A special research area for John Slifko has been the origins of democratic civil society. Civil Society is referred to as the “third sector” of America, next to government and business. It comprises all individuals, groups, and non-governmental organizations that are not apart of the government or business. The word, “civil,” implies diverse and pluralistic societies. They focus heavily on the rights of individuals and groups to meet in harmony at their own free will. Without civil society, the world would be in trouble and lacking balance, according to Slifko. Civil societies keep the political field in check and strive to better businesses. Civil societies are necessary for a well-rounded and diverse population to survive, all while tolerating one another’s views and supporting one another’s ideas.
John Slifko’s interest in this area of democratic studies developed during the rise of the Solidarity Union in Poland, the rise of the Velvet Revolutions in Central Europe, and with the ultimate downfall of the authoritarian blocs. Slifko wishes to tackle questions like, “How could that occur?” “How could civil associations, the church, individual workers, a labor union, and intellectuals bring down the authoritarian states so swiftly?” “What is civil society?” “What are the historical, cultural, social, economic, and geographical origins of civil society in modernity in the 17th and 18th centuries?” “How is open-ended and probing communication in diverse processes and technique essential in always struggling civil society whether it be the printed word and attempts at polite speech in coffee houses of the 17th and 18th century; word of mouth, television, radio and print in the rise of the Solidarity Union in the 20th century; or digital social media of the 21st century as in Egypt or potentially emerging struggles in contemporary Cuba?” and, “Is there anti-democratic civil society in the power relations visible and often invisible in communication, networks and community?”
In each period and place that Slifko engages in the study of democratic struggle, and praxis, he is essentially focused on the colloquy of deliberative democracy including the moral imagination of an informed citizenry, related educational institutions, and individual and group experimentation in institution building. For example, in the period of the American War of Independence the moral ideal of an “informed citizenry”, and not rhetoric alone, was deemed essential in the midst of war and in the building of the young republic and efforts at democracy after the chaos of the war. At the exact same time egalitarian opportunities in education and institutional and personal experimentation were considered essential in the fledgling republic. This was a rich cultural inheritance of the American War of Independence. There were ideal efforts held together in moral imagination and colloquy but also retrenchments. There may be lessons here.
“How can all of us best help in an often ambiguous, tough and unjust world? And how do we take and give comfort and nurturing on this wondrous blue orb?” Slifko tackles these types of questions and more in his blogs and shared content.