For most Japanese, if they were to hear the word, “civil society,” they would probably imagine a sort of community activity. Something that is fine, but not anything that they would have a sense of ownership, or even take part with the exception of perhaps omatsuri festivities.
However, the concept of civil society is one of the most important ingredients for sustainability of our world in the 21st century.
The word, “civil,” means pertaining to civilians, or private citizens. Often in English, government bureaucrats are referred to as “civil servants” because they exist to serve the welfare of the private citizens, like security and safety.
In addition, the word “civil” also conjures an image of politeness, kindness, gentleness, and sympathy.
Desire and aspiration are human traits, and not necessarily evil. However, without “civility,” this basic human trait transforms into greed.
Greed was the common denominator in our free market capitalism lately, and thus, the root cause of the very unfortunate debacle for the economy and the markets during the past year.
On the other hand, “civil society” is a word very familiar with those people working in the non-profit sector of the society. Narrowly defined, NPOs and NGOs are often referred to as “civil society” because they are non-governmental entities servicing the needs and welfare of the society.
My definition is a bit more comprehensive. I believe “civil society” is an expression of common values that a society is formed by the collective actions of good private citizens.
This concept comes naturally for Americans. This is because their common values are based on the experience, and thus, the belief that their forefathers built the nation with their own hands. So it is common sense to the Americans that the society is indeed formed by the actions of individuals.