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Filippo Sabetti

PhD Indiana University

Senior Research Fellow
The Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University

Email: filippo [dot] sabetti [at] mcgill [dot] ca

Research interests

  • Comparative and Canadian Politics
  • Co-Evolution of States and Markets
  • Constitutional Artisanship and Organizational Innovation
  • Civic Theory and Civic Practice
  • Federalism and Subsidiarity
  • History as Natural Experiment

Filippo Sabetti works on a range of issues across the subfields of Canadian Politics, Comparative Politics and Political Theory aiming to uncover the mechanisms that enable social cooperation to emerge among individuals and to show why centralization need not be an inevitable tendency of democracy.

The point of departure of this inquiry focused on whether the structure of basic social institutions is a primary instrument for advancing freedom and human welfare or a significant source of human adversity and misery. This research has led to a reassessment of  habitual assumptions and presumptions in the study of comparative politics, opening a new territory in the art and science of comparative institutional analysis and public choice: why the search for good government often leads to counter-intentional results; what can happen when those acting for the State regard ordinary people as passive voices in the game of life; what happens when a hegemonic or  ruling group causes a subset of the population to be weak, while blaming the weak for lack of culture or public spirit; and why even successful weapons of the weak can become in time afflicted by oligarchical and other institutional problems  of the formal rules of governance.

His study of mechanisms that enable social cooperation in societies with polycentric systems like Canada and the United States and with societies with federal potential like Italy and Spain has helped to recast  understanding of the relationship between democracy and culture and the passage to modernity. It has also contributed to a renewed appreciation of the pioneering work of Vincent and Elinor Ostrom in uncovering mechanisms of self-governance pointing to not only why centralization need not be an inevitable tendency of democracy but also why we need to go beyond the concept of federalism to convey the rich tapestry of self-governance in the modern world.

His most recent study, Civilization and Self-Government: The Political Thought of Carlo Cattaneo (2010), reveals why the nineteenth-century pioneering analysis of Cattaneo merits a place, alongside John Stuart Mill and Tocqueville, in the continuing debate about the meaning of civilization, liberty and self-government. Thanks to a three-year research grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Sabetti is now extending that inquiry to the mechanisms of self-governance, organizational innovation and wealth creation of the past to improve the future.

The focus is on surveying Italian efforts at self-governance across the usual divides between medieval, Renaissance and early modern and modern history, and between normative and empirical analysis in political science, law and economics. To be sure, this is not the first time that an attempt is made to discover the past to improve the future. Many modern analysts have gone all the way to Ancient Greece for insights on how to grapple with contemporary problems. Turning to Italy can be just as enriching, for few areas of Europe can match Italian history for wealth of documentary evidence and for being a laboratory of constitutional artisanship and organizational innovation in politics and economics.

In opening new vistas for the affirmation of citizens as creators of the world in which they live, Sabetti’s research program seeks to give a hand to the creation of a new intellectual community of civic studies, affirming the centrality of democratic citizenship in the art and practice of social science.

    Select Publications


    Filippo Sabetti and Paul Dragos Aligica , eds. (2014). Choice, Rules and Collective Action. The Ostroms on  the Study of Institutions and Governance. Colchester UK: University of Essex, ECPR Press.

    Bruce Haddock and Filippo Sabetti, eds. (2014). Vincenzo Cuoco. Historical Essay on the Neapolitan Revolution of 1799. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

    Filippo Sabetti (2010 and 2013 paper). Civilization and Self-Government: The Political Thought of Carlo Cattaneo. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

    Filippo Sabetti, Barbara Allen and Mark Sproule-Jones, eds. (2009). The Practice of Constitutional Development: Vincent Ostrom’s Quest to Understand Human Affairs. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

    Mark Sproule-Jones, Barbara Allen and Filippo Sabetti, eds., (2008).The Struggle to Constitute and Sustain Productive Orders. Vincent Ostrom's Quest to Understand Human Affairs. Lanham, MD : Lexington Books.

    Filippo Sabetti, ed. (2007). Libertà e Liberali in Europa e in America [Liberty and Liberalism in Europe and America]. Milan: Edizioni Guerini.

    Carlo G. Lacaita and Filippo Sabetti, eds. (2006). Civilization and Democracy: The Salvemini Anthology of Cattaneo’s Writings. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

    Filippo Sabetti (2004). Alla Ricerca del Buon Governo in Italia. Updated version of The Search for Good Government. Manduria-Bari-Rome: Piero Lacaita Editore.

    Filippo Sabetti (2002). Village Politics and the Mafia in Sicily. 2nd edition of Political Authority. San Francisco: ICS Press, and Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

    Saverio Di Bella, Filippo Sabetti and Pierre Tremblay, eds. (2001). Il Crimine in America. Cosenza: Pellegrini Editore.

    Filippo Sabetti (2000). The Search for Good Government: Understanding the Paradox of Italian Democracy. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, paperback 2002. Shortlisted for Canadian Social Science Prize.

    Filippo Sabetti (1993). Politica e potere in un comune siciliano. Updated version of Political Authority. Cosenza: Pellegrini Editore.

    Filippo Sabetti and Raimondo Catanzaro, eds. (1991). Italian Politics. A Review. Vol. 5. London: Pinter Publishers.

    Raimondo Catanzaro and Filippo Sabetti, eds. (1990). Politica in Italia. I fatti dell’anno e le interpretazioni. Edizione 1990. Bologna: Il Mulino.

    Harold M. Waller, Filippo Sabetti, Daniel J. Elazar, eds. (1988). Canadian Federalism: From Crisis to Constitution. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

    Filippo Sabetti (1984). Political Authority in a Sicilian Village. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

    Filippo Sabetti and Harold Waller, eds., (1984). Crisis and Continuity in Canadian Federalism. Special issue of Publius: The Journal of Federalism, vol. 14.

    Select Journal Articles and Book Chapters:

    The Collective Action Theory Path to Contextual Analysis.” (with Paul Dragos Aligica). Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research (forthcoming).

    Tocqueville’s Voyage of Discovery from Sicily to America.” Pp. 337-364. In Christine D. Henderson, ed., Tocqueville’s Voyages. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc.

    “The Ostroms’ Research Programme for the Study of Institutions and Governance: Theoretical and Epistemic Foundations.” (with Paul D. Aligica). Pp. 1-22. In Filippo Sabetti and Paul Dragos Aligica , eds., Choice, Rules and Collective Action. The Ostroms on the Study of Institutions and Governance. Colchester UK: University of Essex, ECPR Press 2014.

    “Vincenzo Cuoco and the Nature of Revolution and Constitutionalism.” (with B. Haddock). Pp. xi-xxxvi. In B. Haddock and F. Sabetti, eds., Vincenzo Cuoco. Historical Essay on the Neapolitan Revolution of 1799. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014.

    “Artisans of the Common Life: Building a Public Science of Civics.” Pp. 23-32. In Peter Levine and Karol Soltan, eds., Civic Studies. Vol. III. Washington DC: Bringing Theory to Practice, 2014.

    “Cattaneo, Tocqueville and the Ostrom Workshop at  Indiana University, Bloomington.” Pp.31-46. In Carlo G. Lacaita and F. Masoni, eds., Carlo Cattaneo: Federalismo e Sviluppo [Federalism and Development].  Florence: Le Monnier, 2013.

    “Public Happiness as the Wealth of Nations: The Rise of Political Economy in Naples in a Comparative Perspective.” California Italian Studies 3 (2012, no.1):1-31. Permalink: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/7db6235h

    “Stationary Bandits: Lessons from the Practice of Research from Sicily.”  Sociologica 2/2011: 1-22. 

    “Cattaneo come Tocqueville?” [“Cattaneo like Tocqueville?”] Confronti  nos. 1-2 (2011): 65-86.

    “Constitutional Artisanship and Institutional Diversity: Elinor Ostrom, Vincent Ostrom and the Workshop.”  The Good Society 20 (no. 1) 2011: 73-83.

    "Italian Political Thought." International Encyclopedia of Political Science, ed. George T. Kurian. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011. http://library.cqpress.com/teps/enclyps_843.1.

    “Institutions as Human Artifacts.” Pp. 3-14. In F. Sabetti, B. Allen and M. Sproule-Jones, eds., The Practice of Constitutional Development: Vincent Ostrom’s Quest to Understand Human Affairs. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009 (ed. with Barbara Allen and Mark Sproule-Jones).

    "Democratization without Violence: Can Political Order be Achieved through Peaceful Means" Pp. 85-110. In M. Sproule-Jones, B. Allen and F. Sabetti, eds., The Struggle to Constitute and Sustain Productive Orders. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2008.

    "Normative and Empirical Inquiries into Systems of Governance." Pp. 3-10. In M. Sproule-Jones, B. Allen and F. Sabetti, eds., The Struggle to Constitute and Sustain Productive Orders. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2008.

    “Democracy and Civic Culture.” Pp.340-62. In The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics, ed.by C. Boix and S. Stokes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    "Types of Federalism: Achieving Self-Governing Capabilities in Societies with Federal Potentials." Pp. 27-54. In The Dynamics of Federalism in National and Supranational Political Systems, ed. by M. Pagano and R. Leonardi. New York: Macmillan Palgrave, 2007.

    “Libertà e Potere nel percorso del liberalismo classico [Liberty and Authority in the Trajectory of Classical Liberalism].” Pp. 11-25. Libertà e Liberali in Europa e in America, ed. by Filippo Sabetti. Milan: Edizioni Guerini, Turin: Centro Einaudi, 2007.

    “Incivilmento e autogoverno nel pensiero politico dell’Ottocento: il contributo di Carlo Cattaneo in una prospettiva comparatistica [Civilization and Self-Government in Nineteenth-Century Political Thought: Cattaneo’s Contribution in a Comparative Perspective].” Pp. 453-484. In Città e Pensiero Politico Italiano dal Risorgimento alla Repubblica, ed. by R. Ghiringhelli. Milan: Edizioni Vita & Pensiero, 2007.

    “Carlo Cattaneo and Varieties of Liberalism.” (with C.G. Lacaita). Pp. 3-52. In Civilization and Democracy, ed. by C.G. Lacaita and F. Sabetti. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.

    “Dalla cultura civica al capitale sociale: progresso nella scienza politica comparata [From Civic Culture to Social Capital: Progress in Comparative Politics]." Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica 36 (August 2006): 183-205.

    The Mafia Misunderstood - Again." Journal of Modern Italian Studies 11 (no. 2, 2006): 232-239.

    “Local Roots of Constitutionalism.” Perspectives on Political Science 33 (no. 2, Spring 2004): 70-78.

    “Il Passaggio alla Modernita’: Riflessioni Teoriche sull’Esperienza di Francia, Italia e Spagna.[Passage to Modernity: Theoretical Reflections on the Historical Experience of France, Italy and Spain]” Teoria Politica 18 (no.3 2002): 21-43.

    "Covenant Language in Canada: Continuity and Change in Political Discourse." pp. 259-284. In The Convenant Tradition: From Federal Theology to Modern Federalism, ed. by D. J. Elazar and J. Kincaid. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2000.

    "Cuestiones dificiles y solution de problema: reto del federalismo canadiense, antes y ahora [Problem Solving in the Organization and Practice of Canadian Federalism]." In Hacia in nuevo federalismo? Alicia H. Chávez, ed. Pp. 177-200. Mexico City: Colegio de México, 1996.

    "Path Dependency and Civic Culture: Some Lessons from Italy about Interpreting Social Experiments." Politics & Society 24 (March 1996): 19-44. Reprinted in English, and translated in Catalan.

    "Whose Law, Whose Justice? Of Crime and Punishment in Modern Times." pp. 129-144, in S. Hellman and G. Pasquino, eds., Italian Politics: A Review, vol. 7. London: Pinter Publishers, 1992. Published also in Italian.

    "The Mafia and the Anti-mafia: Moments in the Struggle for Justice and Self-Governance in Sicily." pp. 174-195, in. R. Nanetti and R. Catanzaro. eds., Italian Politics. A Review, vol. 4. London: Pinter Publishers, 1990. Published also in Italian.

    "Un precursore siciliano di 'Public Choice'? Francesco Ferrara e lo sviluppo delle scienze sociali in Nord America." Il Politico 54 (July - Sept. 1989): 409-423. Reprinted in 1990.

    “The Historical Context of Constitutional Change in Canada.” Law and Contemporary Problems 45 (Autum 1982): 11-32. Reprinted in 1984.

    “Reflections on Canadian Urban Governance Research.” Comparative Urban Research 8 (no.2, 1981): 87-112.

    Other publications:

    Review of Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty (2008), and Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift (2009), by Paul Rahe, in Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming in December 2011.

    “Thinking Theoretically and Comparatively about History.” Italian Politics & Society no. 56 (Fall 2002): 28-34.

    “In Conversation: The Meaning of Democracy and the Vulnerability of Democracies.” Polycentric Circles 8 (no. 1 January 2002): 1-3 (with Barbara Allen).

    Review of Agrarian Elites by Enrico Dal Lago. Journal of Modern History 80 (September 2008): 623-25.

    Review of The Case for the Enlightenment: Scotland and Naples 1680-1760 by John Robertson. Canadian Journal of Political Science 40 (September 2007): 781-83.

    Review of Politics as Religion by Emilio Gentile. Perspectives on Politics 5 (March 2007): 149-150.

    Review of Mazzini and Marx: Thoughts upon Democracy in Europe, by Salvo Mastellone. Journal of Modern History, 78 (no. 2. June 2006): 468-69.

    Review of Jane C. Schneider and Peter T. Schneider, Reversible Destiny. Mafia, Antimafia and the Struggle for Palermo (University of California Press 2003). In The American Historical Review 108 (no.5, December 2003): 1552-1553.

    Review of Norberto Bobbio, Ideological Profile of Twentieth-Century Italy (Princeton University Press, 1995); and Carlo Violi, ed., Bibliografia degli Scritti di Norberto Bobbio (Laterza, 1995). In Canadian Journal of Political Science 30 (June 1997): 392-393.

    Review of Benjamin Higgins and Donald Savoie, Regional Development Theories and Their Application (Transaction, 1995). In Canadian Journal of Political Science 29 (June 1996): 420-421.

    Review of David M. Olson and C.E.S. Franks, eds., Representation and Policy Formation in Federal Systems, Canada and the United States (University of California Institute of Governmental Studies Press, 1993). In Canadian Public Policy 20 (December 1994): 445.

    Review of M. Keating, Comparative Urban Politics (E. Elgar, 1991). In Canadian Journal of Political Science 26 (March 1993): 183-184.

    Undergraduate Courses

    • Introduction to Comparative Politics
    • Comparative Local Government
    • Issues in Canadian Public Policy
    • Society and Politics in Italy
    • Comparative Institutions and Policies
    • Development and Public Policies in Western Europe
    • State and Market in Comparative Analysis
    • Making Democracy Work: A Comparative Perspective
    • Canadian Public Administration
    • Presidential and Congressional Politics in the US
    • Hon. Seminar in Comparative Politics Developed: topics have included: Markets and Politics; Passage to Modernity in Europe and North America; Faith, Reason and Democratic Transformations

    Graduate Courses

    • Freedom and the City
    • Introduction to Comparative Politics: Approaches and Issues
    • Comparative Federalism
    • Comparative Institutional and Policy Analysis
    • European Politics

    Graduate and Undergraduate Reading Courses

    • Theories of Multi-Level Governance: Implications for Latin American politics
    • Policies for Urban Growth in Europe
    • Canadian Social Issues and Federalism
    • Health Policies and Marginal People in Israel and Canada
    • Religion and Public Life
    • 18th and 19th Century Liberalism
    • Nationalism and the Congress of Vienna
    • Empirical Theory and Policy Analysis
    • Public Choice Theory and Canadian Politics
    • Women and the Catholic Church in Italian Politics