Intermediate Organizations


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One of the issues that that have come to the fore in the context of Civil Society is the importance of "intermediate" or voluntary groups that often occur naturally in society, and where perhaps civility may be more easily learned, and where the multiplicity of choices encourages human creativity and freedom. Political scientist Michael Walzer emphasizes the value of “the set of relational networks- formed for the sake of family, faith, interest, and ideology... The picture here is of people freely associating and communicating with one another, forming and reforming groups of all sorts.”[1] Walzer is one of the leading commentators on intermediate organization issues and he credits[2] Adam Ferguson with initiating the flavor of this discussion:

Prior to any political institution whatever, men are qualified by a great diversity of talents, by a different tone of the soul, and ardour of the passions, to act a variety of parts. Bring them together, each will find his place... and numbers are by this means fitted to act in company, and to preserve their communities, before any formal distribution of office is made.[3]

Michael Walzer
Photo source: Wikipedia
(public domain)

 Ferguson looks for balancing power in the process of associating: "The safety of every individual, and his political consequence, depends much on himself, but more on the party to which he is joined. For this reason, all who feel a common interest, are apt to unite in parties; and, as far as that interest requires, mutually support each other."[4]

Societies of Friends of the Nation

An important historical group of associations occurred in Spain. Xavier María de Munibe (1723-1785), the Count of Peñaflorida, had studied experimental physics and mathematics,[5] and he dedicated himself to the application of the sciences to economic development. In 1763, with a few of his friends, he founded the Royal Basque Society of Friends of the Country. The society concentrated on improving agricultural and industrial practices through studies, publications, and contests.[6] Following this example, and ecouraged by King Charles III, similar societies were established in the rest of the Spanish country and in its colonies, some of which are still functioning. [7] In the more current democratic context, industrialists and intellectuals have replaced the roles of the noblemen. Another active example is the Economic Society of Friends of the Nation of Barcelona

Educational Organizations

Educational Institutions, public and private, are an essential element of Civil Society. They are a primary source in developing social consciousnes as educator John Bascom reflects:

Site of the first Society of Friends of the Nation, Askoitia, Spain
Photo: © Wikipedia Author: Josu Goñi Etxabe

It is the office of education to effect a junction between individual life and common life, to place them in mutual ministration, each to each... The University should send back its graduates to the community from which they came, large-minded and liberal men, with a clear perception of the public welfare and a steadfast purpose to pursue it.[8]

In addition to its cultutral and social value, a college degree is the most important resource in obtaining employment.

Common Aid Societies

The are a number of organizations that provide mutual aid for groups. One such type of organizations that we have selected as examples is what came to be known as "Settlement Houses". They developed principally in England and the United States towards the end of the XIX century. The consisted of buildings in poor neighborhoods where social services and training were provided for the purpose of improving the conditions of residents of the neighborhood, frequently with the cooperation of a nearby university. Some members of the associated university faculty and graduate students would often move into the house to facilitate their work and research. Chicago Commons, founded in 1894, was a good historical example of a Settlement House and it is still functioning.  It no longer has a residence component, but it continues to provide some of its original services such as community building, early childhood education and career training.

Photo ©  Chicago Commons

Another good example of  common aid societies are organizations that provide help to inmigrants, such as the La Salle Educational Center in the agricutural region around Homestead, Fl. In addition to basic family and educational support, it provides job skills training in basic computer technology and sewing.

Labor and Professional Organizations

Many of the social benefits that we enjoy today have been the result of the advocacy of labor unions, as 


If we desire improvement, we must look for it outside of economic forces, in social and moral relations... The labor movement is such a union of economic and social forces. It gives a firmer foothold in wages, and slowly attains a standard of life which makes operative the ambitions of life.[9]

Many unions support apprenticeship programs that allow individuals to develop employable skills, such as those provided by the Carpenters Training Institute, and others.


Churches are perhaps the most influential organizational elements of a civil society. Dagoberto Valdés and his collaborators have made interesting contributions to the interpretation of the role of churches in this context :

Photo: ©  carpenterstraininginstitute

The Church is a "sign" of civil society: That is, the churches, in their style of living in communities of persons, in their search for the common good, in their struggle for justice and peace, in their style of fraternal and solidary life, are should be sign and preview of what the whole civil society aspires to be.[10]

The churches in their turn would contribute an ingredient of purification and renewal of the whole civil society of which they are part, and they are called to serve as leaven, generating participation spaces and articulating networks of solidarities and services.[11]

It is appropriate for churches to advocate moral principles that are not currently accepted by the majority in the larger society. The end of slavery was largely the result of the "pushing" of religious groups.

Civic Organizations

There are organizations, which we may call civic organizations, that have the conscious purpose of applying civil society principles.  The Convivencia Center is a good example of this. Lead by Dagoberto Valdés, it proposes the use of these principles to address the complex social issues of Cuba. Through educational activities and other efforts, this group tries to develop civic awareness, and to foster group activities:

An ethical and civic education for public life can develop fraternal and positive citizens, ensuring the conviction that we are all brothers and sisters and therefore perfectible, fragile, and subject to errors and limitations. Civic friendship... teaches how to take care of all citizens, to place their life and dignity as a supreme value; to contribute to the prosperity of the nation, and to learn to practice subsidiarity and solidarity with the most vulnerable, seeking the possible personal happiness and the reachable common good.[12]

Photo source: © Convivencia Study Center


Here is a summary of the primary principles presented in this website:

  • Civil society seeks "the formation of human beings as persons and active, conscious and responsible members of society."[13]
  • Individuals, private organizations and governments all have natural and positive roles to play in society, and their interactions build a "civil" society.
  • It is preferable to take actions at their most immediate or simplest levels, providing that these actions can work effectively at that level.
  • It is appropriate and healthy for individuals and groups to advocate their private interests and ideas, as long as they are seen and evaluated in the context of the common good.

Organization Examples:

Chicago Commons   Convivencia Center   La Salle Educational Center

[1] Michael Walzer, “The Concept of Civil Society” in Michael Walzer, ed., Toward a Global Civil Society (New York: Berghahn Books, 2002), 7,16.

[2] Michael Walzer, "Introduction" in Michael Walzer, ed., Toward a Global Civil Society, 1.

[3] Adam Ferguson,  An Essay on the History of Civil Society (Dublin: Boulter Grierson, 1767), 93.

[4] Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society, 243.

[5] Joaquín Iriarte, S.J., El Conde de Peñaflorda y la Real Sociedad Bascongada de los Amigos del País (Donostia-San Sebastián: Colección Ilustración Vasca, 1991),  46.

[6] José de Aralar, El Conde de Peñaflorida y los Caballeritos de Azkoitia ( Buenos Aires: Editorial Vasca Ekin, 1942),  91-95.

[7] Robert Jones Shafer, The Economic Societies in the Spanish World (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1958), 48-52.

[8] John Bascom. Sermons and Addresses (New York and London:G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1913), 189-190, 195.

[9] John Bascom "Economics and Ethics" in Bibliotheca Sacra, April - June 1905, 223-224

[10] Dagoberto Valdés Hernández et al., Etica y Civica, 303.

[11]  Ibid., 274.

[12] Dagoberto Valdés Hernández, Un Umbral para la Ciudadanía y la Sociedad Civil en Cuba, my translation (Cuba: Ediciones Convivencia, 2016), 201.

[13] Dagoberto Valdés Hernández et al., Etica y Civica, my translation (Cuba: Ediciones Convivencia, 2014), 20.