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civil society

Remembering Jean Bethke Elshtain

Renowned political philosopher, ethicist, and professor Jean Bethke Elshtain passed away on Sunday at the age of 72. Elshtain was known for her deep commitment to civil society and advocacy of civic education.


The Role of Soft Paternalism in America

Drawing on behavioral psychology research and Cass Sunstein’s new book Nudge, David Brooks argues that a form of soft paternalism may be beneficial to the American public. Writing for the New York Times, Brooks suggests that there is a middle ground between government mandates and fully uninhibited consumer decision-making, which would improve society’s well-being. Recent […]


Renewing Civil Society in America

Congrats are due to Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE and Program friend, who was recently appointed as the Lincoln-Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Service and as a research professor in the School of Arts & Sciences philosophy department at Tufts University. If that’s not enough, Peter also has a forthcoming book, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: The Promise of Civic Renewal in America (Oxford University Press, September 2013).


Volunteering America

Over at the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), Diana Aviv, President and CEO of the Independent Sector, a network of philanthropic and nonprofit organizations, provides an update on volunteering in America. “The generous act of volunteering in America,” she writes, “is as vast and varied as the country itself. Some 64 million Americans—roughly one-fifth of our population—engaged in a formal volunteer activity during the past year. The UK-based Charities Aid Foundation’s 2011 World Giving Index ranked the U.S. first in ‘giving,’ as measured by three behaviors: helping a stranger, volunteering time, and giving money.”


Won’t you be my neighbor?

In December, we covered the release of the “Volunteering and Civic Life in America” report by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC). NCoC is now going more in-depth in exploring the study’s findings, and this month highlighted the very low numbers that discuss social cohesion in neighborhoods.


Civic responses to Newtown

Over at his blog, CIRCLE director Peter Levine looks at the tragic Newtown school shooting and discusses some of the different kinds of civic responses that are available. “Addressing a brutal threat together,” he notes, “is civic work that can help repair the torn fabric.” And there are many ways that citizens can come together and engage in this important work of self governance.


Event watch: Civil society and the future of conservatism

Next Tuesday, November 27, the Hudson Institute is hosting a timely and much needed conversation about the role of the citizen and civic space in modern American politics. Here is the event description:

National Affairs magazine editor Yuval Levin, writing in the October 8, 2012 issue of The Weekly Standard, noted that this year’s presidential election seemed to have deteriorated into a contest between a “simple-minded and selfish radical individualism,” on the one hand, and “a simple-minded and dangerous radical collectivism” on the other.


The Hollow Republic

Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs, has a characteristically smart essay about how the Left and the Right understand civil society and its relation to the state.


Civil society reconsidered

Among those who study social science and matters of civic engagement, the idea of civil society is regularly held up as a sort of be-all-end-all solution to the many social problems that vex our communities. George L. Kelling’s and James Q. Wilson’s “broken windows” theory (observing that minor infractions like broken windows in a neighborhood spur on more and more serious infractions) and Robert Putnam’s diagnosis of Americans as “bowling alone” (more Americans are bowling, but fewer are doing so with one another) continue to encourage  research that laments America’s declining “social capital” and its weakening communities.

While acknowledging the truth of these trends, Gertrude Himmelfarb, writing in The Weekly Standard,  finds the appeal to simply strengthen civil society as missing something fundamental.