One of the strangest things about the current ‘Big Society’ debate is the absence of any historical perspective, as though ideas about civic participation were invented in 2010 rather than two thousand years before when Aristotle launched the first conversation about the rights and responsibilities of citizens, a conversation that has been embellished by an unbroken line of thinkers and activists ever since.

As a US-based Labour Party supporter who has studied this stuff for thirty years or more, I’m quite impressed with David Cameron’s attempts to extend this conversation into the world of national politics. But this lack of perspective deprives the Coalition’s efforts of crucial lessons from the past, principally the lesson that governments can do little to build civil society directly but much more to strengthen the conditions in which civil society can build itself. Unfortunately, politicians and policy-makers on both sides of the Atlantic have consistently reached the opposite conclusion….

You can read the rest of this essay, written for Open Democracy, here.

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