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By Jean L. Comaroff, Irene Stengs, Hylton White

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But, notwithstanding the skepticism, the Idea—the fetish— has worked its magic, kindling a reformist spirit all over the place as it promises rescue from the political vacuum of postmodern nihilism. What is it, then, about civil society that so fires the moral imagination? What makes it such a trenchant trope for these millennial times? An answer is to be found in the parallels between the history of the here and now and the history of the First Coming of the Idea in the late eighteenth century; the post-Enlightenment age in Europe, that is, that spawned the hyphenated nation-state, the concepts of political economy, culture, the civil, civility, civilization—and the distinction between ‘‘the state’’ and something that came to know itself as ‘‘society’’ (cf.

Some, like Michael Hardt (: ), argue that we are already in the ‘‘postcivil society’’ era, an era incapable of producing the conditions of its possibility. Others simply dismiss it as an inherently  *     .  6327 Comaroff / Millennial Capitalism... 30 11:35 polymorphous, inchoate, unspecifiable signifier. Worse yet, it is said to conflate an analytic construct with an ideological trope, thus rendering the former promiscuous and the latter vacuous (Comaroff and Comaroff a).

Rupnik ; Krygier ). In the West, a cause for it has been found in burgeoning corporatism of the state (Taylor : –) and a disenchantment with politics tout court. And in Africa it is ascribed to the rise of antistatist, promarket populism occasioned by the collapse of totalitarian regimes (Young : ), whose ‘‘politics of the belly’’ (Bayart ) and vulgar spectacles of power (Mbembe b) persuaded citizens that governments no longer ‘‘champion society’s collective interests’’ (Haynes : ).

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