Forty years ago, mere mention of the phrase civil society generally caused puzzlement mixed with misunderstanding and confusion.1 The two small words functioned as conversation stoppers. They seemed otherworldly, ghostly, and sterile; they sounded like nonwords. There were exceptions. Talk of civil society had antiquarian value to political thinkers and historians aware that it once meant a well-governed polity structured by laws, as it did for philosophers from Aristotle (koinōnía politikē) to early modern European political writers such as Hobbes and Locke, or that it referred to a space of social associations enjoyed by propertied citizens living within a constitutional monarchy or a republic, which was the later modern meaning figures such as Adam Ferguson, Hegel, and Tocqueville helped to popularize during the revolutionary upheavals of the 1750–1850 period (Keane 1988a, 1988b). Another exception was the way Japanese, Latin American, and other scholars and activists argued...

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