Bowling for Fascism

12 July 2013 at 1:53 am 2 comments

| Dick Langlois |

Speaking of Robert Putnam: Although I think the idea of social capital has its uses, Putnam’s claim that civic engagement in the US has been declining was long ago demolished by my late UConn colleague Everett Ladd. But I have also thought that social capital – and the Romantic “communitarian” movement in general – has been blind to the authoritarian side of community. The always-interesting Hans-Joachim Voth and his co-authors have illustrated this in a dramatic way in a new working paper. Here is the abtract.

Social capital – a dense network of associations facilitating cooperation within a community – typically leads to positive political and economic outcomes, as demonstrated by a large literature following Putnam. A growing literature emphasizes the potentially “dark side” of social capital. This paper examines the role of social capital in the downfall of democracy in interwar Germany by analyzing Nazi party entry rates in a cross-section of towns and cities. Before the Nazi Party’s triumphs at the ballot box, it built an extensive organizational structure, becoming a mass movement with nearly a million members by early 1933. We show that dense networks of civic associations such as bowling clubs, animal breeder associations, or choirs facilitated the rise of the Nazi Party. The effects are large: Towns with one standard deviation higher association density saw at least one-third faster growth in the strength of the Nazi Party. IV results based on 19th century measures of social capital reinforce our conclusions. In addition, all types of associations – veteran associations and non-military clubs, “bridging” and “bonding” associations – positively predict NS party entry. These results suggest that social capital in Weimar Germany aided the rise of the Nazi movement that ultimately destroyed Germany’s first democracy.

Entry filed under: - Langlois -, Institutions, Myths and Realities. Tags: .

Sampling on the Dependent Variable, Robert Putnam Edition Organizational Learning without Markets

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Scott Wallace  |  12 July 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Excellent post, Dick. As a transplant from low social capital Connecticut to high social capital Wisconsin, I can attest to this dark side which is evident in the authoritarian tendencies on both the right and left of the political spectrum. (There is no center here). Our governor recently “fired” a student representative on the University of Wisconsin’s System’s Board of Regents (a largely ceremonial position) after finding out that he signed a recall petition. Wisconsin, after all, is the home of Joseph McCarthy and the John Birch Society. The authoritarian streak is equally evident on the left as anyone who has tried to deal with the Department of Natural Resources or has lived in the People’s Republic of Madison can tell you.

  • 2. James Hasik  |  17 July 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Having been assigned Putnam as reading in our PhD program, a classmate and I have been laughing hysterically over the title. True, we don’t bowl like we used to in the US, but as Ladd noted, we play a LOT of soccer. I play soccer—even though I don’t like soccer!—simply because it’s the community activity. So chillax, Bob Putnam.

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