Mar 26, 2014

Bowling for fascism: social capital and the rise of the Nazi Party

Social capital is often associated with desirable political and economic outcomes. This paper contributes to a growing literature on its "dark side". We examine the role of social capital in the downfall of democracy in interwar Germany. We analyze Nazi Party entry in a cross-section of cities, and show that dense networks of civic associations such as bowling clubs, choirs, and animal breeders went hand-in-hand with a rapid rise of the Nazi Party. Towns with one standard deviation higher association density saw at least one-third faster entry. All types of associations – veteran associations and non-military clubs, “bridging” and “bonding” associations – positively predict NS Party entry. Party membership, in turn, predicts electoral success. These results suggest that social capital aided the rise of the Nazi movement that ultimately destroyed Germany’s first democracy. We also show that the effects of social capital were more important in the starting phase of the Nazi movement, and in towns less sympathetic to its message.
That is the abstract of this paper by Shanker Satyanath, Nico Voigtländer, & Hans-Joachim Both.
From the conclusions:

Why is social capital associated with benign outcomes in some contexts, but not in others? We examine political differences within Germany to answer this question. Weimar Germany’s institutions did not work well – governments were weak and short-lived, economic policy often failed, and extremist parties blossomed (Bracher 1978). At the same time, the state of Prussia was a bastion of well-functioning republican institutions. There, the “Weimar coalition” reigned without interruption from 1919 to 1932. Politicians from the middle governed, and their defense of democracy was vigorous (Orlow 1986). In Prussia, the link between association density and Nazi Party entry was much weaker than in the rest of the country. This suggests that the effects of social capital depend on the institutional context; where democratic politics on the whole “worked”, more social capital was not associated with more Nazi Party entry. (p. 29) 
HT: Fabio Sabatini

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