top of page

Civil Society: The Complexity of a Concept

Jorge Iván Gaviria Mesa

Lawyer, philosopher and Master degree in philosophy University of Antioquia. Law Professor and researcher Catholic University Luis Amigó. Ph.D. student in Political Science University National of Rosario Argentina

Member of the JURISOL research group of the Catholic University Luis Amigó, Colombia South América. E-mail:

Mónica Lucía Granda Viveros

Lawyer University of Medellín, Colombia. Expert in Labour Law and Social Security, University Pontificia Bolivariana. Master degree in Procedural Law, University of Medellín. Ph.D. student in Political Science University National of Rosario Argentina. Member of the JURISOL research group of the Catholic University Luis Amigó, Colombia South América. E-mail:


The civil society is not reduced to a state structure, but it does not constitute its antimony. It is the scenario in which private interests interact in a complex relationship with the public apparatus, in an always deliberative way, with fluid democratic expressions and solid bases of participation in collective affairs. Democracy is only possible in society and society is only viable when the interaction of the various agents that compose it. State and society, under the parameters of pluralism, are the condition of the development of civil expressions. Therefore, democracy and freedom determine the existence of a political system in which civil society is not reduced to the periodical and mechanical electoral event in which political preferences are manifested, nor to the individualistic apathy of the neoliberal world. The example of this reduction to simply procedural practices is given by countries like Colombia, Mexico, Peru, among others in Latin America. And in the developed world, the United States is a paradigm of show democracy in front of a civil society superficial and far from the real daily problems. Article result of the research project "Latin American Social Thought" executed within the framework of doctoral studies in Political Science of the Universidad del Rosario, Argentina, whose purpose is to determine the validity of the concept of civil society


The relationship between the State and society has been a constant topic of reflection throughout history, which goes back to ancient Greece for whom the polis was a whole, while the individual, just a part of it, moving on to medieval times with a fragmented society but whole in faith (as far as the West goes, all the way to modernity in which the civil society has gained such usual and problematic vigor in its analysis and comprehension. Due to the rise of neoliberalism in the 90´s and the beginning of the XXI century, in which the market-based relationship has wiped out the characteristics of the political and social perspective; additionally, has placed some sort of economic despotism denoted by competence and gains and has been established as a way of renaissance of power of that which is named but not precisely defined: civil society. This essay is an effort to determine its nature and reach, founded on four current theories even if its sources date back to the XIX century. First of all, Cohen and Arato (1992) with a challenging interpretation of Hegel´s Elements of Philosophy of Right, specifically the sections regarding the civil society.

For Cohen and Arato (1992) Hegel is the original theorist of modern civil society, not a defender of an absolute State which protects both the family and the society. Both authors propose that it is the creation of a civil society that responds to modern demands of the organization, without being controlled by the state institutions, nor being reduced to satisfying that which Marxist language has classified as the world of needs. In order to do so, both authors analyze different conceptions of civil society, all the way to the scholar of Jena whose works they consider as the theoretical support of their thesis. In second place, they work on Habermas´ theory (1993), that establishes a model to build democracy called deliberative democracy (his main work is Theory of Communicative Action), and whose main statement tries to constitute a procedural system of democracy, based on society and without disregarding the civic virtue of republicanism, nor the importance of constitutional norms in a liberal paradigm, takes place in the public space of deliberation, as the opportunity of decision making, with a previous discussions of real conditions of pluralism.

In the third section, there is Michael Walzer (2010), who perceives civil society as a scenario of different scenarios, that is, a space in which diverse collective organizations hold a place, in order to avoid excesses in Marxist, liberal and nationalist points of view which end up generating extremist positions; even though, the author is aware that in such a multi-phased space of association there is place for all and each one of those manifestations. Finally, there is Charles Taylor (1995) who proposes a civil society that displays the ideals of Montesquieu and Locke, and also those of Tocqueville, regarding the strengthening of independent organizations that foster self government as a way to counteract against despotism and at the same time a way to ensure freedom in the western democracy, threatened by the empire of economic activity over the State.

(Please download the full-text Pdf to read more)



bottom of page