Civil Society is populated by modular man. He is a creature that constantly changes himself by his own discretion, adding and subtracting modules to his
- mode of sustenance,
- relationships and affiliations,
- station in life and society, and thus ultimately his
Contrast this with a society, where a person's
- occupation is fixed and other-directed, where her
- relationships and affiliations are defined by kin and tradition, and where her
- beliefs are assigned to her heteronomously (i.e. under the domination of an outside authority), to be resorted to as an arsenal of non-optional signals serving to authenticate her subservient membership in a community.
Non-modularity obviates the possibility of choosing techniques simply in terms of clearly defined criteria of efficiency, and of nothing else. Instead it imposes the need to judge practices, if indeed they are to be subject to critical scrutiny at all, in terms of the multiple, imponderable, complex considerations of their participation in an indivisible, 'organic', cultural totality.
(Ibid. p. 99)
Modular man is capable of combining into effective associations and institutions, without these being total, many-stranded, underwritten by ritual and made stable through being linked to a whole inside set of relationships, all of these being tied in with each other and so immobilized.
He can combine into specific-purpose, ad hoc, limited association, without binding himself by some blood ritual. He can leave an association when he comes to disagree with its policy, without being open to an accusation of treason.
A market society operates not only with changing prices, but also with changing alignments and opinions: there is neither a just price nor a righteous categorization of men, everything can and should change, without in any way violating the moral order.
The moral order has not committed itself either to a set of prescribed roles and relations, or to a set of practices.
The same goes for knowledge: convictions can change, without any stigma of apostasy. [...]
It is this which makes Civil Society: the forging of links which are effective even though they are flexible, specific, instrumental.
It does indeed depend on a move from Status to Contract: it means that men honour contracts even when they are not linked to ritualized status and group membership. Society is still a structure, it is not atomized, helpless and supine, and yet the structure is readily adjustable and responds to rational criteria of improvement
Modularity of man is the main answer to the question: how can there be [powerful] countervailing institutions and associations which at the same time are not also stifling?
(Ibid. p. 102)
Consequences of Modularity
Modularity means that there is another, a historically new active force involved in defining what is socially valid: the individual and the associations that she forms.
Modularity means that there are more peaceful solutions to conflicts, not least because the individual is no longer carrying an entire culture on her back, which is insulted and needs violent retaliation any time a member of that culture feels harassed. Modularity means that there are private ways out of conflict, and be it by seeking environments and personal circumstances that minimise the likelihood of destructive combat.
Modularity means that the forces of creativity and intelligent adaptation increase in number to include the majority of people that used to be prevented from a life of initiative and personal striving. Modularity also means that the tools and options available to the creative individual multiply, and with them the hugely pregnant promise of personal freedom and life chances for millions who otherwise would have been excluded from a fuller life or would not even have been born in the premodular world of Malthusian constraints.
Liberalisms - see Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (1/4) - are closer in spirit to Umma than to liberty as she unfolds in a pluralistic open access society. Liberalisms assume a finite and final stock of knowledge concerning the nature and the proper implementation of liberty, subjecting the IS of society to their canonical OUGHT. Unbelievers in the canon of "liberty" are considered not only incompetent to define liberty, but are looked upon as adversaries that should not be given the power to become influential, an attitude that usually finds its expression in the denigration of politics in general and democracy in particular.
While liberty is at best a system of (in may ways competing) systems, an open-ended perpetually self-defining process, liberalisms share the idea that liberty is a system - see the Libertarian Triangle of Oblivion and Agonistic Liberalism - The Non-System of Liberty (1/2) and The Idea(s) of Freedom (3/3) - The Mirage of Autonomous Spheres of Freedom - a finite mechanism, impervious to the effects of indeterminate contingencies, that can be fully specified in a manual.
Having dominated most of human history, unmodular man does no longer fit into the world of freedom that the inhabitants of Civil Society enjoy. Of all people, nevertheless the proponents of liberalisms seem to seek and embody the obsolete unmodular man.
The main point of Durkheimian sociology, and perhaps of the organicist or communalist tradition in social thought generally, is that in most [historical] contexts man is markedly unmodular. He belongs to a given culture and has internalized its values and assumptions: he is like a piece of furniture which is vividly marked by a given style. It is impossible to blend him effectively with men of a different cultural mould. He cannot be bonded into a social organism easily or at will. (Ibid. p. 98)
Naturally, votaries of the liberalisms, the various dogmatic ideologies of "freedom," shun politics and denigrate democracy, avoiding the tough environment of open debate that is at the heart of a free society. While they are barricading themselves into their a prioris and necessary truths, I shall continue my quest for the peculiar structure of dissent in Civil Society, that most important load-bearing section in the structural design of liberty.