Why do some democratic governments fail or work badly, whereas others have at least qualified success? What are the conditions that allow representative institutions to perform well? For Robert Putnam, recent experience in Italy provides useful material for answers to these questions. Scholars can find in Italy widely varied social and cultural conditions: from the backwardness of preindustrial societies to the complexity of postindustrial ones; from deeply religious communities to
thoroughly secularized ones. Putnam studied the implementation of local and regional political decentralization from its beginnings in 1970 until the end of the 1980s. Twenty years of data allow the author to check the growth of one democratic seed in many different soils.
Using the “Italian case,” Putnam confronts a major question facing political scientists: do political institutions shape social reality or does social reality shape political institutions? He declares his own preference for the second view, suggesting that historical context (socio-cultural-political) is decisive in determining the performance of democratic institutions....
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