Discovering Civil Society in DC

Civil society is composed of the totality of voluntary social relationships, civic and social organizations, and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society, as distinct from the force-backed structures of a state (regardless of that state’s political system) and the commercial institutions of the market.

I did not come to the District in search of civil society. In point of fact, I came here for love. Even before I moved into DC proper, though, I was aware of the vibrant blogosphere. I didn’t read too much myself; mostly I was interested as an observer of a new phenomenon. I’ve written about online communities of interest for years, and the additional element of location made it all the more fascinating to me.

DC’s blogs exist in a conversation with the readers, with each other, with more traditional publications, and with the community at large. In the cracks between these high level, high attention conversations are enormous expanses filled with energetic social media activity. Twitter, in particular, plays an enormously central role in this community–so much so that one of the community’s critics famously referred to its members as “myopic little twits.”

This isn’t just a bunch of people chattering over the internet, either. The internet is a means to an end–sure, that end does involve a lot of conversation, as well as sharing links, pictures, videos, and so forth. But just as often the end involves gathering groups of people in person.

There are the friendly get-togethers and there are artistic and cultural events. There are happy hours and there are political debates.

I am young, and inexperienced with this sort of thing. But it seems to me that the community I stumbled into by accident is the very definition of civil society. It is people voluntarily spending their time trying to shape the cultural–and increasingly, the political–scene in the District. It is something much larger than any of the individuals participating in it.

These were thoughts that I had when I read this post by Dave Stroup a few weeks back. He wrote:

I’m sick of hearing that government is the “problem.” Government should be where we all come together to do the things none of us could do on our own. It’s where we come together to make the impossible possible.

To me, the only thing special about government is that it relies primarily on nonvoluntary means of organization. The fact that we live in a democracy often masks that fact, but other than the mechanism of voting itself, most of the things that make a healthy democracy great do not fall under the umbrella of government. Instead, they involve people working within civil society, attempting to influence not just politicians, but fellow citizens. “The argument for democracy presupposes that any minority opinion may become a majority one”* and every day various opinions that are a minority within this community or in DC at large outside of it are advanced and discussed.

Civil Society, in short, is really “where we all come together to do the things none of us could do on our own” in the sense that Dave was talking about. And civil society in the District is changing very rapidly along with many other changes it is in the midst of.

The District Libertarian was created for the precise purpose of increasing my participation in that civil society, and to encourage other libertarians in the community to participate as well.

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2 Comments

  1. I moved to DC from San Francisco last year as I’d had it with San Francisco after over a decade and also to be closer to the pulse of the issues I cover on my site, mostly the Federal Reserve.

    Long story short, I have yet to encounter this buzzing community you speak of but I have been incredibly impressed by the value the District places on education and awareness of both current and past events. In San Francisco, most of my friends’ eyes would glaze over any time I dared bring up politics or the Fed or anything that wasn’t related to more drinks. Here in DC, however, even if the people I come across aren’t completely aware of issues I bring up, they show a genuine interest and seem to have intriguing, varying view points on everything.

    It’s pretty amazing. How ironic, though, that DC would embody a civilized society when they behave like such ridiculous morons on the Hill day in and day out.

    • Well of course the Hill is filled with people who aren’t DC residents 🙂 So there’s your problem!

      The community I’m talking about can be found by following the DC blogs–like DCist, WeLoveDC, Borderstan, ReadySetDC; there’s a bunch of them. Some of the conversation takes place in the comments sections of those blogs, but a huge part of the conversation takes place on Twitter. Then of course people meet up for events and hanging out and the like.

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