enabling widespread and substantial growth of indigenous NGOs with the help of foreign aid - Bangladesh is now home to the largest indigenous NGOs in the South)

- NSM vs alternatives: extension of urban/metropolitan logic of formal organization by donors and int'l orgs (NGOs as proxies for civil society), yet existence and size of an NGO community in countries of the South or East cannot be equated with public confidence from citizens or governments (emergence not only from indigenous forces and support, dependence on foreign relations and interests), status of NGOs as successor organizations to NSM, problematic centrality/transfer of the NSM ('post-materialist thesis') paradigm in critical analysis of international civil society/NGOism, example ecopolitics: advocates of ecological efficieny, of the wilderness aesthetic, of the indigenous and peasant environmentalisms of Asia and Latin America, and of the metropolitan movements for environmental justice in the US (and now also South Africa) do not share a single idiom - question is whether orgs should be grouped together at all, even if int'l cs is understood as terrain of hegemonic contestation, shift to 'environmentalism of the poor' (mesh of idioms of metropolitan environmental justice, peasant and indigenous environmentalisms), ecological economics (incommensurability, social contestation, conflict)

- structural: international civil society at the UN: proposal to establish a UN Civil Society Forum under the auspices of ECOSOC, already integration of NGOs into monitoring activities, NGOs with consultative status at ECOSOC (2300 in 2002), (one of the earliest NGOs with consultative status at ECOSOC is ICC 1946, UN also vehicle to spread corporate culture (voluntarism, corporate citizenship, stakeholder dialogue), Maria Cattaui/ICC insistence that civil society includes corporations (ICC on CSR: " good corporate practice is usually spread most effectively by strong corporate principles and example, rather than by codes of conduct … dialogue with responsible, transparent and constructive non-governmental organizations (NGOs) - IUCN & WBCSD…)

- UN: role/structural transformation, UN conferences as impetus for emergence of transnational networks, crisis of legitimacy at UN generated by aggressive anti-multilaterlaims of US and failure of Congress to deliver US financial obligations (redressed only recently) as well as various grassroots movements (WSSD demonstrations: UN target of people of Seattle for first time), context: general crisis of legitimacy of the international system and appeal to global civil society as a source of legitimacy for international co-operation ('partnership,' 'stakeholder dialogue' at WTO, IMF, UN)
UN: privatization/corporatization: example of ecopolitics/sustainability, sustainability: from failure of Third Worldism (New World Economic Order, UN Council on Transnational Corporations 70s-90s) to the corporatization of the UN (World Business Council on Sustainable Development, International Chamber of Commerce, IUCN, Global Compact), controversy: corporate responsibility (self-regulation) vs corporate accountability (external regulation), now: attempts to reconstitute corporate accountability under auspices of UN Committee on Sustainable Development (still within horizon of environmental accounting, 'triple bottom line' includes stakeholders)

- Aid & NGOism: sense that structure of international aid and philanthropy deserves more scrutiny than the specific logic of individual organizations, rationale: once (modernization coupled with theories of totalitarianism, elite pluralism of US social sciences, extension of antipolitical cold war civic culture), today (mantra sustainable development) - civil society key element, structural consequences: donors need an addressee, a central locus of change, a proxy for civil society, irony that demand for accountability and assessments of their own effectiveness accelerates the spread of new organizational managerialisms, auditing and accounting systems, which facilitates the creation of organizational monocultures of NGO work whose 'quality management' might alienate their local 'stakeholders, yet agenda and structure of international aid and philanthropy are, by and large, beyond the influence of individual organizations, concepts of cs: Soros on open society at World Democracy Forum 2000: "Public opinion must be mobilised in favor of a global open society. So far, the signs are not favourable. As we have seen in Seattle and Washington, the self-appointed guardians of civil society have been playing a destructive role vis-à-vis international institutions."), US: neo-Tocquevillean orthodoxy (logic of localism, voluntarism, spontaneity without Tocqueville's qualification: conditions of economic equality) & authoritarian communitarianism at home, aggressive corporate anti-multilateralism (UN Global Compact) & 'civil society' overseas

- USAID: New Partnerships Initiative: NGO Empowerment, mission "The vision of USAID programs is to support a stable, more prosperous market-oriented economy that empowers citizens, is governed by rule of law and promotes the basic welfare of the population", new Director of USAID: "As a great power, I believe America's foreign assistance both serves to accomplish our foreign policy objectives, and expresses the deep humanitarian instincts of the American people", also in History: "Foreign assistance is a valuable foreign policy tool in terms of promoting U.S. security interests and its economic interests", Agency Objectives - Civil Society: "The hallmark of a free society is the ability of individuals to associate with like-minded individuals, express their views publicly, openly debate public policy, and petition their government. "Civil society" is an increasingly accepted term which best describes the non-governmental, not-for-profit, independent nature of this segment of society. In countries with fragile democratic traditions, the freedoms so necessary to building and sustaining an active and independent civil society often are little understood, temporarily curtailed, or simply denied. USAID is working to strengthen commitment to an independent and politically active civil society in developing countries", general sense: internationalization of US concept of civil society (mix of Tocqueville, Hayek, Brezinski)
Interest: internationalization of specific concepts of civil society, shift to CE

Civil Society

FR "Was fehlt in dem WB Konzept … ist ein Anhörungsrecht der betroffenen Zivilgesellschaft" (my sense of transfer of US concept, reference to internationalization of specific concept, question of how/whether to map 'civil society' onto 'Zivilgesellschaft')

current revival of cs: central role of end of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and military regimes in Africa and Latin America promoted participation in the new democratic systems - question of civil society also question of transfer of political idiom, geographic/institutional extension of connotative field (influence of US media, organizational culture of US NGOs, adoption/multiplication/instrumentalization by int'l organizations), question limits of applicability/translateability, commensurability of associational logic/dynamic of 'public spheres' across the world

- Hardt & Negri (Empire): civil society once served as mediator between the immanence of capital and the transcendence of sovereignty, non-state institutions organize capitalist society under the order of the state and spread state rule throughout society, today: cs is 'withering away' and no longer serves as adequate point of mediation, its constituent institutions are in crisis and their respective 'logics of subjectification' spread across the social field (shift from transcendence of institutions of disciplinary society to immanence of networks of society of control), emphasis on change in logic of production of subjectivities (trend toward deterritorialization), focus: question of boundedness of civil society

- Cohen & Arato: systematic attempt at theory of civil society, cs as exchange/common normative project between changes in CE (and LA) and older liberal democracies, cs as indicator of sea-change in contemporary political culture, contribution of transitional democracies: defense/democratization of civil society moves beyond antinomies (state/market, public/private, Gesellschaft/Gemeinschaft, reform/revolution, communalism/libertarianism) to describe contemporary dynamic of self-constitution and self-organization, 'hermeneutic key' to transitions in Central Europe and Latin America, shift beyond reform/revolution as 1) demands on the state 2) society understood in terms of class to civil society (democratization without overpoliticization, centrality of social movements, concept of self-limiting revolution)

- working definition: civil society 'social structures between state and market', as 'heuristic device' - emphasis on constituent structures (issues: include/exclude economy in cs, maintain political vs civil society)

- general: turn to cs to conceptualize post-statist politics (including empire: just say no to logic of sovereignty), question of locus of democratization (context for assessment of NGOs, role of NGOs as proxies for cs, weaknesses of cs conceptualizations prepares ground for triumph of (depoliticized, individualist) neoliberal concept of cs, retrieval/archive (between presentism and historicism…), assessment of 'antipolitics' of the velvet revolution

- antipolitics draw (like French 'second left') on Tocquevillean localism and liberal constitutionalism via cold war theories of 'totalitarianism' (Hayek, Arendt: atomization of mass man and the subsumption of the associational dynamic of civic life by a totalitarian state), my interest in legacy of anti-politics of the velvet revolution (the 'people' vs the political class, independence from SU, possible contribution of anti-politics to post-communist national populisms), limits of civil society as yardstick of evolution of 'maturity' of post-communist democracies in Central Europe (context: EU enlargement), idealization of velvet revolution vs retroactive local interpretation as 'property putsch'

- STORY: lessons of Hungary '56 (revolution from below), Czechoslovakia '68 (reform from above), strikes and individual acts of resistance (other forms of pressure from below): sense that neither revolution "from below" nor reform "from above" were viable strategies for changing the communist system - answer: antipolitics of a life lived 'as if' free, strategic and normative break with revolutionary tradition, construction from below of organized, autonomous, mobilizable civil society, limits of concept articulated in terms of liberal constitutionalism, theories of totalitarianism, intellectuals could, as Vaclav Havel puts it, "live in truth" with the support of small associations, of "another society," based on "antipolitics" (Adam Michnik), "islands of positive deviation" (Jan Carnogursky), of "a parallel social order" (Vaclav Benda), new forms of association included ambulatory universities, information networks ("samzidat"), a life devoted to piety or to the arts, independent trade unions, etc.

- Czech: Havel: Since 1991, Czech President, Václav Havel, for example, has developed an arresting vision of the Czech Republic as "a genuinely civic state." Not only, Havel argues, must a strong civil society emerge as a "third sector" of institutions between state and market, but, at the same time, the balance between state, market and civil society must be decisively tilted in favour of the latter. In the President's view, this means decentralising the state, weakening political parties and gradually transferring public services such as health, welfare and education to the emerging third, civic sector. Today, majority of NGOs are government or foreign-funded.

- sober assessment:
"Right-wing fears of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe as a Trojan horse for corporatism are exaggerated. Many small countries with weak vulnerable economies have resorted to corporatist solutions without suffering unduly either politically or economically. But the political theory of liberalism with its conceptions of individual freedom and choice does raises some serious questions over both the realism and the desirability of re-constituting civil societies in Eastern Europe…. Neo-conservatives have seen it as "natural" way of shoring up and promoting traditional values without resort to the state. For the Western Left "civil society" has been seen as a vehicle for mobilising support without relying on sectional class interests and a means of stemming the inequalities of the market without to resort to etatistic solutions. … The ideas of many advocates of "civil society" make concerning decentralisation are, of course, perfectly valid. But they are arguments more for a decentralised state and locally accountable public services, rather than a separate "third sector." Many bodies in the "third sector" are already in effect close to being what the British call "quangos" - quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations, tied to the state by a lifeline of public finance. The equation of the state with centralisation, and civil society with decentralisation is overly simplistic. … However difficult as a political goal, re-constructing the state seems vastly more realistic, than ineffective and sometimes quixotic attempts to build "civil society" where most citizens are, for perfectly valid reasons, disinclined to contribute their time or money. … Put bluntly, where historically-evolved civil societies have declined, whether uprooted or simply eroded away, they are unlikely to take root again" (CEO, Hanley 1998).

VIDEO: impetus for new form of movement (anti)politics: the arrest, trial, conviction of Plastic People of the Universe (Czechoslovakia), Charter 77


· Was bleibt von 1989? (Transit 18 2000) Eine Debatte zwischen Václav Havel, Viktor Klima, Adam Michnik und Viktor Orban
· Hanley, Sean. _Civil Society: An Idea Whose Time Has Gone? Central Europe Review 0.21 (Feb 15 1999)
· Plastic People of the Universe