Himmelfarb on the Civil Society

Gertrude Himmelfarb (echoing Charles Murray’s conclusion in Coming Apart) believes that we need a revival of civil society in America.  Such a new “civic Great Awakening” (Murray’s phrase), she argues, must draw upon the views of older defenders of civil society such as Locke, Tocqueville, and Burke who wrote about the links between civil society and political association.

Here is a taste:

Today, in our anxiety about the excesses of individualism and statism, we may find ourselves looking upon civil society not merely as a corrective to those excesses but as a be-all and end-all, a sanctuary in itself, a sufficient habitat for the human spirit. What our forefathers impress upon us is a more elevated as well as a more dynamic view of civil society, one that exists in a continuum with “political society”—that is, government—just as “civil associations” do with “political associations,” “private affections” with “public affections,” and, most memorably, the “little platoon” with “a love to our country and to mankind.” This is civil society properly understood (as Tocqueville would say), a civil society rooted in all that is most natural and admirable—family, community, religion—and that is also intimately related to those other natural and admirable aspects of life, country and humanity.

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