Working Papers

The Authoritarian Foundations of Civic Culture

Spain and Italy in Comparative Perspective


What is the connection between civic autonomy and political participation? This paper assesses three answers to this question: the left Tocquevillian argument suggesting that civic autonomy encourages political participation, the right Tocquevillian argument suggesting that civic autonomy discourages political participation, and the neo-Marxist synthesis of these two positions developed by Gramsci. We investigate these competing arguments by analyzing the impact of two very different authoritarian regimes (Fascist Italy, and Francoist Spain) on postauthoritarian democratic participation. The Italian fascist regime eliminated civic autonomy, incorporating civic organizations into the party. The Franco regime, in contrast left a relatively autonomous “civic sphere” in tact. We find that Italian fascism tended to promote political participation by establishing a pattern of political behavior in which parties dominated civic associations. Spanish authoritarianism, with its more laissez faire orientation to civil society, left a legacy of deep political apathy. Paradoxically, from the perspective of the Tocquevillian left, the Fascist Italian regime produced a more ‘participatory’ liberal democracy, than the less Fascist Franco dictatorship.