What entails a democratic political setup in today’s world? Is it a socio-political paradigm wherein everyone has civil rights and fundamental freedoms, where everyone has an equal right to vote and self-determination? Most scholars would argue based on such pillars of democracy itself. However, if we remember the Iron Law of Oligarchy as espoused by Robert Michaels while conceptualizing the elitist theory, we’d see that his idea of how a modern-day democracy leads to a rule by a powerful minority at the top, as seems to be more relevant than ever.
The BJP’s majority in the Lok Sabha allows it to pass bills like the CAA, farm laws, etc without considering the consent of civil society.
Hence, instead of trying to find out what entails an ideal democracy in today’s ravishingly unscrupulous times, we can merely satisfy ourselves by considering a modern-day representative, liberal democracy, and further extend this idea to understand the link shared between the State and the Civil Society. This relationship between the Civil Society and the State is an integral component of Political Sociology at large.
There exist several definitions of State and Civil Society. However, in a rather lighter context we can understand these simply as follows:
The State is the representative center of power that has authority, in essence, legitimate power over the civil society to maintain law and order, provide welfare to its people, establish political discourses, and forge cordial diplomatic relations. The State is the subjective idea for the institution of the Government. According to Max Weber, the State is also the only institution with a monopoly over the use of coercive force.
Similarly, civil society can be defined as the associational encapsulation of the people residing in a well-defined society. In other words, civil society is a society of people wherein everyone has their human rights and human duties. It comprises institutions, unions, non-governmental entities, and other such non-state actors. A civil society, however, has a thin line of difference from general society by the civil society being able to act independently of the State mechanism, based on the individual will and real will of the people. This idea has been conceptualized by most of the Social Contract theorists such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jaques Rousseau.
Although there is little debate on the nature and extent of the powers of the State and the duties of the Civil Society, the relationship they share is quite significant in any comparative political discourse. The first idea is the control of the State on the diurnal functions of the civil society- whether the civil society can enter into transactions all by itself or does it require to construct evidence before the State. Realists argue that the civil society forms before the State, hence, the powers of the Civil Society when acting in unison establishes a democratic social order, which in theory is a precursor to liberal democracy.
For instance, while it is common human nature in a Hegelian paradigm to be self-righteous, Hegel also states that it is common human nature that there may arise conflicts when such a closely-knit coalesce acts at the individual level. In this context, unless there is a conflict of interests among the members of the civil society, the State has no role to foster a legal regime to curtail such values and beliefs. Moreover, the State must also ensure that the members of the civil society are treated equitably as per their needs and contributions. This is the standard idea of welfare.
However, in today’s times, we see most States ensure such welfare policies with a rather reductionist idea of the Six Principles of Realism as espoused by Hans J. Morgenthau. This leads to an overpowering State that is insecure in itself. And, it is this insecurity that forces States to take up measures that are beyond the will of the civil society, at large.
Above all, the nature of the Civil Society is participatory while the nature of the State depends on a variety of subjective factors such as the type of governance, economic status of the nation, ability to forge diplomatic and trade-based relations globally, capacity to prevent domestic disputes, etc.
On a simpler note, the main role of the State is to keep the independence of the civil society in check to prevent the conflict of interest among pressure groups and interest groups in the society, whereas the role of the civil society is to hold the State accountable for its actions. In an ideal democracy, this relationship would be quite close to a zero-sum game wherein all the socio-political and socio-economic trade-offs are balanced by maintaining a status quo. But, since we understand from above, that such an ideal democracy is largely hypothetical, in a real-world democracy, this relationship largely depends on the power bestowed upon the State by the Civil Society through ways more than one.
For instance, in India, the previous Lok Sabha elections in 2019 saw the Bharatiya Janata Party-led by Narendra Modi acquire an unparalleled majority of the lower house which meant that they could ensure the passage of any legislative act as per their will, even without considering the consent of the civil society in any respect.
The adoption of the CAA/NRC legislation, abrogation of Article 377 for Kashmir, UAPA, Trans Bill, Farm Bill, are all examples of the same. However, such an act is guaranteed to create dissent and debate. Which it does but to no fruition. The State consequently uses its power to quash any such discourse that arises behind the veil of sedition or treason.
There is censorship of the media houses and yellow journalism during primetime news broadcasts. This makes the theoretical zero-sum game fall face down on flat grounds- paving the way for an electoral autocracy at the State while the common will of the civil society is deprived of any political significance whatsoever.