Civic Traditions in Premodern Italy

Jeff Mielke

in Living on the Edge in Leonardo's Florence

Published by University of California Press

Published in print March 2005 | ISBN: 9780520241343
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520930995 | DOI:
Civic Traditions in Premodern Italy

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Robert Putnam in his fifth chapter of Making Democracy Work argued that the origins of civic society in modern Italy can be traced back to the age of communes in the northern and central regions. These republican regimes were characterised by a high degree of cooperation and collaboration among their members. They were marked by an atmosphere of mutual trust which was crucial for the survival and the achievement of common goals and an egalitarian ethos based upon horizontal social bonds. These regimes also paved the way for other civic organizations. This chapter discusses the civic traditions of premodern Italy. It focuses on the civic organizations and voluntary associations that emerged in pre-Revolutionary Italy. These organizations did not have political agendas nor any significant influence on princes and their administrators. They were only built due to their determination to maintain traditional privileges. It was only in the revolutionary era that Italy underwent a radical overhaul in its political and socioeconomic structures. It was only in this period that tentative efforts were made for the establishment of a civil society. This process was painfully slow and halting in a country whose citizens viewed the state as a “hostile presence because of its identification of the land owners, the tax-collectors, and the carabiniere and because of the paucity of intermediary strata attached to the values of the state”. Even though the associations formed before and after the unification aided in the emergence of a civil society, the assumption of “any simple correlation among voluntary associations, civil society, and liberal democracy is hardly warranted”.

Keywords: communes; civic traditions; premodern Italy; civic organizations; voluntary associations; pre-Revolutionary Italy; civil society

Chapter.  6943 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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