chapter  3
15 Pages

A democracy bereft of parties: Anti-political uses of civil society in Italy


If once there were mass political parties with whom democracy identified, today they have been replaced by agencies of political marketing which strive to get candidates elected. Within this context, civil society has adopted a new role that shall be examined in this chapter. We will show how civil society first of all constituted a legitimate political space that competed with parties in the 1970s and 1980s, before then – in tandem with the transformation of political parties – becoming a complementary link between politics and the state. Over time, civil society’s role as a substitute for politics has become extremely ambiguous. On the one hand, the rise in popularity of governance has meant that civil society and its organizations have been accorded an enhanced role in dialogue and negotiation processes. However, on the other hand, political parties have long sought to stifle competition from civil society whether by using it as a buzzword designed to rejuvenate their own jaded and discredited images or by exploiting it as a source of political recruitment. While the parties have not been entirely successful in this, it is clear nonetheless that civil society has become a key battleground of political competition and is open to a series of uses and misuses.