The Weakness of Civil Society

“What happens when civil society grows weak and all that is left are the market and the state? That is when people begin to make demands of the state that the state cannot satisfy. The state cannot create strong families or supportive communities. It cannot provide children with stable and responsible parents. It can finance schools, but it cannot create inspiring teachers. It cannot generate the work ethic, self-control and resilience that are vital if individuals are to escape the vicious circle of poverty and unemployment and lead lives of happiness and hope. The state is about power. Families and communities are about people. They are about personal relationships and lifting one another from depression and despair. When these are lost from civil society, they cannot be outsourced to the state. The state is and must be impersonal. Therefore it cannot help when the damage is deeply personal. The strength of the Anglo-American model as it evolved in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was that it did not rely exclusively on the state. Whether in churches, friendly societies, trade unions or ethnic enclaves, people helped one another at a local level, in often life-changing ways. The ‘We’ made the ‘I’ stronger, because it showed people what they could achieve by working together without relying wholly on the state. When there is only the state, people’s expectations are not and cannot be fully met. Rights are increasingly thought of as entitlements at the very time that the ‘We’, the feeling of collective responsibility, has grown weaker. The result is the secession of the successful: the rich who separate themselves off and do not recognise any special responsibility to the poor.”

Morality, Chapter 8, p. 126