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The Moral Basis of a Backward Society

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  124 ratings  ·  14 reviews
Paperback, 192 pages
Published February 1st 1967 by Free Press (first published June 1958)
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Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an ethnography of a small town in Southern Italy in the 1950s by an American political scientist. In the book, the town is given the fictitious name of "Montegrano", but Wikipedia tells me that it's really Chiaromonte. The author spent a year living there interviewing the locals.

The society is shockingly poor -- most of the locals cannot read, people routinely go hungry, people lack adequate shoes and clothes. The unexpected death of a pig would be a calamity. When a rich person wants so
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
At first I wasn't sure about reading a book describing the problems challenging the democratic process of small towns in Southern Italy in the 1950s. But the more I delved in this book, the more similarities I could observe with the problems challenging the democratic process of my country: Malta. The cultural ethos can be described with the same phrase: amoral familism. A society which follows and votes solely according to one rule: "maximise the material short-run advantage of the nuclear fami ...more
Charles Haywood
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Most cultures throughout history have been terrible. The natural state of so-called civilized man is somewhere between today’s Venezuela and today’s Somalia. Large-scale success, exceptions to the general rule, offering long-term stability combined with some degree of flourishing, has been limited to a handful of cultures. If you add actual accomplishment that advances the whole human race, you are left with only three, the Greeks, the Romans, and Christendom—which three, no surprise, are closel ...more
Jun 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
The first thing that struck me about the Southern Italian villagers who were the subject matter of this book was the similarity of their ethos to that of the village Iranians with whom I was reared. From experience, the authors' observation that "ancient" Indo-European people (as the book refers to them) are also amoral familists, just with extensive familial ties that are closer to the Northern Italian model, is a correct one.

From a sociological perspective, this book introduced some concepts
Jun 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
The ethos of amoral familism described in the book is one familiar to many outside the rural villages of the Italian south in the 50s. Banfield's observations, despite done from a sometimes overly capitalistic and industrial viewpoint, serve as great discussion of such a culture, and an interesting read in general. ...more
Sep 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: social-policy
Study of the poverty of 1950s southern Italy. Banfield attributes this to "amoral familialism" -- the inability of individuals to act for any purpose between the narrowly-defined self-interest of the family.

Convincing in parts, but spectacularly refuted by subsequent events. Banfield suggests this state of backwardness is near-permanent, and suggests that little progress can be expected for generations if not centuries. And yet, within a few decades, the standard of living in southern Italy soa
Ryan Murdock
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very useful for understanding Malta in 2017, and a great follow up for those who have read Jeremy Boissevain's Saints and Fireworks. ...more
Bernard M.
Sep 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Moral Basis has been among the most cited books in my readings. I was unwittingly transported back in time to 1954 and 1955 Montenegro, the ficticious name of a village in southern Italy, of which Banfield says "the extreme poverty and backwardness of which is to be explained largely (but not entirely) by the inability of the villagers to act together for their common good or, indeed, for any end transcending the immediate, material interest of the nuclear family." He attributes it to an eth ...more
Ed Iannuccilli
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Remarkable bit of research into a most difficult topic. The book was written years ago and is more like a textbook these days as opinions differ as to the conclusions of Banfield.
However, it is a must read for anyone interested in the poverty and social constrictions in southern Italy.
Margaret Sankey
Sep 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
In an effort to conscientiously teach POL 370, I am revisiting classic development and political organization books and soliciting recommendations. This is a striking work of observation done in 1954-55 in the Potenza region of southern Italy--where, despite Marshall Plan money, a new road and the advent of technology like radios and better medicine, the population of about 3,500 people absolutely lacked any community institutions. They had no newspaper, no civil organizations, refused to contri ...more
Mark Isaak
Dec 26, 2016 rated it liked it
I have heard it said, If you can't be grateful for what you have, be grateful for what you escaped. Banfield shows us a 1958 southern Italian community in which immediate self-interest rules and cooperation outside the nuclear family is virtually nonexistent. As a result, it is economically backward and, most appallingly, seems doomed to stay that way. The book is nowhere close to a definitive treatment; it is a single case study, and Banfield treats its thesis more as hypothesis than conclusion ...more
Batrakina Elyzaveta
Dec 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Especially interesting for those who study Post-Soviet space. Peasants` general perception of the world described by Edward C. Banfield (except responsibility towards family) is typical worldview of the inhabitants there. ...more
Roman Skaskiw
Feb 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Great comparison of society and the role of Trust in Southern Italy in the 1950s.

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Oct 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Vi ho riconosciuto diversi atteggiamenti cui ho assistito nella mia vita, e non solo in piccoli paesini sui monti, ma anche in alcune zone di grosse città del sud. Fa paura quanto sia ancora attuale.
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