The difference between Civil and Civic
Keynote speech to DTA Conference 2008, by Laurence Demarco
I would like to begin by making a distinction between what is meant by civic society and civil society. The first – civic society – I take to mean – the ‘local state’ – where citizens participate in local health boards – schools – community councils – planning partnerships and all the other mechanisms ultimately under the direction of the state. All this is good stuff. Civil society – I take to mean voluntary action – undertaken by citizens not under the direction of any authority wielding the power of the state. This is the definition of voluntary action given by Lord Beveridge in his famous 1948 report of that name. Beveridge said that ”the vigor and abundance of voluntary action – undertaken by citizens not under the direction of any authority wielding the power of the state – is one of the distinguishing marks of a free society!!
I have offered this distinction between the civic realm of the state – and the civil realm of the citizen because I believe that government has the inbuilt tendency to poach our space – that there is a powerful lobby within the statutory sector which believes that anything organized in our communities outwith their control is potentially dodgy. It is important for us here today to consider whether a development trust operates in the civic realm of the state – or the independent realm of the citizen. Are we active partners in public sector programmes or are we independent ‘civil society’ actors.
As our movement gathers momentum in the acquisition of land and assets – we can anticipate that this issue of independence will come under increasing scrutiny.
I’ve been a community worker since the late 1960s – over 40 years. For much of that time – real community development work has been discouraged in Scotland. Particularly in our cities – the style of government had been municipal – that is to say – state delivered services – with citizens expected to be passive – grateful – complaint. Sometimes – in some places like Edinburgh – there have been deliberate moves to discourage – every obstruct voluntary action. It’s also my opinion that the Community Development profession which I joined, turned its back on community and went to work for the state – but that’s another story.
See full speech here