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The State and Civil Society in Modern Governance

Renate Mayntz

Modern governance refers to a new mode of governing in which not only state authorities, but also private organizations are involved in the formulation and implementation of public policy. In modern governance, the State and civil society cooperate. This form of governance has recently developed in Western European countries that used to have strong and interventionist States. It is also typical of the European Union and of “global governance”. Characteristic forms of State/society cooperation are neo-corporatist arrangements and sectoral policy networks. Cooperation between public and private actors can in principle take place on every political level where public authorities and private organizations exist, from the local over the sub-national and national to the regional. Aside from the direct collaboration of State and non-state actors, modern governance also includes certain forms of societal self-regulation, where private corporate actors fulfill regulatory functions that are ultimately in the public interest.

Modern governance can only emerge and function where a number of institutional and structural preconditions are met, both on the side of the polity and on the side of society. Political authorities must be powerful and competent, but neither arbitrary nor omnipotent. They must be faced by a civil society in which individuals enjoy equality as citizens, and private interests find organized expression. In many parts of the world these conditions are not met, and even in the most developed and most democratic parts of the world we find only an approximation to the ideal of modern governance. Being characterized by antagonistic cooperation, negotiation and bargaining, modern governance is constantly threatened by stalemate or settling for weak compromises that cannot solve the problems at hand. There is no simple recipe how to avoid these dangers.

Problems present themselves at different levels, from local to global, but the level at which a problem manifests itself is not necessarily the level at which it can be most effectively solved. Problem solving is most effective if there is congruence between the set of actors causing the problem, the actors suffering from its impact, and the actors trying to solve it. With growing internationalization, this congruence is increasingly absent. Many domestic problems are at least partly caused by international developments and can therefore only be solved by international action. For international agreements to be effective, however, national governance must be effective. This mutual dependence can develop into a vicious circle.

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