What determines the responsiveness and effectiveness of democratic governments in meeting their citizens' needs? Based on his 1993 study of the twenty Italian regions, Robert Putnam argued that 'civic community', a self-reinforcing syndrome of social engagement and political participation, is the explanation. A re-examination of Putnam's data reveals little evidence of such a syndrome, but confirms that where more citizens participate in politics outside of networks of clientelistic exchange, more effective democratic government results. To discern the causes of variation in this self-motivated political participation, I then test Putnam's measures of social engagement against aspects of Italian socio-economic structure. Economic development and the historical distribution of land, not social engagement, are found to be powerful predictors of self-motivated political participation and in turn democratic quality.