3. Civil society
3.1. The generic character of any association
This chapter discusses a variety of free associations, assuming that these constitute what is called a
‘civil society’, in which citizens organize themselves in order to take responsibility for a well-functioning society, to pursue their own interests, to transfer their experience, and to share their values. For the understanding of this civil society,
the distinction between organized and unorganized social connections turns out to be highly relevant (section 2.1).
An organized social
group with leadership, in this treatise to be called an association, has a governing person or board with authority over the group. Herman Dooyeweerd calls this an organized community. An association is also known as a corporation, a company,
or an institute. Such an association is the state, the guardian of the public domain. If a state does not tolerate other associations besides itself, one speaks of state absolutism. The recognition of free associations independent of the state is called pluralism. Free associations have flowered especially since the twentieth
century, but some kinds are much older. Because they also act as subjects in the public domain, this domain becomes ever more important (chapter 2).
Associations are subjects in all relation frames
Like individual persons, but in contrast to unorganized communities, associations act as subjects in all relation frames. An association has its own continuous identity, independent of the identity of
its members. It maintains its identity at the leave of members from the association and the resignation of members of the board. It has its own character, it is actively subjected to normative principles and it is involved with their realization into norms.
Like any individual an association has a name and address. A flag, logo, or ideogram, and a mission statement symbolise the association’s identity. It is important if its members can identify themselves
with the association, socializing them. In a household any member should feel at home. As a metaphor this is also stated about other associations. Immigrants are supposed to do their utmost to struck root in their new country. This is no less true for new
members of any other association.
It may be questioned whether associations are subjects in the natural relation frames as well as in the normative
frames. However, there are large and small associations (which
can be counted), referring to the quantitative aspect; they often act on a restricted region, where they need to have an address (spatial), and from which they move occasionally (kinetic); they interact in various ways (physical); they grow (biotic) and behave
well or badly (psychic). It is true that associations having no bodies cannot be measured or weighed, because as subjects associations are characteristically different from material bodies, acting in their own characteristic way. Therefore I shall
assume that associations, like individual persons, act as subjects in all relation frames.
The increasing relevance of professionals
Usually, the authority
in an association is restricted to members of the association (and to the objects possessed by the association) and within the association by the freedom and responsibility of the members of the association, especially if these are professionals. The growing
number of professional specialists is a condition for the diversification of social groups. Quite often, associations are formed by professionals sharing a common goal. In a differentiated civil society, both associations and professionals qualified by one
of the normative relation frames play a decisive part, as will be argued in due course.
Characters and character types of associations
Chapter 3 investigates
the supposition that character types of associations, conceived of as sets of normative principles (and sometimes natural laws), are recognizable constant factors in human culture and civilization. In contrast, the norms determining the characters
of concrete associations are formed in history, and are therefore culturally different.
Each association appears to have a dual
character. The specific character distinguishes diverse types of associations from each other, each specific type being primarily characterized (qualified) by one of the relation frames. The generic character is the same for all associations.
Before investigating the specific character type of a number of associations, first the generic profile shared by all associations will be discussed.
Establishing an association as an organized whole, it accounts for the many organizational similarities of otherwise widely different corporations.
The governor or governing board has a restricted and temporal competence to act with authority within and on behalf of the association. Their authorization rests on the recognition by the members, on discipline.
The members of the board cannot long continue to act within the association if they fail to earn the respect of its members, for instance by neglecting to consult them. Moreover the members of an association ought to have respect for each other, expressed
by mutual solidarity and a sense of communality, by connectedness. Otherwise the association would explode sooner or later. These are normative principles, which not every association satisfies. Sometimes an association only exists by the grace of
the exertion or threat of violence. This may occur in a state, a criminal gang, or a terror group, and also in a marriage or a household.
the generic character of an association is primarily qualified by the political relation frame (because it has leadership) and secondarily founded in the frame of companionship (because it has members). For most associations the specific character is qualified
by a different relation frame than the political one, for instance the character of the church by the frame of faith and the character of an enterprise by the economic frame. Only the character of the republic as the guardian of the public domain appears to
be qualified both specifically and generically by the political relation frame.
The limited authority within an association is restricted by its
generic and specific character, by the values and norms valid for the group. In the first place the authority is restricted to the association itself: in a free society, no association ought to rule over another one.
In a modern, plural society, the state does not rule over the church or the church over the state. Enterprises should be able to display themselves freely. Freedom of associating and assembling should be acknowledged. Second, in each association the authority
ought to be limited by agreements and rules, by division of authority and members’ participation. Third, the bearers of authority ought to account for their acts. Fourth, it should be clear how bearers of authority are nominated, how long their term
of office is, and how they transfer their office to someone else. In the course of history, these general rules have been developed in various ways, conform the association’s specific character and history.
Primary, secondary, and tertiary characteristics of any association
It is quite common to interpret the authority in an association in a juridical sense. Yet it seems better to consider the authority as a political form,
not characterized by justice but by policy, by competent decision making, directed to the realization of accepted goals, and on the prevention and solution of conflicts, the maintenance of peace within the association, with other associations, and with individuals
the association connects with. The leadership in an association as policy determining, decision making, executing, and maintaining organ is generically characterized by the political frame, next by the relation frames characterizing the association’s
specific character. The maintaining task of the authority means that it takes care that the members accept and execute the decisions taken. A leadership neglecting this task soon loses its authority.
Discipline means accepting of guidance and respecting those who are in command. It aims at the integration of the members into an adequately functioning social group. In some associations discipline is more obvious
than in others, compare for instance a jail or a barracks with a hospital, a school, or an enterprise. However, leadership and discipline are both conditions for the existence of any organized association. Where leadership or discipline are lacking, the organized
group gets lost. Therefore I propose to characterize the generic character of each association primarily by the political relation frame and secondarily by the frame of companionship, primarily by policy and secondarily by social integration.
Democracy, accountability, or participation, roughly conceived as the leadership’s obligation to consult the association’s members and to
account for its deeds, is not merely a norm for the state, but for every free association as well. It can have many forms, like direct democracy (in which all members of the association partake, for instance in a small enterprise, or in a referendum). More
common is representative democracy based on elections or representation. In the first case the elected is usually not directly accountable to the voters.
The members of an association experience mutual solidarity, a sense of community.
This is expressed in mutual forms of social conduct, more specified by the characterizing relation frame of the association’s specific character. Solidarity in a labour group differs from the love between siblings in a nuclear family. In a church solidarity
comes to the fore in a different way than in a football club. In a state solidarity is expressed in civic responsibility and patriotism. Many associations endeavour to promote solidarity, by means of facilities like a canteen, by organising events like communal
festive or memorial days, or by publishing a magazine.
As a tertiary characteristic, an association may be interlaced with other associations.
Many large associations are interlaced with an economically characterized organization,having a bureaucratic character of its own (section 3.8).
The characters of associations are subject to historical development, in two ways. First, characters are sets of laws, to be realized at the subject-and-object side of reality in the course of time. Normative characters
share this property with natural characters. Second, at the law side these characters consist of natural laws and normative principles, but also of norms, which may differ widely in various cultures and at different times. In order to delimit the
latter diversity, philosophy is often forced to restrict its investigation to character types, which do not contain variable norms, but only presumed invariable values, besides natural laws.
The assumption of invariable character types does neither imply that states, churches, enterprises and hospitals (or of artefacts like art products and languages) have always existed, nor that they would not
widely differ from each other, and change forever. In fact, the hypothesis of invariable character types allows us to compare these characters as they developed in the course of history.
The purpose of this chapter is to investigate some invariant character types for associations forming the civil society. Only these types are apt to be described in a general philosophical framework. The characters
themselves develop in history dependent on culture and civilization. In this sense these are products of human activity. This means that within each given characterization an enormous variation of characters of associations is to be expected. Only if associations
satisfy a common invariant profile, a character type, it will be possible to recognize them, to compare them and to write their history. It will become clear that the civil society has a long history and is by no means a recent phenomenon. It is still developing.
Like in chapter 2, we follow the order of the normative relation frames as reviewed in section 1.3. In any relation frame an asymmetric subject-subject
relation expressing a kind of transfer of experience will be recognized as an engine of historical development of civil society.
3.2. Cooperated labour
The idea of a civil society implies that people organize themselves into associations in order to accept responsibility
for their social life and to pursue their common interests. To start with, people take their responsibility by cooperating in their labour. Therefore this investigation starts with labour associations (not to be confused with trade unions), characterized by
collectively performed labour, like in a farm, a factory or an office, and first of all in a household. (Besides associations which are specifically qualified by skilled labour, associations being specified otherwise often employ more or less skilled people
in their service. Sometimes these are organized in an association of their own, in order to support each other and their common interests.)
on the nature of the work, a labour association can be secondarily characterized by one or more natural relation frames. Besides quantitatively typified groups of collectors, hunters, or fishermen, one of the oldest labour associations seems to be the household,
consisting of all living together in a home. A household is by definition coupled to a house or some other building, meaning that it is secondarily spatially characterized. Schools have a caretaker. Large offices, factories, and hospitals have a domestic service
department. The nucleus of a common household is a nuclear family, which character is, however, not determined by the technical frame, but primarily by the relation frame of loving care, and secondarily by natural biotic kinship. A household is a real labour
association in which all members should have their own task, in which they cooperate, and which is a centre for the transfer of technical skills from one generation to the next. The traditional view that unpaid domestic work is not labour testifies to an overestimation
of the economic relation frame and of working in a large organization in which one can make a career. Moreover, it is contradicted by the possibility to let others do domestic work, e.g. a charwoman, servant, housekeeper, or butler (whether or not resident)
taking part in the household without being a member of the family. In their household, children learn to work, to deal with instruments. They become familiar with the environment, having nowadays largely an artificial character. In their household the parents
share the authority, but with respect to the domestic work, traditionally the housewife plays an executive role. Children learn discipline, to accept (and sometimes to exert) leadership. If the head of the household is the same as that of the family, the corresponding
characters are interlaced in a natural way. The character of the household of a monastery or a student dormitory is not interlaced with that of a family.
Long ago, the extended family and the tribe formed the basis of all working groups, in hunting, cattle-breeding, agriculture, commerce, and early industry. Society was considered to consist of the set of households. Even in the nineteenth century, Abraham
Kuyper proposed to restrict the suffrage for the election of the parliament to heads of households. In a little differentiated society, a labour association often coincided with a household, like in family enterprises. The differences between Western societies
and those of Africa or Asia still rest on the amount of interlacement of family and work.
Originally a farm was a labour association having the character of a household, interlaced with a nuclear family. In that case the character of a farm
is primarily characterized by technical relations, and secondarily by biotic ones, providing the basic needs of life for the household. In a more differentiated society an agricultural enterprise produces for the market and is characterized by the economic
relation frame. As a labour association an agricultural enterprise is biotically typified and a cattle farm psychically. As an enterprise it is economically characterized, interlaced with one or more labour associations.
From handicrafts to enterprises
Other working groups, too, had in the past the character of a household. This applies in particular to the handicrafts, which already implied a differentiation of labour. Usually
children got a place in the labour association. Labourers from outside became members of the household and were treated as members of the family. For a long time, the household served as a model for any labour association, from a monastery to a royal court.
In a differentiated society, labour associations depart from households by developing into associations between an employer and one or more employees,
in principle having no other relation but that of the labour association. In particular this is not necessarily based on a family or tribe. This process has clearly an economic character, being motivated by the differentiation of labour. These associations
are often interlaced with other labour associations or with associations characterized by a succeeding relation frame. Such interlacements are recognizable by looking at relations of authority. The more technical acts are interlaced with each other or with
other activities, the more labour needs organization and leadership. Historically, this is accompanied by a shift from individual handicraft to organized and industrial production. Handicraft is directed to an individual product. Even if the makers use previously
shaped materials and tools, they command the process from the beginning to the end. They have a direct relation with the user, customer, or buyer. Technology not based on handicraft is organized production with division of labour and mass production, often
accompanied by scientific research. One can distinguish between the technical nature of labour, secondarily characterized by one of the natural relation frames, and its technical or non-technical purpose. For instance, dependent on the kind of exerted
acts and the produced artefacts, a labour association may have an economic purpose (a factory); an aesthetic one (an orchestra); a semiotic, information aim (a daily paper); or an internal technical one (as part of a larger labour association). An enterprise
that primarily produces for the market (not directly for a client), is economically characterized. With the character of an enterprise the characters of one or more labour associations are interlaced. These are still characterized by labour, but have an economic
as part of the production process
After the tie with the household got lost, employers treated their employees on large estates and in
factories often as parts of the production process, as was earlier the case with slaves. Workers did not earn more than the costs of their living sustenance. Well into the twentieth century these were considered as costs of labour, the costs to maintain the
labour force. Women and children of labourers had to work too. Labourers could be replaced by animals or machines if these were cheaper. The scientific formulation of all this was given by Frederic Winslow Taylor (1911) with the introduction of the assembly
line, in which the workers functioned as parts of a large machine.
Because of the professionalization of labour, gradually the insight broke through that labourers are co-workers, deserving to earn more than what is necessary for the sustenance of their lives, or rather their productivity.
Simultaneously one started to understand that labour which can be performed by animals or machines is not really fit for human life. In the twentieth century such kind of labour
became more and more automated. Since the Middle Ages, labourers opposed replacement of people by animals or machines, for fear of losing their jobs and their income. At short notice, this happened often enough, but on the average, the introduction of machines
increased the production. Not only the profits of the entrepreneurs had advanced, but in the long run the general prosperity as well, leading to new employment at a higher human level. This higher level means that labourers in their work realise an important
amount of freedom and responsibility. It requires a labour organization different from the assembly line.
Both the increasing relevance of associations
and the specialization of human labour implied a growing professionalization of the labour force, based on specialist schooling. Transfer of technical skills, like making and using technical artefacts, finds a natural place in each labour association, but
for this purpose ever more specialized schools are serving. As an association, a school or university is a labour group of teachers and other employees, directed by a master or governing board. In class, teachers have authority over their pupils. To the disciplinary
relations between the board and the teachers other norms apply than to those between teachers and their pupils. The character of a school, its constitutive law, is its curriculum, an organized plan for teaching and learning. Having a curriculum distinguishes
a school from all other kinds of associations, and different curriculums define different types of schools. The curriculum does not always indicate what is actually taught in the school, which, in fact, often deviates from the curriculum. Rather, the curriculum
stipulates what ought to be taught and learned, leaving a more or less large margin of freedom and responsibility for all parties involved. It is a set of values and norms. Teachers should be familiar with the curriculum and command its contents.
They should be trained in exerting the curriculum, with respect to both its contents and the required pedagogic and didactic skills. This leads to the formulation of quality norms for public education, according to rules set by the government, whenever the
school is in need of public recognition and funding.
3.3. Playing together
Artists are historically important aesthetic subjects for the transfer of aesthetic experience in a civil society. In the twentieth century they experience competition of sport and entertainment.
Historically seen, the professionalization and specialization of artists is a relatively recent phenomenon of economic differentiation, displaying several mutually connected aspects. First, the distinction between a craftsman and an artist corresponds to the
mutual irreducibility of the technical and the aesthetic relation frame. Next one recognizes the difference between, for instance, a painter and a musician, corresponding to various aesthetic character types. Third, the emancipation from moral and other restrictions
illustrate the irreducibility of the aesthetic relation frame to the succeeding frames. Finally, there is the emancipation of the public. All this reflects the gradual development of aesthetic relations in Western culture as part of the increasing differentiation
of modern society.
The Middle Ages made no distinction between a craftsman and an artist, between a stone-mason and a sculptor. Many-sided artists were involved in the decoration of a city, a church,
or a monastery. Michelangelo Buonarotti was a sculptor as well as a painter and an architect. The distinction between an artist and a craftsman emerged in the sixteenth century, when artists took distance from the guilds, uniting in academies, in which artistic
norms prevailed. Whereas the guilds were often organized as productive institutes in cities, the academies were usually connected (if not subjected) to princes, usurping power during the Renaissance.
These academies distinguished between craft and art, they provided the artists with their identity, but not their freedom. Artists were bound to the academies as much as their medieval predecessors to the guilds. Both depended on whoever commissioned them
or favoured them. Free artists manifested themselves only later, after the emergence of the trade of art, when also the artists started to become specialists.
Until the eighteenth century, to enjoy art was a privilege of an elite. The Victorian nineteenth century considered entertainment as inferior, something to be avoided or at most tolerated, to be surrounded by many kinds of moral admonitions.
This is no less true for socialists and liberals than for Christians ‘avoiding the world’.
By creating a contrast between seriousness and diversion the nineteenth century rejected amusement as vulgar.
However, also in that century
emancipation movements occurred, having the democratization of art and entertainment as their goal. As a form of organization they often adopted a free association. Many clubs and societies started to deal with the active exertion of art or sport. Besides,
schooling in art and sport became a fixed part of the curriculum of many types of schools. Since the twentieth century, mass communication became an enormous incentive, just like the possibility to multiply inexpensive texts (pocket books), pictures, and music.
This did not always concern the promotion of the aesthetic experience. Especially in the nineteenth century, it was often coupled to utilitarian, moralist,
or nationalist considerations. Drawing was propagated because of its significance for the handicrafts and the industry. Musical education had to serve the national cause, or the Christian cults. Conservative Protestants, Roman-Catholics, socialists and Muslims
have long but in vain tried to blockade the emancipation of art and entertainment. Especially the night life and the mixing of the sexes in sport and dance met with distrust. Together with the emancipation of various parts of the population these objections
disappeared entirely or mostly. Sport, entertainment, and art are now less the privilege of an elite. It is striking that during the second half of the twentieth century the youth culture has emancipated, in particular in the age group of twelve to twenty.
Before, adults determined what was good for the youth, often without inquiring after their opinion. Since about 1960 young people decide for themselves which music they prefer and play. Usually this is not classical music, folk songs, or fanfare, but rock,
beat, and other pop music.
As a consequence of the youth’s emancipation the ideological load of the artistic and sportive education is disappearing. In the nineteenth and twentieth century this
was determined by alternating views on art and entertainment, successively aiming at the religious, moral, national, political, or social elevation of the youth and the common people.
With the emancipation the insight breaks through that art and play are activities with their own intrinsic value, not requiring justification or control from outside. This underlines the irreducibility of the aesthetic relation frame, of the aesthetic experience
as a condition for human existence.
Associations which specific character is primarily aesthetically characterized are found both in team sports
and in the performing arts, for instance a soccer team, an orchestra, or a dance group. Such an association acts as an aesthetically characterized subject in all relation frames, like individuals acting as a historically acting person. There is a clear division
of tasks between the players, sustained by the accompaniment and the technical staff. Playing together requires guidance by a conductor, director, or coach, as well as discipline of the players.
A soccer team acts like an aesthetically characterized subject. As a team it partakes in a league, it wins or loses a match. The team has an internal division of tasks (e.g., keeper or left back), leadership
(the captain or the coach) and internal discipline. The team does not have a fixed composition, but it has its own identity.
In contrast, a
soccer club is not an aesthetically typified subject, for it does not partake in matches or leagues. The club facilitates players, fans, trainers, technical staff, and sponsors to keep each other’s company. Many people are member of a sports
club (or of a musical or theatrical company) first of all to enjoy company. As a consequence, the relation frame of companionship characterizes the specific character of a sports club by customs, interests, and rules of social conduct. The identity of a soccer
club differs from the identity of the soccer team. This means that the specific character of a soccer team having an aesthetic type is interlaced with the specific character of the soccer club, being an association primarily characterized
by the relation frame of keeping company.
Teams and clubs are subjected to different norms, having divergent specific characters. Often, a
club has several teams, playing in separate divisions. Neither the leadership nor the membership of a soccer club needs to consist of soccer players and the internal division of tasks in a club has little to do with soccer playing. Besides soccer the club
may organize other sports or display non-sportive activities. The club is not subject to the rules of play of soccer, as is the team. One of the tasks of the club may be to compose the teams, but the club should not determine how the game would be played.
The competing teams should do that themselves.
A comparable analysis can be made of the distinct characters of a musical company and the orchestra;
a theatre company and the cast of a performance; or a dance company and the performing group. In any case one has to distinguish associations qualified by the aesthetic relation frame, from associations which are primarily characterized by the social
(or even the economic) frame, assuming a tertiary aesthetic purpose.
3.4. Speakers, writers, and media
For the civil society, freedom of expression of one’s views is an indispensable component. In the course of history, besides libraries and bookshops
typically semiotic associations emerged, like printers, publishers and editors of books, papers, periodicals, and other informative media. Sometimes these are interlaced with public broadcasting, which is not merely concerned with spoken language, but also
with plastic arts or music. Semiotic associations often consist of or rely on professional authors, journalists, etc.
communicative networks (like the telephone), have an objective function in the semiotic relation frame. They do not communicate information themselves, but facilitate it. Also associations which do not have a semiotic character communicate with each other
and with individuals.
An important engine of dynamic development is the human ability to remember, to communicate, and to make sense of all
kinds of things and events. People transfer these to each other in the form of information, the significant form of human knowledge.
Language is the most important instrument for the transfer of semiotic experience, of meaning carrying information. When the transfer is one-sided, as is usually the case in history, one speaks of tradition, otherwise it is communication.
The semiotic normative principle for both is the value of mutual understanding. Communication of significant information characterizes more or less synchronous semiotic subject-subject relations, provided that all parties involved are willing and able to understand
each other. Interpretation and elucidation characterize semiotic subject-object relations.
When a sign or symbol cannot be interpreted clearly it loses its semiotic meaning of transfer of information. Who deliberately gives unclear signs or a wrong interpretation uses language deceitful. Only by responding to the norm of clarity people can
understand each other and the world.
A norm for meaningful use of language is that people speak the truth. When someone says ‘it rains’,
this has only meaning if it is assumed that they intend to affirm that it rains.
Even lying is only possible in a context in which speaking the truth is the norm.
The meaning of the use of language is that people give significance to and speak the truth about the world, about their fellow people, about themselves and about the God whom they proclaim.
But if language is an instrument for finding and communicating the truth, what about poems and novels, with their fictive characters and events? Even these lingual utterances ought to speak the truth, but because
it concerns lingual forms which are secondarily aesthetically characterized, their truth comes to the fore in the image they evoke. Like any piece of art, a novel or a poem ought to be veritable. This aesthetic truth is not reducible to semiotic,
logical, or ideological truth.
3.5. Research institutes
All people argue, and argued insight is a condition for the existence of any civil society. Of old, lawyers are the masters of rhetoric, with the clergy as the second best. Yet more than other logical subjects,
in particular scientists and scholars strongly influenced Western culture. In a logical argumentation besides people also human associations can be subjects. The board of an association will, if right, substantiate its decisions on a solid argumentation. In
this sense each association is a logical subject.
Transfer of knowledge takes place in households and in schools, and the preservation of knowledge
in libraries and other data storages. Special institutes with the purpose of achieving collective scientific knowledge are relatively recent. Until the seventeenth century, scientific research was not organized, but was exerted like a craft by usually isolated
individuals. Only during and after the Renaissance learned societies or academies arose having no other purpose than to perform science. Sometimes they instituted observatories or laboratories, usually connected to universities, enterprises, or hospitals.
Since the twentieth century, independent enterprises do contract research. Research is by no means always purely scientific, if we understand thereby the investigation of the lawfulness of nature and society. Many institutes are directed to the collection
of data (e.g., for the benefit of hospitals or for forensic research), or for the development of new technologies. This is called applied research. The members of the board of such an institute and its co-workers are partly scientists, but the supporting staff
plays an increasing professional part.
Because scientists specialise, more and more scientific societies arise, with the purpose to organize
congresses, to publish scientific results, and to award many kinds of prizes and medals. By means of peer-reviews, the editors of scientific periodicals pass a judgment of scientific work. Within a scientific institute superiors, seniors, or colleagues
judge the work of students and of junior or senior co-workers.
3.6. Profile of an organized faith congregation
Besides free associations there are social groups within a civil society which membership is not entirely voluntary. Sometimes these are called exclusively
‘institutional communities’. Into the nuclear
or extended family or the state a child is born, and in principle or in practice this also applies to a faith community. In a little differentiated society faith is unbreakably connected to the family, the band, the tribe, or the state. In most churches
this is still expressed in infant baptism, in other faith communities by the circumcision of boys. With or without such rituals most people belong unasked for to a faith community from their birth. However, not every child is admitted to an organized faith
community, though consciously or unconsciously parents educate their children according to their own convictions. If parents leave their children free in their choice of faith, this rests on the conviction that this ought to be done so, if it is not a matter
Organized faith communities constitute important components of civil society. Christianity, Jewry, and Islam are not associations,
but unorganized communities with a network structure. The originally Christian word ‘church’ (Greek: kuriakè, of the Lord) indicates an organized congregation, an association with members and a board. It may be a synagogue or a
mosque, as well as a congregation, parish, or diocese, national or international churches, like the Catholic Church. A monastery or religious order, too, is an organized faith community.
Like any other association, a local, national, or international church has a dual character. Its generic character is primarily politically characterized by authority and discipline and secondarily by
the relation frame of keeping company. In this respect a church does not differ much from other associations. Almost all Christian churches base their official authority in the apostolic succession, the ordination of an office holder by one or more others,
in the inverse course of history going back to the apostles being the first office keepers. Local congregations are united into a regional, national, or worldwide connection. In Calvinian churches, one office bearer is not above another one, the church council
being the head of the congregation. Other churches have an episcopal system, with an office hierarchy. The superstructure exerts authority over the congregations, coordinating many practical affairs, like the schooling of officials. In the Protestant churches
an increasing congregationalism is observable. People consider themselves first of all members of the local parish, having little interest in the denomination and not caring very much about the central authority.
The specific character of a church, distinguishing it from other kinds of associations, is primarily characterized by the relation frame of faith, by the transfer of experience of
faith. This character is secondarily an aesthetic kind of worship (cult), the common celebration of the shared faith. When the church becomes less dogmatic, stressing its doctrines lesser, its liturgy as prescription for worship comes more to the fore. In
Catholic churches, the pastor is a priest, with the most important task to celebrate the mass, conceived as a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice. In a Protestant church service, the ministry of the word is central and the pastor is called a minister. Rabbis
and imams, too, are not priests but ministers of the word. However, the preaching of the word is part of the celebration, including prayer, singing, collects, and sacraments, such that these associations, too, should be considered to have an aesthetic secondary
type rather than a semiotic one.
A church’s common content of faith is usually laid down in a confession, a series of faith statements
or dogma’s, determining the church’s specific character, its denomination. It indicates what the faithful ought to believe. All faith communities distinguish the true doctrine from false ones. They would not be trustworthy if they would not hold
their own faith to be true. That does not take away that people may recognize organized and unorganized communities starting from different doctrines in their own right, if only because one should be aware of one’s own fallibility. Moreover many people
are convinced that ecclesiastical dogmas are in part historically determined.
According to most Protestants a church cannot be identified with
the Christian religion, with the relation to God, for then it would not be a human association. The intersubjective relation celebrated by a church concerns the shared beliefs about the relation to God and about the ways religion is expressed in the faith
community and in dayly life. For this reason, there are so many different denominations and differences within churches, each specifying their religion into a faith, consisting of various views which are by no means all formally laid down in a confession or
a church law.
Many believers experience the dissension of and within the churches as a deficiency, as a consequence of sin. Nevertheless, the
diversity is also an expression of the liberty of conscience and the responsibility of all people for their convictions and the ways to celebrate these. The problem of dissension arises from the identification of one’s own faith community with
the true church or the kingdom of heavens. In contrast to the official Catholic view until the middle of the twentieth century, Protestants believe that the assembly of all believers is not a temporal association with an internal authority. They consider the
body of Christ, the assembly of all believers, not as a temporal association with an internal authority installed and maintained by men, but as a purely religious community, in which Christ himself assembles his disciples and acknowledging no other authority
Religion or world view as the concentration point of human activity in all relation frames is not restricted to the frame
of faith. Of course, faith and religion have much in common. Inter alia, religion concerns the final certainty which a person trusts unconditionally, his ultimate faith. However, a world view is more than trust alone. Protestants believe that all
of ordinary life is drenched with religion, which cannot be confined to any church. Like John Calvin and Immanuel Kant,
Abraham Kuyper distinguished the visible church as a temporal ecclesiastical institute, an association organized by human beings, from the invisible church as a religious community of all believers, the body of Christ. Kuyper reproached the Roman-Catholic
Church for identifying its own visible church with the invisible one, not recognizing other churches. Until the twentieth century, the identification of the body of Christ with one’s own temporal organized faith community, conceived as the only true
church, has led to charges of heresy and persecution because of faith. The ecumenical movement in the second half of that century led many churches to the mutual recognition of each other’s celebration of word and sacrament, of being a church, and of
the offices in the transfer of faith. Since the second Vatican council also the Roman-Catholic Church recognizes each organized Christian faith community to be an expression of the body of Christ, celebrating community in the service of word and sacrament.
Clubs and interest groups
A place to eat or drink, a restaurant, pub, or club, is often more intended to keep company than to take food. Many institutes have a representative meeting place. A sports club has a bar. A church building has a cultic purpose, but it also
has a social function. Churches and institutes of care exploit youth hostels and clubs for elder people. In all these places different customs prevail and those present should adapt to its social sphere.
Associations characterized by the relation frame of keeping company are first of all social clubs, like societies for students, the youth at large or elder people. A football club or a theatre company is typified
by the frame of keeping company, having an aesthetic focus (section 3.3).
Besides clubs, the relation frame of keeping company characterizes
organized interest groups like trade unions, even if these usually find their destiny elsewhere, for instance in the economic or political frame. Its members entrust the promotion of their interests to the association. Clubs and interest groups play an important
part in the emancipation of minority groups into the civil society.
3.8. Entrepreneurs, enterprises,
Sometimes ‘civil society’ is
understood as the ‘third sector’ of society, including the family and the private sphere, but distinct from government and business. In contrast, the present treatise considers enterprises to be important components of any civil society. Producers,
consumers, traders, and entrepreneurs act as economical subjects, both individually and in groups. Households are nowadays mainly considered as consumption units, but as a labour group a household functioned till the end of the nineteenth century as an economic
model, not only for an enterprise but for the state as well. A small company was conducted like a household, a large one (like the Dutch United East-Indian Company) as a state.
Nevertheless, already long before the Renaissance economic enterprises existed, directed to taking risks and making profits or losses. Production in enterprises in which capital and labour are separated, is more modern. An enterprise is an association, directed
by an entrepreneur instead of a head of family. It is secondarily typified by organized and differentiated labour. Gradually, enterprises have become the most important actors in the transfer of goods and services, with the market as a public place of trade
The primarily economic character of an enterprise is interlaced with that of one or more labour groups like a factory. The entrepreneur
disposes of the means of production, possessed by the enterprise. These are distinguished into invested capital (buildings, machines, transport means, stock) and the labour potential. The latter includes both the actually present labour force and skills and
the potential employment offered by the enterprise. The ratio of capital and labour may vary strongly, from a more or less completely automated capital intensive enterprise to a labour intensive enterprise like an accountants firm. Especially in small enterprises
the entrepreneur is often the co-owner of the capital as well as one of the co-workers. In large enterprises these functions are separated. The director of the enterprise is responsible to the suppliers of capital (for instance, shareholders) and to the employees.
In practice, the influence of both is limited, the entrepreneur being in command. Entrepreneurs are responsible for the quality of their products and the production process. Responsible enterprise is more than making profit. It implies to create a good working
climate, to maintain a reliable relation with suppliers and clients, and to prevent forged competition and pollution of the environment.
In an undifferentiated labour group, the workers possess the means of production: tools, raw materials, intermediary and end products. In a modern enterprise,
labourers are employees and the means of production are possessed by the enterprise, as property or hired. Both the invested capital and the labour potential have an economic value. As a consequence, it is possible to sell an enterprise. Usually the employees
will stay with the enterprise, including the directors, although reorganization may follow the sale. Without a profit, an enterprise cannot exist for long, but making profit should not be the most important aim of an enterprise. That is to be of economic service
to shareholders and to employees, as well as to suppliers and clients.
An entrepreneur as an economic subject considers all means of production
to be economic objects. Labour too forms a kind of cost. Yet in an enterprise each co-worker as an employee is an economic subject placing their labour at the disposal of the enterprise, as well as being a technical subject as a labourer. A well functioning
modern enterprise recognizes its employees as co-workers, as subjects, not as objects, as wage-slaves. Like other nineteenth-century economists, Karl Marx assumed that the value of a product is determined by the cost of labour needed to produce it on the average. However, labourers do not get paid for their labour, but for
their labour potential. According to Marx this is the value of the goods that workers need to provide for their family and to reproduce. The labourers get paid less than the value of the goods they produce. Fear for unemployment and starvation forces the labourers
to work a few hours a day more than would be needed for their livelihood. Marx calls the difference the surplus value of labour, i.e., the source of all incomes not derived from labour, constituting the heart of capitalism. Marx confirmed the view that entrepreneurs
are exploiters, because they pay for labour less than it is worth. As a dialectical thinker, Karl Marx opposed the labourers, conceived as the possessors of labour force, to the owners of money or goods.
He did not recognize an enterprise to be a cooperation in which all parties make a profit, but he considered it the place of a continuous struggle between capital and labour, in which capitalists are parasites at the cost of workers. In a civil society, however,
both labourers and suppliers of capital put their possession together at the disposal of the entrepreneur, organizing both into a profit making venture, in which all participants bear their own responsibility.
Each association has a specific internal differentiation, a division of tasks and authority. This is the organization or bureaucracy of the association.
An organization requires rules and an administration, if only a list of the members and a cashbook. In large associations, in particular the state, the organization or administration has received a relative independence from the government, which was recognized
only in the nineteenth century as the ‘fourth power’,
if this term is not reserved for the free press. The relative independence of the organization from the enterprise itself is illustrated by the fact that occasionally the organization is sourced out.
It has a character of its own, interlaced with but usually to be distinguished from the dual character of the association itself. Because the division of labour is economical, the primarily politically characterized
organization is secondarily typified as a projection on the economic relation frame. Sometimes the members of the organization are not members of the association, but employees. Therefore, in an enterprise the organization cannot always be distinguished
from the association itself. The organization of an association maintains economically typified relations with clients and suppliers. These relations are not based on authority but on contracts. The larger an association, the more important its organization.
Sometimes the organization gets so much attention that an association which is in fact primarily not economically characterized is conducted like an enterprise. However, when a hospital starts behaving like an enterprise, it risks the danger that the patients
are treated like clients whose health is subordinated to the profit they generate.
Within an organization a social order exists, influencing
the social intercourse. Even the simplest association has an internal division of tasks and regulations of authority. Often these lead to the formation of departments within the association or the organization. If an organization acts according to strict lines
from above to below (top-down), one speaks of a centralized or vertical hierarchy, in which higher instances delegate authority to lower ones. If the authority of the departments is emphasized, the leadership having a mandate, the organization
is decentralized, horizontal, or flat, having a network structure. In the case of delegation a higher instance may revoke each decision of a lower one, in the case of a mandate this is not generally possible. Then only the mandate can be withdrawn entirely
or a great deal. The departments have a limited freedom and responsibility. They are obliged to account for their labour after the fact. The network structure confirms the increasing professionalism of highly schooled co-workers and their own responsibility.
Therefore horizontal organizations appear to have more future in civil society than hierarchical vertical structures.
3.9. Free political associations
The political profile of the state will be discussed separately in chapter 4. Within the context of an investigation
of free associations independent of the state political parties should be mentioned as a relevant part of civil society, if they are not absorbed by the state, as is the case in communist countries.
Freedom of faith is not restricted to Christian belief, for it includes each conviction, each ideology. It implies political freedom as well, the freedom to propagate political convictions in the public domain.
Interest and action groups usually restrict themselves to a part of the public domain. In contrast, a political party is concerned with the public domain as a whole, and with the internal organization of its guardian, the republic. A political party is an
association primarily characterized by the relation frame of faith, but it is not secondarily typified by worship. Therefore it is not a church. Sometimes a political party is based on state power, sometimes it is an interest group, but it ought to be free
from the state and to serve general interest, according to its ideology. Its primarily ideological character is secondarily based in an argued program of principles, a political manifesto and an action program.
A political party is exclusively directed to the public domain including the republic that administers the public domain. The character of a political
party is typically interlaced with that of the state, in a way that no longer exists for the church since the separation of church and state. The political ideology implies first of all an argued view of the state and public government. Nevertheless the similarities
between faith communities and political parties are striking. For some people their party is a substitute for the church, for others a place where people from separated churches can meet each other. The members of a political party trust each other more than
they trust members of a different party.
3.10. Courts of justice
In any society, courts of justice are concerned with juridical aspects of many kinds of human activity. Their independence from state government means that courts of justice are not necessarily organs of the
state. In private law, the state is usually not even an interested party. In the public domain, the state sometimes acts as an organ of justice, in particular with respect to criminal acts. The office of public justice, being an organ of the state and a specific
juridical subject, brings criminals to court and executes the judgments of courts. However, even in the public domain, the state does not only act in a juridical sense.
In a civilized country, a court of justice (or a system of such courts) forms an association with a dual character. Its generic character is like that of any association qualified by the political relation frame, for
higher courts have authority over lower courts, which assert discipline by adhering to the rulings of the higher courts. Its generic character is founded in the frame of social intercourse. Its members are judges, adhering to many typical customs. Its specific
character is qualified by the juridical relation frame. The character of the courts of justice is interlaced with that of the office of public justice, and of associations of lawyers.
3.11. Institutes of care
In 2006 in Germany a 4600 year old grave was found with skeletons
of a man and a woman with their two children, as established by a DNA test. The four were killed by violent means and were buried in a loving position. Dating from the Stone Age, it appears to be the oldest known nuclear family. Nuclear families and their
households having the character of associations form the building bricks of civil society.
In a Western society, someone engaging in a marriage
leaves the parental home, usually with the intention to start a family. Marriage has the disposition to grow into a nuclear family. In other cultures married persons remain part of a larger family or tribe. In some cultures polygamy or polyandry occurs, but
in Western culture monogamy is the norm. In Western society the family – apart from the nuclear family – has especially the character of keeping company. This agrees with the fact that family members, in particular grandmothers, often take an important
part in the education of children. In case of the death of one or both parents often a family member replaces them in their educational tasks. Although unorganized, also in the West extended family connections remain important.
If there is one Biblical refutation of the humanist project of the autonomous person, it is marriage: ‘So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created
him; male and female he created them.’
Marriage is not an association as defined above, but a unique bisociation, naturally founded in the sexual relation, in the psychic relation
frame. Assuming that marriage is intended to form the basis of a nuclear family, Herman Dooyeweerd believed that marriage is a kind of association, founded in the biotic aspect. I do not share this view, first because unlike a nuclear family a marriage lacks
the properties of an association; and second because it also functions if it does not lead to the formation of a family. I shall only discuss the kind of marriage between a wife and husband, though in many respects my analysis also applies to ‘same-sex
Culturally, marriage is secondarily characterized by mutual trust, hence by the relation frame of faith. It is not
surprising that marriage between members of different faith communities encounter resistance and are rare. Loving care forms the strongest connection in any marriage (or cohabitation) of two individuals who have pledged each other their troth until death separates
them. Marriage is the most common, the most important, the
surest, and simultaneously the most vulnerable relation two people may start. Since the Reformation, Protestants have emphasized that in marriage ordinary life is shown to full advantage.
The vulnerability of marriage is evident from the large number of divorces as well as many cases of humiliation, ill treatment, violence, and rape in wedlock.
Because of its vulnerability, when a marriage goes wrong it is advisable to call in a third party, not to decide whether the marriage should be dissolved, but to determine the conditions for divorce, in order to protect the most vulnerable partner and eventually
the children. In a constitutional state, the third party is a competent judge, lawyer, or mediator. It appears that divorce (after the norm of love is no longer operative) is subject to justice, whereas marriage is not. Therefore in Western countries, the
law and judges only pay attention to the juridical aspects of marriage (rights and duties), without touching its being characterized by the relation frame of loving care.
Sex and gender
The norm for marital troth excludes adultery, promiscuity, carelessness, and neglect. Meanwhile it is clear that psychically typified sex
(what people have in common with animals) should be distinguished from gender, the culturally developed human form of sexual differences. The distinction between men and women, which is not merely natural, is determined especially by culture
and civilization. This means that both partners are incomplete
and need the other as a supplement. Marriage is more than its sexual foundation, more than a sexual relation. It is a community in which husband and spouse share their lives in the most intensive way imaginable. It remains even if a sexual relation is no more
In a socially primitive situation the relations of authority between husband and wife rests on physical force, meaning that usually
the husband as protector of the family prevails. The naturalistic view that the husband should be the head of the family finds no official support in Western culture, but is still widespread. For the male primacy, Jews, Christians, and Muslims often invoke
the Tenach, the New Testament, or the Koran, books concerned with agricultural common life of 3000, 2000, or 1200 years ago, in a culture in which the task of the husband included the protection of his family against violent attacks. Yet views of male supremacy
are derived more from Greek philosophy and Roman law than from the Bible.
However, Christianity and humanism pretend to bring freedom, also of naturalistic prejudices. In a differentiated family situation, in which husband and wife cooperate with each other and their children in many different ways, authority is divided.
The nuclear family
As a character type, the natural nuclear family is primarily characterized by the relation frame of care and secondarily by biotic descent. However, by adoption or otherwise a child can also be placed in a foster
family. Like a natural nuclear family, a foster family as well as an orphanage or a boarding-school is primarily characterized by the normative relation frame of care, but secondarily by the frame of keeping company, by education. Apparently, a natural nuclear
family has both a natural and a normative secondary character.
It seems obvious that children are vulnerable and in need of the loving care
of their parents, but it is a norm violated in many ways during history.
Children have been sacrificed, exposed, neglected, maltreated, enslaved, raped, and murdered. In many cultures children have no rights and their parents can dispose of them arbitrarily, as if parents were the owners of their children, possessing them. Although
each culture appeals to parents to educate them well, only since the seventeenth century the nuclear family is in the West more important than the extended family, because of the differentiation of society.
The most important function of the nuclear family is the mutual care of all its members, not only the children. Therefore, the nuclear family is primarily
characterized by the norm of careful love. This concerns providing food, clothing and protection, education and schooling, for which the parents are responsible until the children come of age, when they can bear the responsibility themselves. It is already
a part of education to make children increasingly co-responsible for the mutual care in the household.
Often a nuclear family forms the nucleus
of a household in their home, in which each member has their own position and tasks. The home (also for singles) is the starting point for all labour and a daily resting place after ending this. It is the place where the nuclear family celebrates its coherence,
in the daily meals, in reading books to each other, in playing, and in viewing television together. Family members tell each other their experiences and share their concerns. They consult each other and argue, sometimes leading to quarrels, but more often
ending in agreement.
Even if the children become adults and leave the parental home, the family relation remains as a special friendship relation,
in which the parents feel responsible for their children. Increasingly the reverse occurs, the children taking care of their parents. Although the family connection ends when the children leave the parental home, the family relation remains
as a special form of friendship. Its nature and intensity are historically and culturally determined. The family relation extends by the loving acceptance of daughters and sons in law and of grandchildren.
In a more or less undifferentiated society, collective or social care rests with the family, later becoming a sideline of the church, the guilds, or the state. In a modern society, collective care is organized
into free associations that are qualified by the relation frame of care itself. These associations take up a growing part of common means. This has led to the view that social care is the task of the republic, sometimes called the ‘welfare state’.
Another view grants the social responsibility to free associations, supervised by the state as far as they act in the public domain.
character types of associations may be distinguished which as active subjects of care in civil society become increasingly important: practices, institutions, and insurance.
The practice of a general practitioner, a dentist, a physiotherapist, or a psychotherapist, appears to be primarily characterized by the relation frame of care and secondarily by the technical one. Although single practicing doctors
still exist, a practice is increasingly a labour unit, in which several doctors with their assistants cooperate. It may be interlaced with an institute like a hospital, if its co-workers are not employed by the hospital, but practice their job there partly
A developing civil society knows numerous charitable associations for the care of the fellow men. Originally these had the character of a household, providing
a shelter to homeless people. Hospitals, maternity hospitals, almshouses, orphanages, old people’s homes, and psychiatric clinics are known in Western society since centuries, but their importance has increased enormously since the twentieth century.
Besides, society has to care for prisoners, unemployed people, unmarried mothers, foreigners, and asylum seekers.
Suchlike associations are
primarily characterized by loving care and secondarily by the relation frame of keeping company. Often they are interlaced with a faith community like the Salvation Army; with a club typified by the relation frame of keeping company; with an economically characterized
company; or with a training institute, like a university hospital. In some cases an institute of care belongs to the state. There may be valid arguments for these kinds of interlacements, but in general one had better stick to the Protestant principle
of internal authority, emphasizing the associations’ mutual independence.
Quite a few people believe that altruism (disinterested care) is characteristic
for care, distinguishing people from animals. Evolutionists (in particular sociobiologists) have done their best to show that altruism occurs in the animal world as well and can be explained by the current evolution theory. However, care based on mutual interest
occurs more often and is more efficient. A system wherein people are insured of care should be preferred above a system in which the poor depend on the rich for charity. Insurance is preferable above charity. People insure themselves for personal interest,
in case of fire, burglary, or an accident. As long as these events do not occur to us, we share anonymously in the misfortune of others.
people insure themselves mutually they achieve a right on care if they need it. The exertion of care they leave to experts and specialized institutions. Insurance pays for care, and is therefore secondarily characterized by the economic relation frame. Insuring
is a projection of the relation frame of care on the economical one and has right of care as a juridical consequence. Often insurance is part of a collective labour agreement. Many countries have compulsory collective insurance, in which all citizens take
part. Even these insurance can very well be implied by social organizations licensed by the state. Especially in European civil societies, the twentieth-century development of a public system of ‘social’ (i.e. collective) insurance is
an administrative and political renewal of the first order, an achievement of administrative technique which relevance, though severely underestimated, is comparable to representative democracy.
 Schmitt 1963,
74-78; Kuiper 2009, 231-242; Chaplin 2011, chapter 1.
Dooyeweerd NC III, 198, 472.
Chaplin 2011, 103, 163-164.
Dooyeweerd NC III, 177, 180-181; Griffioen, van Woudenberg 1996.
Dooyeweerd 1962, 213-215.
Comte-Sponville 1995, 110 (chapter 7).
Fukuyama 1995, part II.
Verkerk 2004, 63-83; Verkerk et al. 2007, chapter 8.
Seerveld 2000, 47-58.
Huizinga 1938, 282-284 (chapter 12).
Hobsbawm 1994, 372-388 (chapter 11, I-III); Vos 1999, 186.
Langer 1960, 8 (preface).
Wittgenstein 1953, I nr. 304; Staal 1986, 261.
MacIntyre 1967, 74, 92.
Dooyeweerd NC III, 567: ‘There cannot exist any ordered society without the basis of natural and institutional communities, which are sharply distinguished from free associations’.
1559, III; Kant 1793, 142 (section 2.2).
De Vries and van der Woude 1995, 499-538; Landes 1998, chapter 10.
Graafland 2007, 177-183.
Marx 1867, 380; Van het Reve 1969, 86-102.
Arendt 1958, 160-161 (section 4,5).
Dooyeweerd NC III, 605-624.
Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:4; 1 Corinthians 11:11-12; Olthuis 1975, chapter 1; Vrieze 1977, 162.
Olthuis 1975, chapter 2-3.
Verkerk 1997, chapter 7.
Dooyeweerd NC III, 304-322.
Verkerk 1997, chapter 9.
MacCulloch 2003, 609-612.
Dooyeweerd NC III, 266-345; Olthuis 1975, chapter 4.
Taylor 1989, 289-294.
De Swaan 1988, 158 (section 5.4); chapter 6.