Civil Society, Second Edition

The Critical History of an Idea

352 pages

February, 2017

ISBN: 9781479891603



Add to Cart Available: 1/13/2017

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John Ehrenberg is a Senior Professor of Political Science and Department Chair at the Brooklyn Campus of Long Island University. He is the author of Civil Society, winner of the 1999 Michael J. Harrington Prize from the American Political Science Association.

All books by John R. Ehrenberg

A comprehensive discussion and analysis of two and a half millennia of Western political theory
In the absence of noble public goals, admired leaders, and compelling issues, many warn of a dangerous erosion of civil society, which includes families, religious organizations, and all other NGOs. Are they right? What are the roots and implications of their insistent alarm? How can public life be enriched in a period marked by fraying communities, widespread apathy, and unprecedented levels of contempt for politics? How should we be thinking about civil society?           

In Civil Society: The Critical History of an Idea, John Ehrenberg analyzes both the usefulness and the limitations of civil society and maps the political and theoretical evolution of the concept and its employment in academic and public discourse. From Aristotle and the Enlightenment philosophers to Black Lives Matter and the Occupy movement, Ehrenberg provides an indispensable analysis of the possibilities of what this increasingly important idea can, and cannot, offer to contemporary political affairs.             

In this new, second edition Ehrenberg brings the historical overview up to present day, specifically considering how major events such as 9/11, the global financial crisis, economic inequality, and rapidly advancing technologies alter and shape our relationship to contemporary civil society. Civic engagement, political participation, and volunteerism in contemporary life has faded, he argues, and in order to bring civil society—and all its virtues—back to the fore, we need to counter the suffocating  inequality that has taken hold in recent years.  Thorough and accessible, Civil Society gives a sweeping overview of a foundational part of political life.


  • "The concept of civil society is often discussed but rarely dissected. In Civil Society, John Ehrenberg provides a history and analysis of the term, its use and mis-use. Ehrenberg traces the development of the idea of civil society from the classical era to the present, showing how the term has changed as societies, and politics, have evolved. He then explores what civil society means today, both within countries and globally. Ehrenberg’s lucid and insightful analysis of the role of civil society in contemporary discourse and practice is relevant both to today’s politics, and to enduring issues in political theory and political analysis."

    —Jeffry Frieden, author of Currency Politics: The Political Economy of Exchange Rate Policy

  • "Civil society around the world is in turmoil, making democracy more vulnerable to illiberal forces. How can one enhance the synergy between civil society, democracy and social justice? John Ehrenberg’s Civil Society brings historical insight to this challenge, critically examining the evolving concept as understood in Western political theory over two and one half millennia. This book is theoretically elegant, erudite, and conveyed in crisp prose. It is a must read for all those interested in the advance of civil society."

    —Micheline Ishay, author of The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era