Copyright © 1995National Endowment for Democracyand the Johns Hopkins University Press. Allrights reserved.Journal of Democracy6.1 (1995) 65-78As featured on National Public Radio, The New York Times, and in other major media, we offer thissold-out, much-discussedJournal of Democracy article by Robert Putnam, "Bowling Alone." You canalso find information at DemocracyNetabout theJournal of Democracyand its sponsor, the NationalEndowment for Democracy.Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social CapitalRobert D. PutnamAn Interview with Robert PutnamMany students of the new democracies that have emerged over the past decade and a half haveemphasized the importance of a strong and active civil society to the consolidation of democracy.Especially with regard to the postcommunist countries, scholars and democratic activists alike havelamented the absence or obliteration of traditions of independent civic engagement and a widespreadtendency toward passive reliance on the state. To those concerned with the weakness of civilsocieties in the developing or postcommunist world, the advanced Western democracies and aboveall the United States have typically been taken as models to be emulated. There is striking evidence,however, that the vibrancy of American civil society has notably declined over the past severaldecades.Ever since the publication of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, the United States hasplayed a central role in systematic studies of the links between democracy and civil society. Althoughthis is in part because trends in American life are often regarded as harbingers of socialmodernization, it is also because America has traditionally been considered unusually "civic" (areputation that, as we shall later see, has not been entirely unjustified).When Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s, it was the Americans' propensity for civicassociation that most impressed him as the key to their unprecedented ability to make democracywork. "Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition," [End Page 65]heobserved, "are forever forming associations. There are not only commercial and industrialassociations in which all take part, but others of a thousand different types--religious, moral, serious,futile, very general and very limited, immensely large and very minute. . . . Nothing, in my view,deserves more attention than the intellectual and moral associations in America." 1Recently, American social scientists of a neo-Tocquevillean bent have unearthed a wide range ofempirical evidence that the quality of public life and the performance of social institutions (and notonly in America) are indeed powerfully influenced by norms and networks of civic engagement.