Bowling Alone Is Bad Unless Your Bowling Team Kills People

I’ve been seeing a number of papers popping up recently exploring the dark side of "social capital" — the benefit of community level interaction that political scientist Robert Putnam famously argues in his book Bowling Alone, is necessary for sustaining a strong democracy.  In Bowling for Fascism: Social Capital and the Rise of the Nazi ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
590241_biglebowski2.jpg
590241_biglebowski2.jpg

I've been seeing a number of papers popping up recently exploring the dark side of "social capital" -- the benefit of community level interaction that political scientist Robert Putnam famously argues in his book Bowling Alone, is necessary for sustaining a strong democracy. 

In Bowling for Fascism: Social Capital and the Rise of the Nazi Party in Weimar Germany, 1919-33, Shanker Satyanath, Nico Voigtlaender and Hans-Joachim Voth find that "dense networks of civic associations such as bowling clubs, animal breeder associations, or choirs facilitated the rise of the Nazi Party." (Via Cherokee Gothic)

In They Can't Shoot Everyone: Italians, Social Capital, and Organized Crime in the Chicago Outfit, Louis Corsino writes that the Italian Mafia in Chicago "acquired a social capital advantage because they could draw upon the closed networks in the Italian community and, at the same time, envision a range of illegal opportunities because they occupied a series of "structural holes."

I’ve been seeing a number of papers popping up recently exploring the dark side of "social capital" — the benefit of community level interaction that political scientist Robert Putnam famously argues in his book Bowling Alone, is necessary for sustaining a strong democracy. 

In Bowling for Fascism: Social Capital and the Rise of the Nazi Party in Weimar Germany, 1919-33, Shanker Satyanath, Nico Voigtlaender and Hans-Joachim Voth find that "dense networks of civic associations such as bowling clubs, animal breeder associations, or choirs facilitated the rise of the Nazi Party." (Via Cherokee Gothic)

In They Can’t Shoot Everyone: Italians, Social Capital, and Organized Crime in the Chicago Outfit, Louis Corsino writes that the Italian Mafia in Chicago "acquired a social capital advantage because they could draw upon the closed networks in the Italian community and, at the same time, envision a range of illegal opportunities because they occupied a series of "structural holes."

And in Social Capital and Terrorism, Scott Helfstein writes that "higher stocks of social capital positively correlate with the number of terrorist groups, but the average attack activity of those groups increase as measures of social capital decline." 

It’s not a particularly new observation to say that organizations like the Mob or the Klan can sometimes fulfill the need for social solidarity and community involvement as effectively as bowling clubs or the Rotary Club. But it’s certainly worth remembering that community involvement is only as good as the community one is involved with.

Previously: Are we still ‘bowling alone’ on Facebook?

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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