In this lesson, we’ll be looking at political culture, including its basic definition and different theories and types. We’ll also compare America’s political culture with the political cultures of other countries, after which you’ll have the chance to test your understanding of the topic with a short quiz.
What is a Political Culture?
The term ‘political culture‘ is used in the field of social science. It refers to historically-based, widely-shared beliefs, feelings, and values about the nature of political systems, which can serve as a link between citizens and government.Different countries have different political cultures, which can help us understand how and why their governments are organized in a certain way, why democracies succeed or fail, or why some countries still have monarchies. Understanding our own political culture can also provide clues to political relationships, such as those we share with each other or our governments.In the United States, we may be tempted to think of political culture in terms of our voting status as a Democrat or a Republican.
However, it’s important to understand that political culture differs from political ideology. The term ‘political ideology‘ refers to a code of beliefs or views about governments and politics that may influence the way we vote or whether or not we support certain legislative actions.For example, two people can share a political culture, but have different political ideologies. In other words, a right-wing conservative can be from the same political culture as a left-wing liberal. In other words, political culture is something we share, while a political ideology is something we use to define ourselves and make political decisions.Now, let’s take a brief look at some theories of political culture.
In 1963, two political scientists, Gabriel Almond and Sydney Verba, published a study of the political cultures associated with five democratic countries: Germany, Italy, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
According to Almond and Verba, there are three basic types of political culture, which can be used to explain why people do or do not participate in political processes.In a parochial political culture, like Mexico, citizens are mostly uninformed and unaware of their government and take little interest in the political process. In a subject political culture, such as those found in Germany and Italy, citizens are somewhat informed and aware of their government and occasionally participate in the political process. In a participant political culture, like the United Kingdom and the United States, citizens are informed and actively participate in the political process.Other theories of political culture address how political culture takes root and is transferred from generation to generation through political socialization and include Seymour Martin Lipset’s formative events theory, which describes the long-lasting effects of key events that took place when a country was founded; Louis Hartz’s fragment theory, which explains the long-lasting effects of European colonization on countries and societies; and Roger Inglehart’s post-materialism theory, which explains the long-lasting effects of childhood economic and social conditions.
Japan is a constitutional democracy; after World War II, officials from the United States wrote the country’s constitution. In Japan, however, good relations and harmony are considered much more important than in the U.S. The concept of hierarchy, both familial and political, is deeply rooted in Japanese political culture.
In comparison to Americans, the Japanese demonstrate more respect for authority, as evidenced by their interactions with elder family members and leaders.
Sweden is also a constitutional democracy, more rooted in deference and unanimity than in the United States. It’s important to Swedes that the decisions their government makes are ones that most citizens agree on and will benefit from, not deeply contested ones. For example, Swedes favor high tax rates and limits on high incomes; they also support policies that reduce income inequality. Swedes tend to be less mistrustful of government leaders than Americans, who may have been affected by the Watergate Scandal of the 1970s and the impeachment of President William Clinton in the late 1990s.
The term ‘political culture‘ is used in the field of social science and refers to historically-based, widely-shared beliefs, feelings, and values about the nature of political systems, which can serve as a link between citizens and government. Political culture differs from political ideology in that two people can share a political culture but have different ideologies, such as Democrats and Republicans.According to Almond and Verba’s 1963 study, there are three basic types of political culture: parochial, subject, and participatory. Theories developed by other political and social scientists explain how political culture takes root and is passed down from generation to generation through political socialization. These include fragment theory, formative events theory, and post-materialism theory.
Unique to American political culture are commonly shared beliefs in democracy, equality, liberty, and nationalism, as well as free enterprise and individualism. Key events that helped to form and shape our political culture include the American Revolution, global conflicts like World War I and II, social programs and political scandals, like the impeachment of President Clinton and Watergate.Political countries differ from country to country. For example, Japanese citizens are more comfortable with authority and hierarchical structures, while Swedes tend to be less mistrustful of government and more open to social programs that will benefit the underserved than Americans.
The goal of this lesson on political culture is to expand your knowledge and ability to:
- Mark the contrasts between political culture and political ideology
- Specify the three types of political cultures
- List some political culture theories
- Provide examples of political culture in America