Political Culture Chapter Eleven
Unit Goals • In this unit, we will look at the question of fundamental sets of value and attitudes about politics that might be unique to specific countries. We will also look at the relationship between those attitudes and democracy. By the end of the unit, you should be able to; • Identify and define the concept of political culture. • Explain where political culture comes from. • Relate the concept of political culture to democratic participation. • Discuss the potential transformation of political culture in the post-modern era. • Before we start, as a point for discussion, think about the following question; is there anything in their values and political beliefs that sets Americans apart from other people in the world? You might be tempted to answer ‘a belief in democracy’ – but anyone in France or Iceland would share that same belief. A faith in the rule of law? Very few people in Sweden or Switzerland would think otherwise… (hint; maybe it is not the beliefs themselves, but the intensity with which the beliefs are held).
Defining Political Culture • In the last unit, we looked at the claims of RCT about individual-level political participation. However, perhaps it is a bit unsatisfying at some level to see everything reduced to a set of instrumental attitudes (“maximizing benefits and minimizing costs”). What about values and beliefs? Where do they fit in? • We know that people are often highly motivated by core values and beliefs; equally so, we know that those values and beliefs can often be manipulated by political elites. • So, what we would like to be able to do is to develop a concept that captures core clusters of beliefs about politics, authority, hierarchy, etc. that are common to specific countries and national cultures. • The concept we call political culture. It is defined as (page 256): “a pattern of shared values, moral norms, beliefs, expectations, and attitudes that relate to politics and its social context”. • Note that it does not matter where those patterns come from (religion, moral norms, politics, etc.); what is common is that they inform us about attitudes towards politics and government in particular societies. • There may be particular sub-cultures, a group that is somewhat culturally distinct in their experiences and attitudes from the dominant culture.
Political Socialization • The branch of political science that we can political psychology is very interested in where we get these attitudes from. • The process through which we learn underlying political values, attitudes, etc. is called political socialization. Political psychologists have identified a number of agents from which we learn these values. • Agents of political socialization include: • Families • Schools • Peers • Social Organizations • The Church • Studies have found that political culture is so pervasive that sometimes people will try and explain away facts that do not correspond to their belief systems (this is what we call cognitive dissonance) • As a question for further discussion; what is the relationship between political culture and democracy?
“The Civic Culture” • The modern study of political culture has its roots in work by people like Alexis de Tocqueville and Max Weber. • However, in 1963 Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba wrote the modern classic, The Civic Culture • Almond and Verba argued that it is probable that there is a direct relationship between political culture and democratic stability. • They distinguished between three different types of ‘political efficacy’ (the feeling at the indvidual level that we can have an effect on the political process); system, government, and individual. • They classified survey respondents into three groups: participants, subjects, and parochials, all of whom were present in the five countries that they studied (the US, Britain, Germany, Italy, and Mexico). • They argued that there was something called a civic culture, which depended upon a high level of participants and subjects and very few parochials. Democracy, they contended, needed similar high levels of subjects and participants and very few parochials. For them, Britain and the US were about ideal, while Germany showed some promise; Italy and Mexico were dominated by parochials.
Conceptualizing Political Culture • Political culture is an intuitively appealing concept, as it corresponds to what many of us think that we know about the world; we can all accept, for example, that Americans think and behave differently to the British, the British to the French, the French to the Canadians, etc. • However, in the course of my career teaching, I always try to emphasize that the biggest danger (a very big danger, in fact) of political culture is that we lapse into stereotypes as a substitute for good, scientific measurement. • Therefore, we need to ask; what are the main characteristics of political culture? How should we conceptualize it? • We can break political culture down into three measurable dimensions, which are shown in the next slides and discussed in the text.
Dimensions of Political Culture Attitudes towards Authority Submissive Interactive Rebellious
Attitudes Towards Cooperation Consensual Mixed Conflictual
Individualism Individualist Balanced Collectivist
Attitudes towards Authority and the State Minimalist Permissive Interventionist
Postmaterialism • Some have argued that there is a new shift occurring in political culture across all developed societies; this is linked to levels of economic development. • Ronald Inglehart has distinguished between what he calls material versus postmaterial values • Materialists: for Inglehart, these are people concerned with primary values of physical and economic security. • Postmaterialists: these are people concerned with ‘quality of life’ issues, such as the environment, human rights, peace, etc. • If Inglehart is correct, and modern democratic societies are witnessing this new divide, what are the consequences for political participation? • Maybe this can explain the turn from conventional to unconventional forms of participation that we studies in the last unit, and might explain the rise of so-called new social movements. • It might also be linked to the transformation of political parties and campaigns, and the rise of issue based politics • It might explain the transformation of political ideology. It is this that we will now investigate in the next unit.