Max Weber's Politics of Civil Society. By Sung Ho Kim. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. 224p. $60.00.
The idea that a healthy and vibrant civil society provides an essential basis for democratic polities has become a mainstay of contemporary political theory. The so-called civil society argument has been put forward as transcending a rather blunt dichotomy between liberal individualism and Marxian collectivism. Current interest in this area engages the intersection between what Ernest Gellner referred to as the “modal” self of the modern age, and the neo-Tocquevillian concern with the institutional and character-forming elements of associational life. Fitting Max Weber—typically viewed as either founding father of sociology, nationalist apologist, or aristocratic liberal—within these positions is an engaging project that requires a keener awareness of the overall subtlety of his thinking than normally presented, as Sung Ho Kim recognizes (p. 17). Reconciling Weber's concern for the ethical presuppositions of action with his understanding of the difficulties of maintaining a sense of individuality in an increasingly rationalized and bureaucratic world suggests a very particular vision of civil society. It is a sphere that ties together a concern with “statecraft,” on the one hand, and “soulcraft,” on the other, both in terms of the particular concerns of legitimate political rule, but also in terms of the requirements of personality more generally.
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