The Origin of Civil Society: Foundation and Development

Civil society is defined as the composition of the total voluntary civic and social organizations and institutions. This will form the basis of a functioning society to the forced-back structures of a state and commercial institutions. Examples of that constitutes the civil society are registered charities, non governmental organizations, different organization of women and many others (Center for Civil Society).

            Jean-Jacques Rousseau believes that civil society had the foundation that came from an arrangement of a contract concerning rights and duties.

This contractual arrangement is basically pertaining to equality among all the people. Natural right is replaced by civil rights while natural liberty is traded for legal rights. The contractual arrangement is made up of rule that will certainly grant assurance that the created laws of the public will do good to the people in the public.

It is not concentrated on the welfare of the people behind the private world. If ever the contractual arrangement is being violated by an institution (example the government) which seizes the independence of the people, then the people can no longer submit their selves to that government.

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Obligations to the government are no longer expected from the people and that is the time when they can get back their natural rights (Kemerling).

            The point of view of Rousseau regarding justice is that it can not be the same as the right that the strongest man do have or the power that some people have to put on advantage to the less powerful individuals. It is mainly concentrated on the thinking that justice is not the advantage of a powerful person to do all what he wants to do to a particular person.

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If that is the case, then the less powerful person does not have to submit himself to the authorities of the law instead, he will just follow the more powerful persons to satisfy the need of that person. Then the question behind the justice thing is not all about how the individual is able to comply with the civil laws but on whether the people of the individual together with the civil law is able to comply with each other. When this thing happens, then the moral obligation of the individual and the civil authorities are accomplished towards each other. Furthermore, corresponding compliment to the civil authority is only given by the individual if only the civil authority executes civil laws fairly and justly.

            Self protection is the main objective of an individual in the creation of an association. Contractual relationship established with each other is given by individuals in order to form an association. To be able to gain social cooperation, the individual members are expected to do different duties and obligations. The sole objective of this duties and obligations is to benefit all the members of the association.

Therefore, a government is able to be established following the rules of the association which was also created because of the contractual relationship of the association and the individual members. In the government, mutual commitment will basically come from the obligation or duties a citizen dose have to his country as well as the duties and obligations that should be given by the government to its citizens or constituents.

It is furthermore explained by Rousseau that general will differs from the will of n individual or of a person. But because of the so called social contract, the will of an individual needs to be associated or he is forced to submit himself with the general will.

The reason why the individual will should be connected with the general will is that the social contracts have rules that characterize the duties and the responsibilities of the individual to the people and to the society. Hence, the general will is not defines as the sum of all the individual wills because of t he reason that the general will is not defined as the total private interests of every individual. But the true meaning of the general will is concerned about the interest of the public as the overall objective.

General will as always manifest the independence and the dominion of a republic or a government. Independence, as viewed by Rousseau is unchangeable and inseparable. Therefore, if a government had surrendered or had lost its independence, then it is no longer called a republic. “Republic” is the term used by Rousseau to define a society that is gradually ruled by the public interest of the individual in the society. In other words, republic is a place where general will is maintained and exercised.

The common goal of the general will is to for the benefit of all the individuals in a republic. Sometimes, benefit of the public is not achieved by the general will because of the fact that there are groups of individuals whose aim is for private interest. However, this could be prevented with the action of a lawgiver. A lawgiver is someone who has no private interest toward the society or is only concerned with the public interests (Cranston, 72).

 Machiavelli presented an argument that history is made by great men. He also presented the challenge of political morality. By presenting these arguments, he had put a block between the ideas of idealism and realism which was entirely attached with each other in the Western culture. He had made a division in the dialectical divide between two justifications. These justifications are the justification of the state and justification of rights.

The scheme that Nicollo Machiavelli is trying to portray about civil society is that there is a limit outside the control of the ruler in a state which is directly given. The ruler of the society must be aware of the strength of independence in the society. But since the principle of the political morality is included in the thinking of Machiavelli about the civil society, the contents of the strength of independence is subserved. Indeed, Machiavelli believed that ethical and moral values are not included in the characteristics of a political society. In politics, those people who seek to govern or to take power by means of spiritual values are expected to fail. Instead of successful governance, they will bring misery and poverty to the people of the society.

Furthermore, Machiavelli had stated in his “The Prince” that the characteristics of all men at all times are unpredictable. Men are also ungrateful, simulators and dissimulators.  Most of the time, men is also a running away of danger and always very eager to succeed. This is the reason why there are individuals in a society that are always pleasing and soothing. In contrast of the soothing and pleasing individuals in a society, there are those who are also who’s human nature is really leading astray but can also be converted to be soothing and pleasing.

In Machiavelli’s “the Prince”, it is also stated there that all principalities listed in history is either ruled in two opposing ways. This is either by a prince to whom every individual in the society is submissive or a prince wherein he was able to become a prince not because of favors from the society but because of the ancient family or more commonly known as the ancestry.

            The Lao-Tzu’s thinking about civil society is often associated with the ideas of Taoism. Taoism is a good source for the mental freedom as well as the spiritual imagination. But Taoism is less important for the ideas of civil rights or what is commonly referred to as the institutional politics.

The Taoist principle is concentrated in the washing out of anger and many undesirable traits in order for an individual to have a spirit that is without a doubt free. Taoism on the other hand is not so much concentrated with the politics and society. Taoist are those whose only concern is about how to travel from earth to the spiritual world without any thing that could bother them about the burdens that politics and societies are offering.

            Lao Tzu’s idea of the monarchy is not directly acquainted with the ideas of liberal politics. The principles of governance in the entire history of China are not about how a person rules over others. Emperors who are not already fitted for the positions is then changed by another emperor, that is the same as true with the princes who are also changed by princes. The hereditary monarchy system of governance is very common to the ideas related to the thinking of Lao Tzu. The political history of the Taoist is centered by the hereditary monarchy of the country.

Rousseau thinking of the civil society is closer to that of Machiavelli in terms of how the society is governed by a ruler not unlike the Lao Tzu thinking which is not concentrated about politics and the society. Rousseau’s thinking only differs a little with Machiavelli since the thinking’s of Machiavelli about civil society is associated with the political morality which is not present in Rousseau’s thinking’s. Furthermore, their ideas are quite the same because of the independence associated with the ruler. Independence should be given and monitored by the ruler of the society in able to run a free republic.

Unlike in the thinking’s of Lao Tzu that it about the monarchy that is centered by hereditary monarchy, Rousseau’s and Machiavelli’s thinking about the civil society is all about freedom to choose the governing power. It is also stated in the thinking’s of Machiavelli and Rousseau that if a governing power is not able to satisfy the needs and is not able to give the independence of the individuals in the society, then it is not already the obligation of the individuals to submit themselves to obey the civil laws of the civil authorities.

The ideas of civil society in the thinking’s of the three famous scholars Niccollo Machiavelli, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Lao Tzu depicted the different faces of civil society in the world. The origin of civil society is indeed not only taken from one idea but from different aspects that could give justifications to the outcomes in the society. Moreover, the establishment of thousands of societal organizations is one of the main effects or one of the outcomes of the civil society thing. Whatever is the objective of the associations or organizations in the society, its main goal is for the benefit of all the concerned members of the society.

Works Cited:

Centre for Civil Society. “What is Civil Society”? London School of Economics. (2004). 31

July 2007.

Cranston, Maurice . “Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract” Harmondsworth: Penguin

Books. (1968). 31 July 2007.

Kemerling, Gart. “ The Enlightenment: Continental”. (2001). 31 July 2007.

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The Origin of Civil Society: Foundation and Development. (2017, Mar 28). Retrieved from

The Origin of Civil Society: Foundation and Development

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