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when the divine right of kings was challenged, and the new
bourgeoisie pressed for the abolition of feudal social order, it
was assumed that civil society itself was born at that time.
The anthropologist and political philosopher Ernest
Gellner (who died in 1995) was a true child of the Enlight-
enment, convinced of the unique rationalism of European
culture since the birth of mercantile capitalism. He grew up
in Prague, but emigrated with his parents to England in 1939.
After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, he returned
to Prague to promote the particular type of civil society asso-
ciated with a market economy. According to Gellner, only a
market economy ensures that contractual associations are suf-
¬ciently ¬‚exible and adaptive to create civil society (Gellner
1994: 100). Market society allows the individual to enter and
leave speci¬c-purpose, limited associations without elaborate
blood ritual. (Gellner parodies the structure of traditional
Order and anarchy
10
societies.) Only the market promotes the rational pursuit of
self-interest, or what Gellner (77) curiously calls ˜a disinter-
ested pursuit of interest™. Many in Eastern Europe were at ¬rst
willing to accept this claim. Given the sudden abandonment
of communism people were, as Janine Wedel (1998) writes,
looking for quick answers to the problem of preserving social
cohesion. The only alternative seemed the Western capitalism
advocated by international agencies.
Recent proponents of civil society have argued for a narrow
de¬nition that fails to do justice to the breadth of vision of the
concept™s originators. As Steven Sampson discovered, West-
ern models do not always match Eastern realities; procedures
cannot be exported successfully if their institutional social
framework is absent. Problems that are solved in the West by
commercial or voluntary associations are often solved by kin,
local networks and ethnic groups in other societies (Sampson
1996: 125). In the post-Soviet era, millionaire/billionaire for-
mer communists and other Russians have searched in vain for
a bourgeoisie committed to democracy, productive economic
behaviour and civil society (Kingston-Mann 2003: 94). Mass
privatisation in Russia did not create civil society, but pro¬t-
seeking oligarchs and gangsters who hired private armies and
intelligence-gathering teams, and perpetrated frequent car-
bombings and contract murders (Kingston-Mann 2003: 109).

d e ¬ n i n g c i vi l s o c i et y
The sociologist Alvin Gouldner characterised civil society as a
medium through which people ˜can pursue their own projects
in the course of their everyday lives; and as ways of avoiding
dependence on the domination of the state . . . [through]
patterns of mutual and self-help™ (Gouldner 1980: 370“1).
Elizabeth Dunn (1996: 27) describes civil society as ˜the
Civil society and social cohesion 11
domain of relationships which falls between the private realm
of the family on the one hand and the state on the other™.
Since the household is virtually universal in human societies
I shall use ˜civil society™ to refer speci¬cally to social organi-
sations occupying the space between the household and the state
that enable people to co-ordinate their management of resources
and activities.1

Civil society and the state in Europe
Since civil society exists between the domains of state and
household, institutions that only promote state policy are not
civil institutions; they are part of the state. A particular insti-
tution may therefore have civic capability at some times, but
not others, depending on the relative power of the state. In
France the mayor plays a dual role, both representing the state
and implementing local civil society. The contemporary struc-
ture of French local government was laid down at the time of
the Revolution of 1789, embodying the con¬‚icting policies of
the Revolutionary government toward local democracy and
a uni¬ed state (Ab´ l` s 1991: 111, 115). Since 1871, the village
ee
council has chosen the mayor from among its own members. In
the internal affairs of the commune (village), the mayor is the
agent of the council and obliged to put the council™s decisions
into effect. The mayor thus has a dual role, representing both
the state and local civil society. In the part of Franche Comt´ e
where I worked (Layton 2000), communes earned between
half a million and one million francs a year through the sale
of timber from communal forests during the 1990s, and the
municipal council has signi¬cant resources at its disposal to
fund local public services.
I am aware that establishing the boundaries of the household can be prob-
1

lematic (see Layton 2000: 124).
Order and anarchy
12
Brian Chapman (1953) recorded the case of a mayor who, in
response to pressure from his councillors, banned the carriage
and use of nuclear weapons within his commune. Winnie Lem
(1999) has documented the subversive activities of mayors in
the Languedoc region of France, where there is a century-old
history of regional resistance to state centralisation. Even the
mayor participates in the ˜hidden economy™ in order to avoid
paying state-imposed taxes and insurance.
In France, a degree of local autonomy in civil society is
tolerated. Susanne Sp¨ lbeck (1996), on the other hand, reports
u
that the mayor of the East German village she studied was
arrested in the late 1950s, during the socialist regime, and
charged with political conspiracy. No villagers were willing
to take over, and the post was ¬lled by outsiders for more
than ten years. Although the post of mayor has been well
paid since the collapse of socialism, and the political system is
more liberal, it is still very dif¬cult to recruit a mayor. State
surveillance has left a crushing mark upon local civil society.

Function and history
The consequences of civil activities should be studied empir-
ically. One cannot include in the de¬nition a moral require-
ment that civil society function to support or oppose the state,
nor that it should exclusively promote individual liberty or
group cohesion. Gellner considers, but then rejects, a de¬ni-
tion of civil society that speci¬es its role in relation to the state.
He suggests civil society might be:
That set of diverse non-governmental institutions which is strong
enough to counterbalance the state and, while not preventing the state
from ful¬lling its role of keeper of the peace and arbiter between major
interests, can nevertheless prevent it from dominating and atomising
the rest of society. (Gellner 1994: 5)
Civil society and social cohesion 13
Gellner rejects a de¬nition of this type because it would
include ˜many forms of social order which would not satisfy us™
(Gellner 1994: 6, his emphasis). He argues there must be no
segmentary tendencies in civil society because, if there are,
civil society will fragment the state, not counterbalance it. His
argument pre-empts the study of how civil society works in
particular cases.
Seligman points out that Eastern and Western arguments
for civil society differ due to the contradictory aspirations of
its modern proponents. This ambivalence is clear in Gellner™s
essay, as his former colleague Jack Goody (2001: 153) has
pointed out: for Gellner civil society must always be ˜on the
side of the angels™. Gellner (1994) shifts his evaluation of civil
society, depending on whether he is writing of the West or
Eastern Europe. In the West, he argues, the state must restrain
the power of the market economy. The state can be trustwor-
thy in the West. Pro¬ts often accrue to ˜smart-alecks™ who
manipulate the market with dubious legitimacy. There must
be some form of welfare state, because the household is too
small to look after the disabled. Similarly the state must be
responsible for the provision of many services. ˜If socialism
means that political constraints are put on the economy, then
virtually all . . . societies . . . are socialist™ (Gellner 1994: 170, cf.
Seligman 1992: 113“17). On the other hand, Gellner argues,
the market economy in Eastern Europe is too weak to create a
genuine civil society; in Eastern Europe, it is civil society that
must develop to counterbalance the state, not the other way
round. I argue that, before discussing the functions of civil
society, one must investigate empirically what institutions lie
between households and state, in other words, what frame-
work exists to enable members of different households to take
joint action. It is then possible to ask which (if any) of these
institutions enable people to promote their political aims. If
Order and anarchy
14
civil society tends to undermine the state, the identity of the
coalitions that replace the state are likely to depend on the
structure of such intermediate institutions.
The concept of civil society also needs to be freed from the
evolutionist assumption that it emerges within the social life of
the state at some particular point in the state™s evolution, par-
ticularly the point at which commercial capitalism dissolves
traditional local communities (e.g. the period of the English
enclosures). There are two weaknesses in this approach. It
wrongly implies people were previously incapable of coming
together rationally, to pursue their mutual self-interest. It also
tends to imply, misleadingly, that the structure or extent of
civil society is coincident with that of the state. ˜A sphere
of society distinct from the state and with forms and prin-
ciples of its own™ (Kumar 1993: 376) may precede the state
(particularly in the case of colonially created states), or may
cut across state boundaries (Kurdish society, for example).
Complaining that these cases do not constitute civil society
amounts to saying ˜they do not engage with the state in the
way I believe civil society should™. Jack Goody (2001) demon-
strates the ethnocentric bias in much recent Western work on
civil society, citing forms of civil society in ancient India, Tang
and Sung China and pre-colonial West Africa.
Chris Hann (2003) expresses surprise that Gellner, an
anthropologist, should reject the possibility of civil society
in a tribal or an Islamic society. Hann argues that a properly
anthropological approach would look more closely at local
patterns of sociality and investigate how issues of political
and moral accountability can be resolved in civil ways that
differ from modern Western solutions. Sami Zubaida (2001)
reviews the variety of forms of civil society in the contem-
porary Middle East. The most astonishing aspect of Gellner™s
study is the way it parodies traditional society. According to
Civil society and social cohesion 15
Gellner, pre-modern states often lacked the means to pulverise
the societies they controlled. But the cost, he asserts, is that
the peasant falls under the tyranny of the local community,
of cousins and ritual. The historical evidence from European
villages summarised below shows this claim to be simplistic.
The simple layered model presented above (˜social organ-
isations occupying the space between the household and the
state™) may be misleading if it is visualised as an inverted trian-
gle with the all-encompassing state at the top, and the smallest
component unit, the household, at the bottom. A civil institu-
tion may extend throughout the state (e.g. Polish Solidarity),
and the state generally penetrates down to the local level (e.g.
the village mayor in his role as state functionary). The state
also frequently sets the rules for civil associations such as pro-
ducer co-operatives, even though such associations are freely
established and promote free association in pursuit of their
members™ local goals.
˜Civilsociety™is,asKrishanKumar(1993)shows,atermthat
has been used in various ways by different schools of political
philosophy. Kumar concludes that the term has no neutral
social-scienti¬c meaning. I argue that the term is useful, but
on two conditions. First, the structure of civil society must
be distinguished from the various functions it may perform
in different times and places. A particular case should not be
excluded from the category ˜civil society™ merely because the
writer ¬nds its social consequences undesirable. Second, civil
society should not be equated with an alleged stage in the
evolution of society.

Must civil society engage with the state?
While there is a strong case for rejecting ethnocentric def-
initions of civil society that specify the role it should play,
Order and anarchy
16
the question, ˜must the institutions of civil society play, by
de¬nition, some political role toward the state?™ is harder to
answer. Wedel describes the Western goal of creating civil
society in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the social-
ist regimes as one ˜in which citizens and groups are free to
form organisations that functioned independently of the state
and that mediated between citizens and the state™ (Wedel 1998:
83, my emphasis). Empirical ethnographic research suggests
that particular institutions may play a political role at some
points in their existence, but not others. I think it would be
unhelpful to exclude such institutions from analysis except
when they move into the political arena. One needs to know
how they originated, and what circumstances prompted their
members to transform their function so as to use them as a
vehicle for political action. A classic example is Bill Epstein™s
(1958) study of how a missionary-founded library association
in the Zambian mining township of Luansha was transformed
into a Welfare Society that, in turn, provided rising Black
leaders with the vehicle to challenge the urban authority of
tribal elders. Alexis de Tocqueville (1805“59), the nineteenth-
century French political theorist, travelled to the United States
in 1831 and later wrote on the nature of democracy. De
Tocqueville™s distinction between political institutions and
civil institutions is helpful (cited Kumar 1993: 381); civil asso-
ciations such as churches, professional, commercial and recre-
ational associations can ˜pave the way™ for political association.
To avoid classifying particular institutions as necessarily polit-
ical or civil, it may be more useful to say that civil associations
have some autonomy to manage resources and co-ordinate
action, and therefore have the potential to advance their mem-
bers™ political interests in dialogue with the state.
Seligman claims civil society did not exist under socialism,
since the civil and political elements were denied (Seligman
1992:114). Michal Buchowski disputes the claim that no civil
Civil society and social cohesion 17
society existed in Central Europe during the communist era
(Buchowski 1996: 79, cf. Wedel 1998: 103). True, commu-
nist ideology sought to merge the state and society. The
nomenklatura system ensured only loyal people could hold
the most signi¬cant posts. Nonetheless, people followed their
own interests through of¬cial associations created and licensed
by the state. As a teenager in Poland, Buchowski argues, he
was contributing to building a civil society when he belonged
to a People™s Sports Club and played football. He was, in
other words, contributing to social organisations occupying
the space between the household and the state that enable
people to co-ordinate their management of resources and
activities. Other state-sponsored organisations such as village
women housekeepers™ associations and volunteer ¬re brigades
provided similar scope. Senior posts had to be approved by
the party, and ordinary members were expected to respect
authority. But such associations provided a signi¬cant means
for collective activity and many, especially professional organ-
isations, transformed themselves into dissident bodies in the
1980s.

Is civil society segmentary or unifying?
Case studies demonstrate that civil society may threaten or
support the unity of the nation state. Where the state threat-
ens to break down into smaller polities it is inadequate to
characterise ethnic or religious af¬liation as ˜primordial™, that
is ˜innate and irrational™ (Duf¬eld 2001: 110). A comparison of
the recent history of Yugoslavia and Poland makes this clear.
Ethnic communities created fault lines in the Yugoslavian
state. In some regards they predated the state into which they
were incorporated and their persistence weakened the state,
but the divisions that existed in 1990 were not ˜primordial™.
Their survival was due to covert recognition by the state and
Order and anarchy
18
their character had been transformed by their interaction with
the state. Serbia and Croatia have a long history as sepa-
rate political entities. The medieval kingdom of Serbia was
founded in the sixth century ad and lasted until its defeat by
the Ottoman Turks in 1389. Ottoman rulers allowed the Serbs
to continue practising Orthodox Christianity, which therefore
functioned as an expression of Serb identity in a predominantly
Islamic state. Three small Croatian states existed in the eighth
century. During this period Charlemagne brought Croatia
into the Catholic Church. The Croatian kingdoms were uni-
¬ed in 1069, but Croatian independence was short-lived. Only
thirty years later Croatia was defeated by Hungary. Croatia
agreed to a union with Hungary but Croatia™s political identity
was preserved by the Sabor, or Croatian assembly, which con-
tinued to exist until the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
in 1918 (Tanner 1997). Because Catholicism was shared with
the wider Empire, it was not structurally signi¬cant as a de¬n-
ing institution of Croat identity, which was expressed through
the Sabor.
After the First World War, southern Slav unity was
achieved with the creation of Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, the
uni¬ed state suffered from a fatal asymmetry. Serbia gained
independence from Turkish rule before Croatia ceased to
be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Serbs dominated
the new state institutions and Croatia lost the relative auton-
omy it had exercised through the Sabor. Ethnic rivalry was
therefore encouraged and Catholicism now became a salient
aspect of Croat identity. After the Second World War ethnicity
and nationalism persisted because Tito, the president of post-
Second World War Yugoslavia, created an ethnically based
federal structure without genuine power sharing. During the
second half of the twentieth century, ethnic identity became
irrelevant for many city dwellers, but it remained strong in
Civil society and social cohesion 19
the countryside. ˜Pan-Yugoslav consciousness [cf. Gellnerian
civil society] existed and there is evidence it was growing in
the 1980s but it proved too weak™ to overcome ethnic con¬‚ict
(Gallagher 1997: 48). After Tito™s death, communist elites
in both Serbia and Croatia embraced ethnic nationalism to
ensure their survival, but those nationalist leaders had to
draw their support from rural communities. Intermarriage
and even contact with other communities occurred much less
frequently in the countryside, and villagers were ˜ready to take
up arms against cities as mythical places of af¬‚uence and sin™
(Gallagher 1997: 66). Tom Gallagher concludes that it is only
a slight exaggeration to describe the con¬‚ict of the 1990s as one
between urban (tolerant) and rural (nationalist) communities,
expressed through a religious idiom.
Poland, on the other hand, was fortunate in having civil
institutions that extended throughout the country, exempli-
fying the point that the institutions of civil society are not
necessarily less inclusive than the state. The position of the
Catholic Church in Poland was unique in Eastern and Cen-
tral Europe. In contrast to the divisive effect of churches in
Yugoslavia, the Polish Catholic Church was an emblem of
national unity. The communists could neither destroy it nor
use it for their own ends. It represented the interests of various
groups at various levels. Through its preaching it maintained
freedom of speech. After martial law was imposed in 1981,
churches became ˜safe havens™ for secular dissidents (Kumar
1993, Buchowski 1996). The Catholic Church therefore played
a practical role in promoting a national civil society.

Unmodern civil society
Modernity has been used as a broad synonym for the era of
capitalism. Traditional loyalties to local communities were
Order and anarchy
20
broken up by the mass movement of workers in search of
employment, medieval traditions were discarded as irrational
superstitions, and the Enlightenment vision of universal rea-
son inspired attempts at planned intervention in the order of
society. Gellner™s vision of civil society is a modernist one,
according to which only a market economy guarantees ¬‚ex-
ible contractual associations and voluntary speci¬c-purpose
associations. Gellner also perpetuates the modernist con¬‚a-
tion of pre-modern European societies (i.e. approximately
pre-eighteenth century) and recent, non-industrial societies
(cf. Fabian 1983).
The historical evidence from European villages shows
Gellner is incorrect to claim that civil society did not exist in
the Middle Ages. In 1483, the Swiss village of Torbel already
referred to itself as a peasant corporation when it laid down
rules for the use of common pasture and forest it owned
(Netting 1981: 60). In the ¬fteenth and sixteenth centuries
the citizens of Torbel drew up charters stating that, while
villagers might sell their own strips of plough land to out-
siders, they could not transfer their rights in common land.
New members could join the village if two-thirds of its exist-
ing members agreed. Before 1790, French village affairs were
regulated by popular assemblies and of¬cers appointed by
seigneurs or local government (Gournay, Kesler and Siwek-
Pouydessau 1967: 115). In the French alpine village of Abri` s e
all household heads who held taxable land, including wid-
ows, had the right to attend the pre-Revolutionary assembly.
The assembly elected consuls to represent its interests before
higher courts, and used communal funds earned from leasing
pasture to employ teachers and lawyers. In 1694, an army engi-
neer wrote: ˜these people govern themselves like Republicans
not recognizing any leader among them nor having to suf-
fer any nobility™ (Rosenberg 1988: 39). Village corporations
Civil society and social cohesion 21
clearly occupied part of the space between household and
state.
Gellner (1994: 88) contends that in ˜the days of™ clans and

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