How “civil” is “civil society”? There is no cohesive entity here, the interpretation of the term "civil society" which describes civil society as “individuals and organizations in a society which are independent of the government.” is perhaps the most desirable. The fact is, these groups of formal and informal elements that are civil society, are what make our society what it is. When the state’s influence gains control, or a "critical mass" of influence over civil society OR when the inverse is true OR when the interface is entwined, bad things happen.
As civil society is a collection of entities, each of which has interests, it is inherent that they become competitive for influence, often this competition becomes heated and then there is uncivil society. If this competition becomes excessively heated, fissures form in society and factions emerge then discord follows. Democracy offers some offsetting influence in that it has systematized disruption, discord quelling discord if you will; it has been ostensibly enough to have the two societal entities – government and civil society maintaining order in most western democracies for some time. Government detachment from civil society is important because, absent detachment, state power tends to be set to work against elements of civil society - this is a corrupting influence.
Influence pools – in the physical world big things attract little things and hold them in their orbit, so it is true of influence or power. Unique to influence however, when it pools or concentrates too much, it loses numbers - with fewer numbers influence diminishes and disruption occurs. When government and civil society co-exist over an extended period of time the distinction between them blurs and the state becomes an instrument of private interest, rather than an administrative agency that supports a vibrant and diversified society. The extent to which civil society is diverse, the extent to which it resides distanced from government and the extent to which government remains neutral in its administration, is the extent to which freedom will exist. When government has distance between itself and civil society it permits 1000 flowers to bloom; when it is the most advantageous and in whatever configuration is favourable.
There are a lot of things antagonistic to a vibrant civil society, in fact, many of the things we do to build a cohesive population under flag, are antagonistic to a vibrant civil society. There are trends in society that threaten a diverse civil society, like the evolution of mass media and the emergence of a strong common narrative in society, government itself as it attempts to define itself relative other nations, the reintegration organized religion with government, the monopolization of services by big institutions and the wide spread communization of our education system. The finer the gradation in civil society, the greater the diversity of life practices and a richer pool from which to draw for solution. Mass media has distilled the human complex down to a few stereotypes, massive monolithic institutions offer the same basket of solutions in “one size fits all”, the reemergence of religious factionalism is impairing government response to diversity (all religion is valid in government until it detracts from widely held societal consensus disproportionally to population and or impinges on a large minority) and a single education system is quickly limiting us to a single school of thought. There is a high degree of fragility in societies that are monolithic and resist the vibrancy that disruption brings. They say that society rots from within; the rot is really stagnation or the absence of disruption or most importantly the vibrancy of influence that is provided by managing and embracing disruption.
What difference can one person make against the masses, very little, this is the reality that causes the massing of interest groups in civil society – mass forms around the successful and the people exterior to sources of success and / or by competing successful entities. What determines success in society is that there is provision for the individual to inform themselves and choose as an autonomous agent what to support. The critical element common to us all is the right to autonomy. The government needs to hold paramount the support of the individual.
Disruption always comes, never has any source of dominance lasted forever, the longer the period absent disruption, the greater the magnitude of disruption. Paradoxically, by managing society in a way that seeks a perpetual state of disruption we are provided a circumstance of stability. The more fragmented and clearly defined civil society is, the more short cycle disruption we will experience, the more diversified our response to the living environment will be and from this a healthier the long term reality.