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«WITHIN democratic theory a remarkable consensus is emerging around Tocqueville’s view that the virtues and viability of a democracy depend on the ...»

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And yet, paradoxically, individuals’ capacities to be responsible for the consequences of their choices are diminished by the complex and fluid contexts within which they are made. Add to this the fact that choices and risks are unequally distributed, and we can see how protean, postmodern personalities can coexist with closed, fundamentalist personalities, produced by slightly different locations and experiences within the same kind of society.12 Identity politics is, in part, the result of the kind of society that raises—indeed, forces—the question Who am I? and in the process induces individuals to discover and think about how their social locations interact with their race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, profession, regional attachment, and lifestyle. Insofar as this pluralism of identities is not merely a matter of interesting difference, it is the result of raised consciousness of differential distributions of risks—injustices, if you will. The political consequences are ambiguous. On the one hand, the increased reflexivity provoked by these circumstances provides the space for ethical growth in politics.13 Only reflexively conscious individuals can ask the political questions (as Max Weber put them) What should we do? and How should we live? In this sense, politics permeates individuation as never before, as feminists noted two decades ago with the slogan “the personal is political.” On the other hand, the persistence of choice can also make the temptations of fundamentalist identities more irresistible, which in turn can produce a politics within which little reciprocity or compromise is possible.14 Paradoxically, then, late-modern societies cultivate capacities for selfrule at the same time that they dislocate the institutions through which these capacities might be realized. As Claus Offe notes in commenting on the changing fortunes of parties, legislatures, and other familiar political actors, “What turns out to be surprisingly and essentially contested is the answer to the question ‘who is in charge?’ ”15 I am not going to argue here that associations in general provide new locuses of political agency— or that by extension they provide, in general, new locations and meanings for democracy. No such generalization could be meaningful in today’s

8 CHAPTER ONE

environment, given the extensive diversity of associational forms, and given the fact that their capacities are quite different from those of states and markets. Rather, the question of associational life provides a more modest take on democratic possibilities: it provides an opening to the domain of questions we need to ask if we are to grasp the potentials and dangers of the changing terrain of democracy.16 The question Who is in charge? will begin to make sense only if disaggregated. The topic of association is a key trajectory of disaggregation, one that will allow us to put reasonably precise questions about whether and how these new patterns of politicization might admit of democratic possibilities.

The relationship between democracy and association stands out from a normative perspective as well. Associational life is distinctive as a linkage between the normative and conflictual dimensions of politics—a linkage that has always defined the heart and soul of democracy. If we resist for the moment limiting what counts as an “association” (say, by speaking only of secondary associations, voluntary associations, and the like), we can see that questions about associational life return us to those defining features of politics that enable democracy. The concept of association evokes the possibilities of collective action, but in a way that retains social (as opposed to legal/bureaucratic or market) modes of mediation among people, through language, norms, shared purposes, and agreements. The concept of association thus connects the normative questions that define politics—What should we do? and How should we live?—to the social and linguistic media that enable these questions to be asked, discussed, and decided. In this sense, as John Dewey appreciated, democracy is closer to associational life in spirit and ethos than it is to any other means of organization.17 States, for example, can embody these definitive questions only encumbered by its systematic functions and their legal-administrative modes of organization—although they can use their resources to structure associative venues within which these questions might live. Markets displace such questions: there is no “we” in a market, and therefore no structural possibility of collective self-rule, but only an aggregate of individual preferences and firms responding to these preferences—although democracy can often live within such market-oriented organizations. Insofar as democracy evokes the ideal of collective self-rule; insofar as self-rule evokes decision making with the possibility of normative content; insofar as democracy evokes the collective consideration of future purposes, democracy regenerates itself through its associative medium, however necessary state and market modes of organization. Of course, there is nothing new about these ideas in themselves: liberal constitutionalism has always been based on the premise that states must structure associative venues for political judgment—parliaments, for example.

What is new, rather, is the possibility that democracy might, via its assoINTRODUCTION ciative media, expand within and beyond its current state-centered venues. The resurgence of the interest in associations across the ideological spectrum draws on this generic democratic idea.





Given the current state of democratic theory, however, it is virtually impossible to relate even these generic democratic hopes and expectations to the kinds of associational life we have or might have in the future. No doubt our suspicions should be aroused by the breadth of the current consensus about the democratic contributions of associations. Of course, an authentic consensus would be a remarkable achievement. But it is difcult to gauge the extent of consensus, owing to numerous conceptual and normative differences, not least about the meanings of “democracy,” but also about what constitutes an association and its virtues, what the domain of associational life entails, and—perhaps most importantly— what the nature of the society is within which these associative relations are conceived.

Thus Michael Sandel, Robert Bellah, and other civic republicans have emphasized the impact of associations on the civic virtues.18 Influenced by civic republicanism, Robert Putnam’s important Making Democracy Work argued that in Italy successful democratic governance and associational life are interdependent. Putnam’s work has spurred a wave of debates and focused an increasing amount of empirical work on the nature and effects of associational life in amassing “social capital”—the dispositions of reciprocity and trust that enable collective actions.19 Nancy Rosenblum’s Membership and Morals—the first careful theoretical account of associational life—details the multiple ways in which the diverse landscape of association contributes to pluralistic democracy through multiple effects upon character.20 The work on political culture within the American pluralist tradition represented most prominently by Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, The Civic Culture, has not only regained its stature, but has combined with a normative emphasis upon democratic participation in an impressive survey by Verba, Schlozman, and Brady, Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics.21 Liberals have rediscovered associational life as well. John Rawls’s hopes for the moral effects of association expressed in A Theory of Justice have gained rare mention until recently.22 In addition, there has been renewed attention within the field of constitutional law to the fact that the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of association—a fact that sits uneasily with the liberal view that freedom of association is an intrinsic value.23 In a different vein, critical theorists who favor radical democracy, such as Jurgen Habermas, Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, Claus Offe, Ulrich ¨ Preuss, and Ulrich Beck, have emphasized the ways in which liberal rights—traditionally understood as protections from the state—may also be understood as constituting a society within which associations can deCHAPTER ONE velop distinctive means of collective judgment and action. Associations can provide the social infrastructure of robust democracy by enabling direct self-governance, providing venues for participating in public conversations and opinions, and securing influence over states and markets.24 Finally, there is an emerging school of “associative democrats”—most prominently Paul Hirst, Joshua Cohen, and Joel Rogers—who see associations as means of unburdening the state and revitalizing smaller-scale, functionally delineated arenas of democratic decision making.25 In most cases, growing interest in associations tracks the rediscovery of the political weight of civil society—a sectoral rubric I shall explain but do not use here for reasons elaborated in chapter 3.

Moreover, the sheer complexity of the associational landscape provides ample opportunity for selective exemplifications of associative virtues.

The Nonprofit Almanac lists 576,133 tax-exempt organizations, excluding religious organizations, as of 1995. These associations are distributed over virtually every social need, identity, and function, and represent 645 identifiable kinds.26 Add to this count religious associations, groups that lack tax-exempt status owing to their political purposes, the numerous groups that simply lack a tax status because they lack income (neighborhood watch groups, sporting and other social groups), as well as various semilegal and criminal associations. Even more expansively, Robert Wuthnow reports that over 3 million small, informal support groups exist in the United States, covering virtually every conceivable social need.27 Broader conceptions of association provide an even more extensive picture: counting workplaces as modes of association, for example, would add many millions more.

If the sheer diversity of associational landscape should give us pause about the difficulties of theorizing, recent commentators have not let it pass unnoticed that there seem to be no obvious generalizable ways in which associations enhance democracy. Indeed, many kinds of associations do not seem good for democracy at all, as Amy Gutmann rightly emphasizes when she suggests that the contemporary enthusiasm for associations is even irresponsible given our relative lack of knowledge about the associational terrain.28 Wherever associations have capacities for collective action, they also possess the potential to convert their control over one resource into another, as firms may do when they control social investment, urban design, the lives of their employees, and even public policy through their power of exit.29 Jon Van Til calculates that 77.5 percent of nonprofit expenditures and 64 percent of nonprofit employment are within associations that act much like for-profit organizations in that they pursue economic interests within competitive markets.30 These include hospitals, private schools and universities, organizations providing social services under government contract, business and professional associaINTRODUCTION tions, unions, and fee-based arts groups. Business associations in particular can use their unparalleled capacities to accumulate money to undermine the powers of deliberation and voting, the two key means of democratic influence. Hate groups damage deliberation through their combined racism and secretiveness, even when they do not bypass politics through violence. Some kinds of associations transform pluralism into parochialism, as do fundamentalist religious sects when they breed intolerance that carries over into political life. Nancy Rosenblum notes that freedom of association and social mobility “are vast engines of social cliques. They generate groups that labor to preserve their social restrictiveness and pretended distinction, and to claim deference from others.



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