The Church of Ascension on London’s Blackheath has a small metal plaque set into its wall that reads “Fellowship is life and lack of fellowship is death, but in hell there is no brotherhood but every man for himself.” John Ball, the leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, spoke these words nearby in 1831. Ball would not have thought of himself as part of “civil society,” but citizens who join groups, form associations or volunteer to defend or advance the causes they believe in have, in effect. echoed his sentiments down through the centuries (Edwards 1). However, “citizenship is not a cure for spiritual malaise but spiritual malaise is a roadblock to citizenship because it impairs the capacity to create the community institutions on which a civil society and a democratic culture must rest” (Barber 275). It is through our participation in the institutions that make up civil society that we learn what it means to be a citizen (Barber 276).
Citizenship can be defined as belonging to a community, or can refer to the quality of our response to our membership in that community, or how actively we participate in it. (Merriam-Webster Online). Civil society can be defined as “the totality of voluntary civic and social organizations or institutions which form the basis of a functioning society as opposed to the force backed structures of a state” (Wikipedia). According to the London School of Economics Centre for Civil Society these organizations and institutions act “around shared interests, purposes and values,” and are separate from the family and the market as well. Examples include “charitable organizations, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trades unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups” (Wikipedia).