Securing Democracy: Political Parties and Democratic Consolidation in Southern Europe

By Geoffrey Pridham | Go to book overview

Chapter three

The consolidation of democracy in post-war Italy

David Hine


Specific features of the Italian case

The most striking feature of the consolidation of democracy in post-war Italy is the length of time the process seems to have taken. The transition phase-from Fascism to republican democracy-was fairly rapid, lasting roughly from 1943 to 1948. Consolidation, it might be argued, was completed only in the 1970s, if then. Indeed, in so far as one external manifestation of consolidation is the successful transfer of power between government and opposition, consolidation has never been completely tested, for an enduring peculiarity of Italian democracy, compared with most other European democracies, including those elsewhere in the Mediterranean, is the absence of clear-cut alternation between competing groups of parties.

However, while alternation is the ultimate test of consolidation, it is clearly not synonymous with it. It would be misleading to imply that, in the absence of a successful transition to a government of the left, Italian democracy at the start of the 1990s is no more firmly rooted than in the 1950s or 1960s. The difficulty, however, lies in devising adequate measures of the concept of consolidation. In so far as it is related to political cultures and value systems, then longitudinal comparisons of democratic consolidation should ideally be based on survey data, but there are extensive problems associated with survey data in Italy, where response rates have, until recently, tended to be disappointingly low. Even if there were a readily defined structure of elite and mass opinions which was agreed to constitute the appropriate mix of attitudes in a 'Consolidated' democracy, there is for Italy no readily available source of longitudinal data which taps this structure.

At best, there are some useful, but not easily comparable, individual surveys, especially for the more recent period. 1 Much of this work, in so far as it is relevant to democratic consolidation, tends to concentrate on the issue of perceived threats to democracy-that is, how parties regard, trust, and interact with each other, and how they are regarded by

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