Civil Society and Social Capital in Vietnam

Dalton, R. J. & Ong, Nhu-Ngoc
A large body of literature holds that the development of a vibrant civil society is required for the political development of a nation. Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan (1996: 7) for example, define the existence of a free and lively civil society as one of the requirements for a consolidated democracy. Bernhard Wessels (1997) demonstrates a strong relationship between the levels of social group membership in a nation and social modernity (also see Pham Minh Hac 2001). Larry Diamond (1994) provides an extensive description of the role that civil society participation plays in the development of democratic citizenship and the development of a democratic polity (also see Yamamoto 1995). Participation in social groups independent of the state is seen as developing the interpersonal skills and resources that benefit democratic participation, encouraging a tolerance and trust in others, broadening world perspectives, and providing practice in deliberation and decision making. These citizen-building benefits are often described as creating "social capital" among the citizenry that supports democratic politics. Indeed, beginning with DeTocqueville, there is a long tradition of political culture and political development research that stresses the beneficial aspects of a vibrant civil society (Almond and Verba 1963; Putnam 1993; Rueschemeyer 1998; Warren 2001). This chapter examines the theme of civil society as applied to contemporary Vietnam. While the type of autonomous civil society discussed in democratic theory may be lacking in Vietnam because of the still-dominate role of the communist state, participation in social groups is extensive and even in a communist state may have some of the consequences suggested by the civil society literature. Indeed, Vietnam presents an important case in theoretical and political terms. It is one of the last communist nations in the world; thus, we can see whether previously theorized patterns of social engagement and social capital formation apply in this developing nation...

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