Discourse and dialogue have always been the hallmarks of civil society, but when the power of government is used systematically to divide and exclude, it is the stinging conversations and actions at the leading edge of civil society that will reestablish the democratic ideals of an equitable democracy.
The history of America’s Hispanic community shows how civil society can create a refuge for those excluded from society at large. But allowing such demarcation lines is never good enough. For a civil society to be effective, sustainable, and worthy, it must tie together all who reside in that society.
In both the conservative and progressive imagination, civil society is valued—for opposite reasons—as an arbiter between the individual and the national state. But by viewing civil society as the core of America’s social life, we can see our way toward a politics that might overcome some of the dysfunctions of our day.
Driven by a confluence of powerful secular trends, Americans’ trust in civil society has declined to alarming levels. Without addressing these trends and reversing the loss of trust, the ideal of private action for the public good could be at risk.