been reading robert putnam, et. al.’s “Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy” that i learned about via m.g. miles over @those who can see. (yes, that’s the “Bowling Alone” and E Pluribus Unum putnam. i have to say, the man has certainly done some very interesting research, despite the fact that he sometimes doesn’t like his own findings.)
in “Making Democracy Work,” putnam and his colleagues found that … gee whiz … democracy just works better in northern italy than in southern italy. way better, in fact. i haven’t finished the book yet, but the authors seem to put it down to the histories and political traditions of the two regions — and there is, of course, something to that. but there are even more obvious (at least to me), underlying, biological reasons that i think explain the differences: 1) different populations — broadly speaking, more germanic in the north, more greeks and arabs and others in the south; 2) the old iq differences; and 3) differences in mating patterns which, no doubt, affect social behaviors like trust. these biological aspects of the two(+) populations and their histories are all related — intertwined — next to impossible to tease apart.
i’ll write about putnam’s finding some more when i’ve finished reading the book, but for now, here are some teasers [pgs. 91, 94, 98-99]:
“The Civic Community: Testing The Theory
“Lacking detailed ethnographic accounts of hundreds of communities throughout the regions of Italy, how can we assess the degree to which social and political life in each of those regions approximates the ideal of a civic community? What systematic evidence is there on patterns of social solidarity and civic participation? We shall here present evidence on four indicators of the ‘civic-ness’ of regional life — two that correspond directly to Tocqueville’s broad conception of what we have termed the civic community, and two that refer more immediately to political behavior.
“One key indicator of civic sociability must be the vibrancy of associational life. Fortunately, a census of all associations in Italy, local as well as national, enables us to specify precisely the number of amateur soccer clubs, choral societies, hiking clubs, bird-watching groups, literacy circles, hunters’ associations, Lions Clubs, and the like in each community and region of Italy….
“Leaving aside labor unions for the moment, sports clubs are by far the most common sort of secondary association among Italians, but other types of cultural and leisure activities are also prominent. Standardized for population differences, these data show that in the efflorescence of their associational life, some regions of Italy rival Tocqueville’s America….
“Membership in sports clubs, cultural and recreational groups, community and social action organizations, educational and youth groups, and so on is roughly twice as common in the most civic regions as in the least civic regions….”
the most civic regions being in northern italy, and the least civic ones in the south.
“Although turnout itself in general elections is not a good measure of citizen motivation, one special feature of the Italian ballot does provide important information on regional political practices. All voters in national elections must choose a single party list, and legislative seats are allocated to parties by proportional representation. In addition, however, voters can, if they wish, indicate a preference for a particular candidate from the party list they have chosen. Nationally speaking, only a minority of voters exercise this ‘preference vote,’ but in areas where party labels are largely a cover for patron-client networks, these preference votes are eagerly solicited by contending factions. In such areas, the preference vote becomes essential to the patron-client exchange relationship.
“The incidence of preference voting has long been acknowledged by students of Italian politics as a reliable indicator of personalism, factionalism, and patron-client politics, and we shall shortly present additional confimation of this interpretation. In that sense, preference voting can be taken as an indicator for the absence of a civic community. Regional differences in the use of the preference vote have been highly stable for decades, ranging from 17 percent in Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia [in the north] to 50 percent in Campanis and Calabria [in the south]….
“Regions where citizens use personal preference votes, but do not vote in referenda, do not join civic associations, and do not read newspapers are the same regions whose leaders [when asked by the researchers] describe their regional politics as clientelistic, rather than programmatic.
“Evidence from both citizens and politicians helps us trace the incidence of personalized patronage politics. Citizens in the less civic regions report much more frequent personal contact with their representatives than in the civic north. Moreover, these contacts involve primarily personal matters, rather than broader public issues. In our 1988 survey, 20 percent of voters in the least civic regions acknowledged that they occasionally ‘seek personal help about licenses, jobs, and so on from a politician,’ as contrasted with only 5 percent of the voters in the most civic regions.”
and, the inevitable godfather reference:
update 11/11: see also italian genetics
(note: comments do not require an email. why, yes, i am a little tired today now that you mention it.)