How an Idyllic Italian Village Was Crippled by Family-Centrism

edward-c-banfield-photo-of-chiaromonte
Photograph by Edward C. Banfield. Copyright Laura H. Banfield.

Zocalo Public Square has published an essay of mine on Banfield’s classic text, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society (1958).

More than 60 years ago, an American family arrived in a seemingly idyllic town in Southern Italy. Stone buildings resembled “a white beehive against the top of a mountain.” Donkeys and pigs idled in the ancient, winding streets. A town crier tooting a brass horn announced “fish for sale in the piazza at 100 lire per kilo.” There were two churches, two bars, and a movie theater. Shops offered locally made shoes and olive oil, and locally-sourced meat. Nearly everyone farmed and tended animals and knew one another, at least by name or reputation.

Yet Chiaromonte’s 3400 residents were anything but content. They were crushingly poor and simmered with resentment. Why? In great part, as the Americans learned during their stay, because they were too family-focused.

Political scientist Edward C. Banfield went to Italy in 1954 to better understand poverty. Researchers then tended to assume people were poor due to lack of education or because they were victimized by the government or capitalism. Banfield himself had been a reporter and had traveled across the United States during the Great Depression, so he knew the reality was more complex. In order to understand why people are as they are and do what they do, Banfield believed one needed to learn how they viewed the world and their place within it.

This may sound self-evident, but it cut against the academic grain of the day. The University of Chicago, where Banfield earned his doctorate and had a teaching appointment, was known for its shoe-leather sociological research. Its Prof. William Foote Whyte, for example, wrote Street Corner Society in 1943 after four years studying a slum in Boston’s North End.

In 1956, Banfield and his wife Laura (who spoke Italian) spent nine months in Chiaromonte and interviewed dozens of residents. They pored over census data and official records, enlisted some residents to keep diaries, and conducted psychological surveys on others. Two years later, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society described what they had found and concluded that Chiaromonte’s poverty and grim melancholia (la miseria) were rooted in its people’s “amoral familism.”

Read more at http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/12/15/idyllic-italian-village-crippled-family-centrism/ideas/nexus/

Joseph F. Freeman III Review of The Unheavenly City

Source: FirstPrinciplesJournal.com
Source: FirstPrinciplesJournal.com

As a young, recently minted Ph.D., Lynchburg College’s Joseph Freeman wrote a peach of a review of Banfield’s The Unheavenly City for Political Science Reviewer (now defunct). The Intercollegiate Studies Institute kindly has posted the PSR archives online and you can read Freeman’s review at https://isistatic.org/journal-archive/pr/01_01/freeman.pdf.

A hat tip to Robert Schadler for telling me about this review. Schadler had Banfield for a one-on-one reading course at the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1970s. He also was managing editor of Political Science Reviewer for a decade. These days, Schadler is a Senior Fellow in Public Diplomacy at the American Foreign Policy Council, and the President of Educational Enrichments, an information service based in Washington, DC.

 

Edward C. Banfield on Corruption as a Feature of Governmental Organization

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 8.51.19 AMIn the autumn 2015 copy of the Claremont Review of Books, Christopher DeMuth writes:

Political scientist Edward C. Banfield argued 40 years ago that corruption is an inherent feature of government. Like Cost, he believed fragmented government invites interest-group manipulation and extra-governmental authority structures, such as party organizations and public-private alliances. But Banfield described many other factors that are independent of political fragmentation, grounded instead in the nature of political decision-making and monopoly. These included: fragmented authority within government organizations; ambiguous and often conflicting goals; lack of objective metrics of performance; transitory leadership; inflexible pay scales and inability to punish even egregious misbehavior; captive “shareholders” (citizens); and the powerful lure of non-pecuniary incentives, especially the opportunity to wield power. The importance of these general characteristics is suggested by the prevalence of corruption and interest-group capture in state and local government, such as Plunkitt’s Tammany Hall machine, which are free of Cost’s mismatch.

DeMuth was a student and great friend of Banfield, and understands Banfield’s work better than anyone.

One can read Banfield’s “Corruption as a Feature of Governmental Organization” at http://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/-here-the-people-rule_165254919061.pdf. Indeed, if one searches for the term “corruption” in the aforementioned text, one will see that Banfield wrote of corruption in other essays too, such as “”In Defense of the American Party System.”

Harvard Crimson Articles on Edward C. Banfield Online

Source: TheCrimson.com
Source: TheCrimson.com

Happily, the Harvard Crimson makes many of its articles about Banfield available online. You can see them at: http://www.thecrimson.com/search/?cx=013815813102981840311%3Aaw6l9tjs1a0&cof=FORID%3A10&ie=UTF-8&q=%22edward+c.+banfield%22&sa=

This one from December 2, 1971, regarding Banfield’s few-year departure from Harvard, features a leaf-raking James Q. Wilson, who was a student and dear friend of Ed’s. Read it at http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1971/12/2/banfield-quits-harvard-takes-position-at/

Who Was Edward C. Banfield and Why Should You Read His Books and Articles?


Edward C Banfield
Edward C. Banfield was a political scientist who taught for nearly four decades at the University of Chicago, Harvard University, and the University of Pennsylvania. He served as an adviser to two presidents (Nixon and Reagan) and many lesser officials, and held academic positions, including the vice presidency of the American Political Science Association. Banfield wrote 16 books and scores of articles and essays, which received widespread acclaim and criticism….

Banfield’s writings often offended the then-popular elite views of individuals as rational and directed by salubrious motives. He had many warm friends and was himself devoted to “the life of the mind,” but his reading of the evidence led him to a view of human nature that was decidedly unromantic. This is not to say that Banfield did not believe in the power of reason—he did. But he agreed with philosopher David Hume’s dictum that for most persons reason usually is “the slave of the passions”… (Read more at ContemporaryThinkers.org)

Edward C. Banfield, Model Cities a Step Toward the New Federalism (Washington: Government Printing Office, August 1970)

Edward C. Banfield chaired this task force, which included James Q. Wilson (a former student of his), Richard Lugar (then Mayor of Indianapolis), Professor James Buchanan, and others. The report’s initial paragraphs declare:

Although federal support of the cities has increased sharply in recent years, it has not had the results that were hoped for in those parts of the cities where conditions are worst. This is partly because the biggest federal outlays have been in the suburban fringes and in rural areas. It is also because the federal government has tied too many strings to the aid it has given. Over-regulation has led to waste and frustration.

With about 400 grant-in-aid programs involving roughly $10 billion a year, federal aid to cities is now on such a scale that the federal bureaucracy is incapable of administering it. In the view of the Task Force, most city governments can be trusted to use federal funds in the manner Congress intends, but whether one trusts them or not it is necessary to allow them much more latitude because the alternative is waste and frustration and/or their replacement by a vastly expanded federal-state
bureaucracy.

You may read the whole report (20 pages) below.

More on the Edward C. Banfield-James Q. Wilson Relationship

Peter B. Clark. Source: jqwilson.org

Harvard University and Boston College held a conference in honor of the late James Q. Wilson in April 2013. The participants and their papers can be seen at http://jqwilson.org/multimedia/thinking-about-politics/

One of the attendees was Peter B. Clark, who authored this article with Wilson: “Incentive Systems: A Theory of Organizations” (Administrative Science Quarterly, 1961). Clark knew both Banfield and Wilson, and was friends with both. In his conference remarks, Clark declared,

“I would like to touch upon one aspect of Jim’s intellectual development; specifically the importance of Edward C. Banfield, and mention a few other persons.I have said on another occasion that my contribution to academic political science was stimulating Jim to work with Ed Banfield.”

Clark’s conference remarks  elaborate further on the Banfield-Wilson connection. Click here to view them.

(For this website’s earlier post on the Banfield-Wilson relationship, click here.)

Full citation: Peter B. Clark, “Regarding James Q. Wilson,” remarks for Thinking About Politics: A Conference Dedicated to Explaining and Perpetuating the Political Insights of James Q. Wilson, Harvard University and Boston College, April 4-5, 2013.