The state and civil society: Regulating interest groups, parties and public benefit organizations in contemporary democracies

AuthorEva Heims
Date01 September 2019
Published date01 September 2019
The state and civil society: Regulating interest
groups, parties and public benefit organizations
in contemporary democracies
Nicole Bolleyer
Oxford University Press, 2018, 384 pp., £70.00 (hb), ISBN: 9780198758587
In her book Nicole Bolleyer asks to what extent states adopt permissive or constraining regulation towards civil soci-
ety organizations. To answer this question, the study employs a comparative approach across countries, as well as
comparing regulation of different types of voluntary organizations. The books focus is on advanced democracies
and covers civil society regulation in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany,Ireland,
Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the
US. Comparison of civil society organizations, as highlighted in the books title, focuses on political parties, interest
groups and public benefit organizations.
The study employs a highly comprehensive research methodology in order toanswer its research question: after an
introduction and the outline of the studys research questions and methodsin the first part of the book, the secondpart
of the book focuses on detailedempirical mappingof how the formation, operation and dissolution of eachof the three
types of groups is regulatedvia formal legal frameworks in each of the19 countries coveredin the study. While chapter
3 is devotedto the cross-nationalstudy of the regulationof political parties, chapters4 and 5 focus on the cross-national
mapping ofthe regulation of interestgroups and public benefit organizations. Chapter3, interestingly, doesnot find any
evidence foran often-assumed trade-off between partiesaccessto state funding and the legal constraints imposed on
parties in other areas of activity. Instead, the chapter finds that countries either tend to be permissive or restrictive
across all areas of party regulation. Chapters 4 and 5 continue tobuild on this emerging picture of distinct differences
between countries that impose high or low sets of constraints on civil society actors: while there has been a cross-
national trend towards tighter regulation of interestgroups to curb special interest influence, we observe country-level
variationin the extent to which interest groupsand public benefit organizations arelegally constrainedin their actions.
The third part of the book moves to systematic comparison and explanation of the different degrees to which
countries constrain civil society actors. Chapter 6 compiles a cross-national index of regulatory constraints on civil
society actors and demonstrates that countries have specific tendencies to constrain all three types of actors or to
be relatively permissive towards them. The comparison shows that Anglo-Saxon countries are at the most con-
straining end of the spectrum, while the Nordic countries (with the exception of Finland) are at the most permissive
end, with most continental European countries finding themselves in the middle of this spectrum. Chapter 6
develops theoretical hypotheses to explain this cross-country variation and chapter 7 tests these expectations in a
fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis. This analysis shows that the most important explanations of these differ-
ences are the extent to which a country has experienced democratic discontinuity in the past and whether it has a
corporatist voluntary sector regime: countries with a history of democratic instability tend to be morewilling to con-
strain civil society actors because of the experience that such actors can destabilize the internal democratic order.
Moreover, countries with corporatist voluntary sector regimes rely heavily on state-sponsored welfare provision by
the voluntary sector as a result of which these states are more willing to constrain civil society actors through regula-
tion. An important second-order condition for imposing constraints is a countrys legal disposition towards specific
statutory regulation as common law countries adopt more constraining statutory regulation than other countries.

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