Civil society can act directly to solve critical problems, but its indirect effect might be just as important: allowing individuals to participate, collaborate, and in the process develop into citizens capable of upholding democracy.
In using sociologist and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville as a touchstone for this essay series on American civil society, it is tempting to emphasize the affirmations and gloss over the challenges he presents to us. But we need to reckon with the full sweep of his thinking about civil society, especially with what he saw as its essential, albeit indirect, role in fostering democratic citizenship.
Most of us will recall how Americans’ unique aptitude for forming what Tocqueville termed public or civil associations the precursors of today’s non-profit and voluntary organizations left a deep impression on the Frenchman when he visited the United States in the 1830s. As he noted in Democracy in America:
Americans of all ages, conditions and all dispositions constantly unite together. … To hold fetes, found seminaries, build inns, construct churches, distribute books, dispatch missionaries to the antipodes. They establish hospitals, prisons, schools by the same method. Finally, if they wish to highlight a truth or develop an opinion by the encouragement of a great example, they form an association.
This well-known observation, however, is just the starting point for Tocqueville’s assessment.
Tocqueville went on to describe two roles he saw associations playing in the United States. The first was to provide a means for solving collective problems: “Among democratic nations all citizens are independent and weak; they can achieve almost nothing by themselves and none of them could force his fellows to help him. Therefore, they sink into a state of impotence, if they do not learn to help each other voluntarily.” But by joining forces in an association, individuals could solve the collective action problem. This first role is akin to the conception of non-profits that prevails today, one that emphasizes the importance of their direct contributions or impact.
The second role that Tocqueville saw associations playing is less familiar to us; indeed, there is a sense in which we have lost sight of it. This role was indirect: drawing individuals out of their private concerns, where they would otherwise stay focused and striving, and enabling them to be part of something larger than the circumstances of their own existence. In doing this, they invariably had to rub elbows and learn to work with others with different interests and points of view. And in this way, those participating in associations became better collaborators, leaders, and citizens. “The only way opinions and ideas can be renewed, hearts enlarged, and human minds developed,” Tocqueville observed, “is through the reciprocal influence of men upon each other.”
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What senior citizens can do to keep their money safe from cyber criminals
As South Africa continues to observe Cyber Security Month, it is opportune for every citizen to refresh their knowledge on ways to protect both their information and money against cyber criminals. Whilst cyber security awareness is vital for all in society, it is important to acknowledge that senior citizens are often the most vulnerable to fraudulent attempts.
According to Giuseppe Virgillito, FNB Head of Digital Banking, whilst the growing use of technology has been a game-changer in terms of efficiencies that save money and time, the new era requires people to stay up to date and to always be cautious about sharing personal and banking information.
“Managing one’s money is a collective effort between the customer and a bank, however criminals are aware that banks continue to make substantial investment in security systems, therefore they predominantly target customers when attempting to defraud. Often, the victims are senior customers who either welcome unsolicited help or those who are unfortunately unaware of modus operandi. To prevent this, we at FNB have been investing a significant amount of resources to inform, educate and support seniors and all other customers to safely use digital platforms,” he says.
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