Sheri Berman, “Civil society and the collapse of the Weimar Republic”, World Politics (1997), pp. 401-429.

‘Summary: responds to Putnam (1993) and his ilk, re: the neo-Tocquevilian thoery.


Method: case study of Weimar Germany and the rise of the Nazi party.


Important Insight: a flourishing civil society does not necessarily bode well for the prospects of liberal democracy – institutions matter. For civil society to have the beneficial effects neo-Toquevillieans posit, the political context has to be right: absent strong and responsive political institutions, an increasingly active civil society may serve to undermine, rather than strengthen, a political regime. Without such political institutions, societies will lack trust and the ability to define and realize their common interests. In such situations, associationalism will probably undermined political stability, by deepening cleavages, furthering dissatisfaction, and providing rich soil for oppositional movements.






*instead of helping to reduce social cleavages, Germany’s weak and poorly designed political institutions exacerbated them; instead of responding to the demands of an increasingly mobilized population, the country’s political structures obstructed meaningful public life. As a result, citizen’s energies and interests were deflected into private associational activities, which were generally organized within rather than across group boundaries (i.e. were an example of ‘bonding’ rather than ‘bridging’).

*the vigour of civil society activities then continued to draw public interest and involvement away from parties and politics, further sapping their strength and significance.