The Civil Society Effect Revisited
Jeremy F. Walton (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity)
Contradictions: A Journal for Critical Thought III, no. 2 (2019): 131–137
Keywords: Civil society, Islam, liberalism, philanthropy, new authoritarianism
In this essay, I reconsider the politics of contemporary philanthropy by navigating between two dominant ideological perspectives on civil society: depoliticization and demonization. I do so with reference to the recent tribulations of three famous magnate-philanthropists, Osman Kavala, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and George Soros. By revisiting my concept of the “civil society effect” – the romanticizing of civil society as a domain free from instrumental political motivations – I aim to shed light on the broader political terrain of contemporary capitalism, in which private capital is too easily understood as a neutral medium for political transformations. At the same time, I focus on the histories and genealogies that the depoliticization of civil society silences, especially the imperial legacies that opponents of liberal philosophy – new authoritarians such as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán – frequently invoke with pugnacity.
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