Bowling for Adolf: or why social capital isn’t all good

File:Nazi-bowling.pngBowling for Fascism: Social Capital and the Rise of the Nazi
Party in Weimar Germany, 1919-33
by Shanker Satyanath, Nico Voigtlaender, Hans-Joachim Voth – #19201 (DAE POL)


Social capital – a dense network of associations facilitating cooperation within a community – typically leads to positive political and economic outcomes, as demonstrated by a large literature following Putnam. A growing literature emphasizes the potentially “dark side” of social capital. This paper examines the role of social capital in the downfall of democracy in interwar Germany by analyzing Nazi party entry rates in a cross-section of towns and cities. Before the Nazi Party’s triumphs at the ballot box, it built an extensive organizational structure, becoming a mass movement with nearly a million members by early 1933. We show that dense networks of civic associations such as bowling clubs, animal breeder associations, or choirs facilitated the rise of the Nazi Party. The effects are large: Towns with one standard deviation higher association density saw at least one-third faster growth in the strength of the Nazi Party. IV results based on 19th century measures of social capital reinforce our conclusions. In addition, all types of associations – veteran associations and non-military
clubs, “bridging” and “bonding” associations – positively predict NS party entry. These results suggest that social capital in Weimar Germany aided the rise of the Nazi movement that ultimately destroyed Germany’s first democracy.

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Ingolf Eide
10 years ago

Great title, Nicholas. I couldn’t resist skimming through the article.

If I’ve read it right, the relationship between association density and party memberships seemed to hold pretty much regardless of association type. Singing clubs and disenchanted veterans clubs both significantly raised party applications.

Seems to argue against the notion of a dark side to social capital, doesn’t it (not that I’m suggesting one can’t exist). What did make a lot of sense was the authors’ suggestion that associations provided an effective recruiting mechanism.

“[E]ntrepreneurial NS Party members who did not join through a local chapter [ . . . ] often established a bridgehead for the movement. They succeeded on a vastly greater scale in founding new party chapters where they had numerous pre-existing affiliations. Single members with four or more civic society connections were 18 times more likely to successfully establish a local branch of the Nazi party than those with no connections at all – and still three times more than party members with only one association membership.”

I guess once initial chapters were established, that same mechanism continued to work, just with a whole lot more people using it.

Anyway, fascinating stuff. Thanks.