What is the transformative potential of civil society in the neoliberal era? This essay responds to John Keane’s “Hopes for Civil Society.” While civil society plays an integral role in democratic transition, its role in countries experiencing democratic backsliding or erosion is less clear. In the longstanding liberal democracies today, political party ties to civil society groups have weakened, parties are less differentiated on economic policy, and citizens increasingly turn to mass protest, rather than civic engagement, to express their grievances.

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