The Civil State: Trust, Polarization,
and the Quality of State Government
ERIC M. USLANER
DOES GOOD GOVERNMENT depend on good citizens? Robert Putnam (1993) made this connection in Making Democracy Work and others (including myself) have echoed this claim. Yet, it has proved difficult to measure “good government” (much less to agree what it is) and the causal chain from a positive citizenry to governmental performance remains murky. Democracy depends on a participatory citizenry, to be sure. Representation depends on an alert citizenry. But what do citizens need to do to secure effective government?
Putnam’s link between good citizens and good government is encapsulated in his concept of social capital, which encompasses social networks, formal organizations, and norms of trust. Putnam (1993, 115) argues that in Northern Italy:
choral societies and soccer teams and bird-watching clubs and Rotary clubs. Most
citizens in these regions read eagerly about community affairs in the daily press.
They are engaged by public issues, but not by personalistic or patron-client poli-
tics. Inhabitants trust one another to act fairly and to obey the law. Leaders in
those regions are relatively honest.
But in Southern Italy:
Engagement in social and cultural associations is meager. . . . “Compromise” has
only negative overtones. Laws (almost everyone agrees) are made to be broken,
but fearing others’ lawlessness, people demand sterner discipline, nearly everyone
feels powerless, exploited, and unhappy. . . . it is hardly surprising that representa-
tive government here is less than in more civic communities.