By Blair Ruble
More than two decades ago, in 1993, Harvard Government Professor Robert Putnam published his now classic study Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Trying to answer the question why northern Italian cities developed vibrant civic traditions which came to support the growth of democratic institutions and southern Italian cities did not, Putnam was surprised to find a strong correlation between civic health and choral societies. Putnam masterfully argued that choral societies emerged from the same broad reservoir of social capital that is required to support civic vitality.
Appearing just as countries throughout the former Communist world were struggling to create new democracies, Putnam’s work became something of a Holy Grail for promoters of a new political order. The problem, however, was that Putnam’s work failed to sufficiently explain how such civic virtue and social capital could be created in the first place.