"We can think of civil society as depending for its existence on a state that is strong enough to keep the peace, but not so strong as to destroy civil society itself. To maintain such a condition, civil society itself may have to play an active role in achieving the right balance. As a space independent of the state, civil society and its constituent voluntary associations, interest groups, and social movements can protect its individual members against the state. With adequate power and resources, civil society can, by fostering a vigilant public, keep a check on the state, even forcing it to be accountable for its actions."
Will Kymlicka, in his discussion of the debates between liberals and communitarians, describes the "social thesis" shared by both liberals and communitarians as a recognition "that individual autonomy cannot exist outside a social environment that provides meaningful choices and that supports the development of the capacity to choose amongst them."
Kymlicka points out, however, that while liberals insist that this social/cultural environment (for our purposes, think of this as civil society) needs to be kept independent of the state (ie, the state must be neutral), communitarians on the other hand believe that a rich and diverse social/cultural structure can only be sustained with state intervention - a "politics of the common good."
Reading: Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 216-30.
"Civil society can perform an important watchdog role against the state. It can also provide individuals with the cultural resources necessary for autonomy and self-determination."