World Civil Society and the International Rule of Law

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In the Tanner Lectures delivered just before Soviet Marxism/Stalinism fell, the late Ernest Gellner said, "Civil Society ... is first of all that part of society which is not the state. It is a residue." What did he mean? If this residue is large, powerful, and organized, the idea "contains the assumption that civil society ... is in a position to ensure that the state does its job but no more, and that it does it properly." But what of other civilizations in an emerging global society? Do they, too, limit the activities of states? Do they give meaning to the idea of a "state?" Is not the better ideal a democratic society which itself defines the parameters of power of a contemporary state under international law? Democracy and the rule of law are concepts whose core lies in Western civilization. Yet might civil society as an idea extend beyond Western origins?

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