A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Cabinet
Capital Gains Tax
Carbon Dioxide
Carbon Sequestration
Carpetbagger
Case
Case Law
Cases and Controversies Requirement
Caucus
Centrist
Chamber
Checks and Balances
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
Cite
Citizen
Citizenship
City Administration
City Clerk
City Council
City Councilmember
City Manager
Civic Education
Civil Law
Civil Liberties
Civil Rights
Civil Society
Class Action
Classical Economics
Clerk of Courts
Climate Change
Cloakrooms
Closed Primary
Cloture
Coattails
Code
Code of Federal Regulations
Cold War
Colloquy
Commander in Chief
Commerce Clause
Committee
Common Good
Common Law
Commonwealth
Community
Compact Fluorescent Bulbs
Concurring Opinion
Conference Committee
Confirmation Hearing
Congress
Congressional Black Caucus
Congressional Budget Office
Congressional District
Congressional Record
Conscription
Conservative
Constituent
Constitution
Constitutionalism
Contempt of Court
Continuing Resolution
Controller
Coordinated Expenditure
Coroner
Cosponsor
County
County Board of Commissioners
County Executive Director
County Seat
Criminal Law
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Civil Society
Civil society is the network of voluntary associations, or nongovernmental organizations, that are separate from the institutions of the government but subject to the rule of law. Apart from the government, civil society is a private domain that serves the public good. Some examples of the nongovernmental organizations that comprise civil society are independent labor unions, churches and other formal religious organizations, professional and business associations, private schools, community service clubs, and the privately owned media (independent newspapers, radio stations, television stations, websites). Persons in a constitutional democracy are free to belong simultaneously to many nongovernmental organizations. Thus, they may freely associate with like-minded persons to promote mutual interests. A vibrant civil society is an indicator of good civic behavior in a constitutional democracy. It shows that many citizens are willing to donate their time, energy, and money in order to improve their community. It also demonstrates that citizens are using their constitutional rights to freedom of association, assembly, speech, and the press. Through their civic participation in nongovernmental organizations, individuals develop the knowledge, skills, and virtues of citizenship in a democracy. Thus, the voluntary associations of civil society are community laboratories in which citizens learn democracy by doing it. The maintenance of a lively civil society depends upon constitutionalism. The constitutional government in a democracy is the guarantor of the individual’s rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, which are necessary to the formation and independent actions of civil society organizations. And the rule of law emanating from the constitution is the basis for public safety and order, which in turn enable civil society organizations to function and thrive. Civil society organizations, however, are not only protected by constitutionalism, but they are also protectors of it. Dynamic networks of free and independent nongovernmental organizations, including free and independent media, have resources that enable them to resist despotic tendencies of the government. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his classic work "Democracy in America" about the tension that exists between free civil associations and government: An association for political, commercial or manufacturing purposes, or even for those of science and literature, is a powerful and enlightened member of the community . . . which, by defending its own rights against the encroachments of government, saves the common liberties of the country. Civil society is an opponent of despotic tendencies in government and an ally of genuine constitutional democracy. Free and private civil associations often act in harmony with governmental institutions, but they also tend to check an abusive or liberty-threatening exercise of state power. Thus, the nongovernmental organizations that constitute civil society can collectively be a countervailing force against a government that tries to nullify the constitutional liberties of its people.


By John Patrick, Understanding Democracy, A Hip Pocket Guide (Oxford University Press)