Robert D. Putnam has argued that non-political organizations in civil society are vital for democracy. They result in building social capital, trust and shared values, which politically, help hold society together. Putnam’s civil society is the idea that positive outcomes in government are a product of civic community, for example, networks of trust such as, soccer club or choral society (Putnam). However, social capital may also lead to negative outcomes if the political institution and democracy in a specific country is not strong enough and therefore overpowered by the social capital groups (Berman). This essay will examine the social capital theory, democracy, civil society, as well as examining cases studied in Italy and Weimar
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Civil society means nothing without its corresponding notions such as "individual," "State," "civility," etc. Putnam sees civil society as a state of social, equality and fraternalism that exists between individuals as sovereign actors and the State as a potentially unchecked force or power. One reading of Tocqueville could see him as illustrating civil society as a common public foundation of associations on which the State is supported; unlike Putnam, who ironically cites him, Tocqueville sees a cooperative relationship between the individual, civil society, and the State as the political order (Tocqueville).
Robert Putnam's "Making Democracy Work: Civic traditions in Modern Italy" is a well-researched and organized book. It draws a disturbing comparison between the different fates of an identical experiment with regional government in the regions of both Northern and Southern Italy. Northern Italy, with its long history of civic traditions, saw its newly created regional governments functioning quite well after two decades. On the other hand, the Southern Italian regions with their equally long history of poor civic tradition were plagued with poorly functioning regional governments after the same time period. Putnam draws the distressing conclusion that any attempt to foster a successful civil society will depend largely upon the civic traditions of the region in question. Areas with weak civic traditions will not succeed in quickly