Associationalism for A Hundred and Fifty Years - and still alive and kicking: Some reflections on the Danish civil society
Lars Bo Kaspersen, March 2002
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Associationalism is an old doctrine with roots in various strings of 19th and early 20th century European social and political theory. It has its origins in the works of, among others, Tocqueville, Proudhon, Durkheim, and Duguit in France, the English pluralists (Cole, Figgis, Laski, Barker, and Maitland), and von Gierke in Germany. In other words, it is a genuine European social theory.
Associationalism has been revitalised in recent years, mainly in a British context and most notably by Paul Hirst (1994; 1997a; 1997b) but also in some important contributions in the USA. (Cohen and Rogers 1995). This history of the theoretical development of associationalism is probably quite familiar to most scholars interested in this area of social and political theory. It is far less known that associationalism as a model of governance has been developed and implemented as a political practice in Denmark for more than a hundred years. This is the central concern in this article.The purpose of the article is twofold: First we shall demonstrate that associationalism is not an oldfashioned idea or pure utopia. As already indicated, associationalism is a model of governance, which has a long tradition in Danish society. It contributes to a strengthening of the democratic aspect in education, social and cultural life and other welfare areas. The second purpose concerns the state-civil society relationship. By examining some associational features of the Danish society we seek to point out that civil society did not emerge from nothing. Civil society is not an autonomous sphere clearly separated from the state, on the contrary, it is a sphere of social life dependent on the state. The state is the precondition of the development of civil society. Thus we reject the conception of civil society which can be found in much of the work on civil society (e.g. Cohen & Arato 1992; Habermas 1996).