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Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy [Paperback]

Robert D. Putnam , Robert Leonardi , Raffaella Y. Nanetti
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Book Description

June 16 1994 0691037388 978-0691037387 1

Why do some democratic governments succeed and others fail? In a book that has received attention from policymakers and civic activists in America and around the world, Robert Putnam and his collaborators offer empirical evidence for the importance of "civic community" in developing successful institutions. Their focus is on a unique experiment begun in 1970 when Italy created new governments for each of its regions. After spending two decades analyzing the efficacy of these governments in such fields as agriculture, housing, and health services, they reveal patterns of associationism, trust, and cooperation that facilitate good governance and economic prosperity.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Harvard professor Putnam offers an in-depth examination of Italian politics and government.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Winner of the 1994 Charles H. Levine Memorial Book Prize

Winner of the 1994 Gregory Luebbert Award

Winner of the 1993 Louis Brownlow Book Award, National Academy of Public Administration

Honorable Mention for the 1993 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Government and Political Science, Association of American Publishers

"Seminal, epochal, path-breaking: All those overworked words apply to a book that, to make the point brazenly, is a Democracy in America for our times."--David L. Kirp, The Nation

"A great work of social science, worthy to rank alongside de Tocqueville, Pareto, and Weber.... If [Putnam's] claims about the essential conditions of successful democracy are correct (and they almost certainly are), then politicians and political scientists alike will have to think again about democracy's prospects in Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe."--The Economist

"A remarkable study of `civic traditions.'"--Steven Lukes, The Times Literary Supplement

"It is rare that one comes across a classic in political science, yet in Robert D. Putnam's Making Democracy Work we undoubtedly have one. . . . Mr. Putnam's seminal work addresses in a rigorously empirical way the central question of democratic theory: What makes democratic institutions stable and effective? . . . [His] findings strikingly corroborate the political theory of civic humanism, according to which strong and free government depends on a virtuous and public-spirited citizenry--on an undergirding civic community. . . . One crucial implication of Making Democracy Work is that feeble and corrupt government, operating against the background of a weak and uncivic society, tends not to foster the creation of wealth, but rather to renew poverty. Overmighty government may stifle economic initiative. But enfeebled government and unrepresentative government kills it, or diverts it into corruption and criminality. . . . This may not, perhaps, be a universal truth; but it is directly relevant to the prospects of democracy in the United States today."--The New York Times Book Review

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's NOT the economy, stupid . . . it's civics! Feb. 22 2001
The central concept of Putnam's study is "institutions," but he frames these institutions as both an independent and a dependent variable. Positing that institutions shape politics, but institutions themselves are shaped by history, Putnam is able to explain both the causes and the effects of political institutions among Italian regions. The "effects" portion of his study is the lesser of the two in importance; basically, the fact that all Italian regions got identical institutions in 1970, and yet the performance of these institutions varied widely across Italy, sheds much doubt on the questionable theory that formal institutional design itself is a primary determinant of government performance (although most Italians North and South agree that the new regional governments have been a change for the better).
But if institutional design has limited explanatory power, then what other variable can better account for institutional performance? This is the more important half of Putnam's work, for it is where he shows that "social context and history profoundly condition the effectiveness of institutions" (182), by unveiling his more controversial and powerful independent variable: civic culture. What is civic culture? It goes by many names and concepts for Putnam (civic traditions, political culture, civic involvement, social capital, republican virtues) but in its most basic form it is "norms of reciprocity and networks of civic engagement" (167).
In contrast with the existence of this civic culture in Northern Italy, identified as having a millenium-long pedigree due to the North's highly decentralized political history, Putnam uses the concept of "amoral familism" to characterize the civic culture (or lack thereof) in Southern Italy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Thesis - with reservations Nov. 7 1998
By A Customer
Putnam's thesis on the importance of social capital in engendering the successful functioning of democracy is an intriguing idea that merits serious reflection in our context today. His study of the community-organizations in Italy, and their effects on the effective workings of democracy on a regional and national level, highlight the importance of civic organizations and their ability to inculcate in their members a sense of civic duty - which consequently leads to a vibrant democracy. This book is perhaps especially fitting in the American context today in light of declining interest in politics, diminishing belief in the efficacy of governing institutions in solving problems, and the general ethos of apathy and frustration felt around the nation in the realm of democracy (something that the most recent election's low voter turnout indicated). Although the study is interesting, the idea is perhaps a little less useful in the pragmatic sense; one could run into the question of a chicken-and-egg scenario where there is a debate between which came first: vibrant democracy or civic organizations. Regardless, the book is one of the best in its subject area and a recommended read for any student interested in such issues.
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It's unfortunate that given the opportunity and resources to study the birth and development of regional government in Italy over the course of twenty years, the best conclusions Putnam was able to draw from his observations are hackneyed paraphrases from Tocqueville. Most of his most careful fieldwork yields results that are stultifyingly obvious; and it's hard not to think that his questions and indicators were not deliberately chosen to demonstrate foregone conclusions. Probably most irritating to me is Putnam's irresponsible use of history as a tool for proving continuities that are largely imaginary.
That said, Making Democracy Work is not a boring read, and its flaws at least encourage the reader to contemplate the million ways the book and the study it describes might have been better.
Beginning in 1977, Putnam and his colleagues studied the performance and reception of the 15 regional governments that had been first established in 1970. Given pre-existing disparities among the regions -- economic, cultural, political, demographic, nevermind linguistic and geographic -- it's little surprise that the researchers found that not all the regional governments developed the same way. While he found that the 'institutional socialization' of the new parliamentary bodies had a consistently positive effect on the regional politicians' growing professionalism and willingness to explore constructive compromises with ideological opponents, the governments were not uniformly effective or responsive, nor were their constituents uniformly happy with their efforts.
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