What is Civic Society?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

A civic society, also known as a “civil society”, is a collection of organizations and institutions with a civic or social bent that works together in a way that the government cannot or will not. These groups work together on a voluntary basis in order to effect civic and social change and to improve the lives of the people. Generally, but not always, the members of a civic society are non-profit organizations and are not linked with the established government.

The Red Cross is an example of a civic society.
The Red Cross is an example of a civic society.

Civic societies include community-based organizations, community foundations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private voluntary organizations (PVOs), civic clubs, programs that develop community leadership, some kinds of unions, social clubs, academic institutions, charities, environmental groups, and cooperatives. Oftentimes, these organizations will work together to host civic events, plan programs for civic change and development, and cooperate to help one another achieve civic goals.

Democracy is often linked to these societies. Their connection resides in their philosophy, as has been written about by Alexis-Charles-Henri Maurice Clérel de Tocqueville, Sidney Verba, and Gabriel Almond.

Today, the term “civic society” is often heard in debates about globalization. Many activists believe that globalization will do damage to the social life of communities and that this will result in various kinds of political and social breakdowns. Others believe that globalization offers opportunities for a new kinds of global societies.

While the future of the civic society is unknown, it is known that many such societies have weathered many kinds of political and economic change. The Red Cross, for example, was developed in October 1863 under the title " The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement." This organization, which was launched in Geneva, Switzerland, set out to offer nonpartisan care to sick and wounded individuals in times of war. The Red Cross continues to work as a civic society and has assisted individuals who have been involved in some of the worst catastrophes and bloodiest wars in history.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments


The world's best civic societies in in strategies must guide the other developing civil societies in poor countries.


Has African Independent civil society always been weak?

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