Social Threefolding – Channeling the Tensions Between Civil Society and State to Constructive Uses
Civil society-government relations are becoming critical as civil society continues to shape world affairs. This is also true in the Philippines where People Power II, led by civil society, recently toppled a corrupt presidency and paved the way for a new government. To mediate its relations with the new government and the market, civil society is advancing the concept of social threefolding. To appreciate this approach, we need to understand the modern understanding of civil society—an understanding that is also operative in the Philippines.
Civil Society as Third Global Force in a Tri-Polar World
civil society has issued two declarations of independence—one from the
State and the other from the Market. Civil society consciously sees
itself as a countervailing force against totalitarian tendencies in
State and Market, which can produce unacceptable environmental,
economic, political, cultural, social, human, and spiritual problems in
Civil Society is the third global force along with the State and Market. The WTO defeat of the combined powers of the State and Market by civil society in the “Battle of Seattle emphasizes this. We live in a tri-polar world, constituted by the forces of the Market, the State, and Civil Society. But what is Civil Society?
The Cultural Nature of Civil Society
societies have three realms that are autonomous, but organically related
with each other. These are the economic, political, and cultural realms.
The Market is situated in the economy. The State is active in the
political realm. The natural habitat of Civil
Society is in culture. Markets have economic power, States use
political power, and Civil Society mobilizes cultural power.
move to action on the basis of their beliefs and values. Culture
constructs and reproduces our deep-seated beliefs and convictions about
justice, transparency, rights, gender, equity, empowerment, freedom,
peace, democracy, environment and other elements of worldviews and
values. Culture shapes our identity, giving meaning, direction and
coherence to our actions and goals.
Civil society mobilizes cultural power against the State by either giving or withholding legitimacy. When it criticizes a government as corrupt, it deconstructs the cognitive and moral pretensions of a corrupt State. Civil society can also mobilize cultural power against the Market by influencing, among others, the demand for specific products through boycotts.
The Other Task of Civil Society
a cultural force, civil society also has the task of visioning a new
world and mobilizing its forces to realize this vision in action. To
criticize a social condition is one thing. To create a new social
situation is something else. Civil society needs to advocate for
concrete societal reform by institutionalizing its cultural advocacy in
the domain of economics and politics. To do this, Civil Society has to
interface with State and Market. The interface between these three
forces of society can therefore be viewed as a terrain of opportunity or
a terrain of co-optation.
I will focus only on civil society-government relations. But the dynamics will be similar in civil society-business relations.
necessary, civil society does not want to always be in a state of
permanent mobilization against the state. It seeks to institutionalize
its agenda and values in the political terrain. This can take the form
of legislation, executive issuances, and concrete programs. In the
Philippines, the opportunity to do this is unusually large.
For one, civil society basically installed the new government into power. As a result, the new government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has begun the process of institutionalizing participatory mechanisms sensitive to the needs of civil society. She has also appointed prominent leaders of civil society to be members of her Cabinet. In addition, she has strongly expressed her desire to incorporate civil society agenda into her platform for governance. Even Philippine legislative leaders have a high regard for civil society ideas and perspectives.