Civil Associations

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David Green, in his book Reinventing Civil Society:

"If Oakeshott is correct in identifying the absence of overwhelming concentrations of power as the essence of liberty, how can we account for the peculiar character of the state in Britain? According to Oakeshott, modern European states can best be understood as torn between two contradictory methods of association which are the legacy of the medieval age. The first mode of association he calls `civil association' and the second `enterprise' or `purposive association'.

An `enterprise association' is composed of persons related in the pursuit of a common interest or objective. In the pure form of such an association there are not several purposes, but one sovereign purpose. The task of leaders is to manage the pursuit of this goal and to direct individuals as appropriate. A nation might comprise many such enterprise associations, including business corporations, but here I am concerned with nation-states which take on this character. In a nation of civil associates people are related to one another, not because they share a concrete goal, or are engaged together in a substantive task, but in that they acknowledge the authority of the jurisdiction under which they live. Respect for the authority of the law does not imply that every person supports every law. The law is a changing phenomenon, and so what commands respect in a civil association is both the law as it stands and the law-reforming process. The laws specify the conditions to which every person subscribes as each pursues his or her self-chosen life style. This type of association is therefore a system of law and its jurisdiction. People are associated, not because they share the same substantive wants, but because they accept the same conditions in seeking to pursue their own goals as they believe best.5 Each is under an obligation to act justly towards others, and each person enjoys equal status under the jurisdiction. The character of the laws is central. In both an enterprise association and a civil association people are subject to rules of conduct, but in an enterprise association the rules are instrumental to the pursuit of the common aim. In the pure form of civil association, the laws are moral stipulations, not instrumental commands.

Under a system of civil association the sense of solidarity of the people as well as the legitimacy of the government derives from the shared sense that the social system gives everyone their chance to do the best they can in their self-chosen sphere of life and also from popular awareness that the continuance of liberty depends on everyone doing their bit. The sense of solidarity in an enterprise association, however, derives from the belief that each person is part of a single grand scheme, in practice either to modernise or develop the nation's resources or to mould human character in a new direction. Thus, in a nation organised as an enterprise association, individuals are instruments of the government; whereas in a civil association the government is an instrument of the people, charged with keeping in good order the institutions which allow people to pursue their self-chosen ideals. Historically, Oakeshott characterises the two types of association as outcomes of medieval thought and practice. The enterprise association approximates to `lordship' and the civil association to `rulership'. In medieval times kings were lords of their domain or estate, and therefore managers of their people. Kingship in the age of lordship was, therefore, estate management. The King was lord of the manor." (