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Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy Paperback – May 27, 1994

ISBN-13: 978-0691037387 ISBN-10: 0691037388
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Editorial Reviews

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (May 27, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691037388
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691037387
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert D. Putnam is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University and founder of the Saguaro Seminar, a program dedicated to fostering civic engagement in America. He is the author or coauthor of ten previous books and is former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By ChairmanLuedtke on February 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
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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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Shawn Denney ( on November 3, 1998
Format: Paperback
Which came first, responsive government or civic participation? Much like the chicken and the egg, this has been a question with no end of debate. However, some new ammunition for the civil society camp may be found in Dr. Robert Putnam's research on Italian civic origins. Over the last two decades, Dr. Putnam has been collecting data on this issue from the various regional governments throughout Italy. The central question behind his research has been what are the conditions for creating strong, effective, responsive, and representative institutions in a democracy? Extremely well written, Putnam's work takes the reader logically through the research process and into the conclusion: that a region's level of civic engagement has a direct relationship to effective democratic institutions. Beginning with an overview of the research, Dr. Putnam tells us that there exists a definite difference between performance in the northern regions as compared to the southern regions. Using heightened chorale and soccer club association as a litmus test of social capital, Putnam argues that good government must first be preceded by a foundation of trust towards one's neighbor. Putnam's analysis takes the reader through three broad modes of explaining institutional performance: institutional design, socioeconomic factors, and finally sociocultural factors. The former, institutional design, we find should be discounted from the start as all of Italy was provided the same governmental backdrop. As for socioeconomic affects, Putnam points out that the southern regions, those with the least responsive institutions, were actually more industrialized and better developed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than their northern counterparts!Read more ›
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 7, 1998
Format: Paperback
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Bunker on May 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
Putnam's asks `why do some democratic governments succeed and others fail? To answer this he tries to approach the role of institutions on shaping the practice of politics and government. He asks, for example, if the quality of the institutions determines the quality of citizens, and therefore the quality of democracy. His underlying research question is: What are the conditions for creating strong, responsive, effective representative institutions? (Putnam 1993: 6).

The book studies fundamental questions about civic life by studying the regions in Italy. The research investigation began when Putnam and his fellow scholars decided to explore empirically the results of the 1970 division of Italy into regions. The book wanders around the complexity of Italian civic traditions and finally answers a lot more than its initial proposal.

Putnam starts out by defining the Institutionalist nature of his research. Basically he points out the steppingstone that (a) Institutions shape politics, and (b) Institutions are shaped by history (Putnam 1993: 7-9).

To empirically answer his research question Putnam's social science method consists on conducting multiple personal interviews to community leaders in selected regions of Italy between 1970 and 1989. Additionally, he employs personal and nation-wide surveys during the same period of time. He also uses specific case studies on institutional politics and regional planning in some selected regions, to gain higher leverage.

Putnam starts out arguing on how institutions can change civic society and civic society can have a higher impact on democracy that itself can potentially have effects on an economic plain.
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Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy
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