What do you understand by Political Culture? Essay

“The modern concern to presence evidence which has been collected and analysed according to accepted canons of scientific research has enhanced our ability to make more precise characterisations of a population’s psycho-cultural orientations to politics, and also increased the possibilities of making more genuine cross-national comparisons across political cultures.”1

The term “Political Culture” goes back to the late 1950’s where Gabriel Almond, an American political scientist stated that “Every political system is embedded in a particular patter of orientations to political action.”2 Almond believes that every political system has its own culture which is crucial in the political process because this for one is the pattern which sets the stage for how everything operates. As a result, it is hard to make changes in the political fabric. Nevertheless, understanding this culture can make it much easier to work within that political system.

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Therefore, in this essay I will highlight the salient points as related to Political Culture such as its usefulness in the study of Politics of different societies and how political socialization is related to it. My discussion will centre on France and its neighbouring Germany and within this discussion, I intend to examine political culture as defined by Almond and Verba, as well other political thinkers.

To begin with, Political Culture it’s as described by Kavagnah a “short hand expression to denote the emotional and attitudinal environment within which the political system operates.”3 In other words, it consists of beliefs, values and predictability of how the government, politics and economics interoperate. This gives a broad framework for any political change and is unique for any nation or states. For instance, Talcott Parsons believes that Orientations are predispositions to political action and are determined by factors such as “traditions, historical, memories, motives, norms, emotions and symbols”.4

In the early 1960s G. Almond and Sidney Verba published “The Civic Culture,” a study focused on five countries (US, Britain, Italy, West Germany and Mexico) discussing these countries’ respective prevalent political viewpoints . We will discuss some examples of political cultures, specifically the political orientations referred to in the study.5

Almonds and Verba’s “The Civic Culture” was an effort to capture the recurring patterns of thought and behaviour of particular nations and groups which formerly had been discussed under the rubric “national character.”6

Behind this research it also showed a theory that a “stable democracy” had to meet several requirements such as a higher level of support in the system and “social trust” enclosing members from different groups. It pointed out that Britain and the USA were the “paradigmatic “civic cultures”.7 Moreover, it was identified three approaches types of political cultures that will be following in the next point.

Without “Civic Culture” there is no stable and strong democracy and this for one can effect the institutions within the nation such as schools, place of work and the society itself. Therefore, Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba illustrated three types of political culture: Parochial, Subject and Participant which can be combined. First of all, the parochial culture is the one in which citizens are only aware of the existence of a central government and pursue their life independently of the decisions taken by the state. This, however, shows that people are not quite aware of politics and this element tends to dominate Mexico or other traditional societies for instance.

Secondly, the Subject Culture where all citizens are aware of the government and are subjected to its decisions but have little action in disagreement and do not participate much in the political process. In other words, people are aware of politics but they hardly affect it although being affected by it and this could be applied in Italy. Thirdly, the Participant Culture is the one in which citizens are able to influence the government and are affected by it. This is when many people participate in politics with the feeling that they can make a difference and this approach is very common in the USA and the Scandinavian political systems.8 Nonetheless, these are only ideal types of approaches and that if it had to be applied in real circumstances, there would be a combination of these 3 elements.

Other than that, Political Socialisation is one of the factors that lead Political Culture to be what it is. It explains the differences in the way people across nations think and feel about politics and how even within a country can groups differ. This term describes the “process whereby the individual learns about and develops orientations to politics”. Its many agents are mainly family and school; others are political parties, history, political experience, education within many others.9 Additionally, political socialization is the method by which we acquire political norms and values during our lives. For instance, our early political views are based on our parent’s views. This could be described as party identification or even taking a negative view of an opposing party. As we leave our family, our political views will be influenced by other people around us and this could be our friends, neighbours, co-workers and so on.

Indeed, it could be argue too that political experiences such as relations with the police, the civil service or even actual experiences with the government can be decisive agents of the political culture.10 Our surroundings can hence determine our voting behaviour too and therefore one of the most important agents nowadays of political socialisation is no doubt the media. This can impact political socialisation in certain ways such as the image of politicians. For example, one of the reasons the Conservative party elected David Cameron as their leader was his positive and friendly image. Secondly, the media can often determine the agenda that politicians tend to follow. Thirdly the newspapers can reinforce their readers to vote for a particular party. All this suggests that socialisation is a “continuous process” that does not stop in child-hood or with school.11

Furthermore, the usefulness of political culture is to analyse a society’s polity and hence as part of this essay I would like to look at Germany and France’s polity as well as the factors that provide them. This allows me to value the political culture by analyzing the government, the constitution, the voting behaviour and globalization are the consequences that effects the result and standing against the culture.

Political culture is a historic phenomenon in Germany. The Federal Republic of Germany is the “product of its past”. Its constitution, political culture, system and its policies as well as some of its present political problems can be explained by reference to the Weimar Republic, the Hitler Regime and the Second World War. 12

An important starting point in order to understand Germany’s political culture is the Reformation which was the split between two directions of religions, the Catholics and the Protestants. This was nevertheless the starting place for Lutheran reforms. However, as a consequence of these religious cleavages, Germany experienced war between 1618-48 leading deaths to more than 300 states in Germany.13

In the 19th century, Germany re-emerges as “new state”. Prussia was forced under Bismarck’s leadership which managed to unify Germany into one strong nation. There were two groups excluded from power, the Catholics and the Socialists in which Bismarck attempted to abolish Catholicism with the Kulturkampf and the Social Democrats suppressed and substituted by the Communist party after 1919. Germany became very nationalistic and their democracy was weak (only strengthen after the Second World War).

14 Today, Germany’s party system is characterised by a large centrist Christian Democrat party challenged by a moderate Socialist party. During hard economic times in the past with the great depression in the late 1920’s, Germany experienced a mass electoral “polarization” as Germans sought extreme solutions to their problems leading the country to struggle with the Hitler era, including Germany’s part in World War II.15 After the war, Germany became the main attention point of the Cold War, which pitted the United States against the Soviet Union.

Political agitation has left Germany with a doubtful political device. Germany is as related to liberal ideas as any other country in Europe, although it is clear that liberal democracy has had a long way to become what it is today. Liberal Democracy has hardly been supported by the German people in the past but this is, however, changing with the rise of new generations. One of the aspects of the process of bonding democratic values is to confront with the country’s Nazi past. These questions become less pressing as years go by though. For the newer generations, Germany is more democratic and more European in a standpoint. But still, convincing their selves that the political system is good in its own right remains incomplete.

Finally, the main points of Germany political culture are integration and unification because reunification has introduced new difficulties, as East and West Germans differ on what should be done.16

On the other hand, differing from Germany, its neighbour France has fewer reforms. Moreover, French political culture is very similar to those English speaking countries in terms of issues, conflicts and institutions. There are conflicts over socialism, free market policies, Europe, international development as well as the issues of human rights and the rule of law. However, although there is much similarity, there are some differences that remain which makes French politics stand out. 17

The “Great Revolution of 1789” is the starting point for contemporary French political society. This revolution has divided the French society along many new ideas which has remained until the 5th Republic. France has then been tried to be governed by variously forms as republic, dictatorship, constitutional monarchy.18

France has been “bitterly” divided by disputes about the status of its colonies in particular Algeria and Indochina, descolonisation, German policy, the Second World War and the nature of the society itself divided in socialism and capitalism.19

However, today, the government of France is a unique mix of presidential and parliamentary systems that reflect “rich political traditions and culture”. Many French people share a general distrust towards the institutions of government and this modern tendency probably has its roots in the French Revolution and the consequences of the conflicts between the monarchists and the republicans. Some people deplore and others praise the Revolution as the split relates to another which is the attitudes towards the Church. Even nowadays, religiosity is a good indicator of how people vote in France. In addition, education in France plays an important role as well as this can indicate influence and power. Class also divides French society. Yet, the fall of communism in the Soviet Union discredited left-wing ideas. Therefore, French politics are becoming more moderate and moving to the “ideological” center.20

I think one important distinction is that up until the 20th century, there were no successful German mass-revolutionary movements comparable to the French Revolution. Both the Peasants’ War and the Revolutions of 1848 failed to oust the old conservative order of the country.21 Thus Germany embraced a liberal political order much later than France. Another aspect may be the development of the military ethos in Prussia, which derived in large part from the poor geographic position of that area as it relates to military defense. Since that part of Europe was subject to frequent military threats, the people there developed a strong military culture to protect themselves.

This military ethos was exported to the rest of Germany through Prussian rulers, and helped to establish an emphasis on order and discipline in the culture. However, politically they are both “young” countries. They have changed political types of countries several times and don’t have a very long history from a political mind set. East Germany was communist until recently (in a historical sense), West Germany was Nazi no very long ago and France has been run by anyone that can march in there and claim they are in charge.

In conclusion, even though there are some attacks towards the political culture approach, at the same time still there are some political scientists that believe that there are reasons why political culture is important to study. For instance, according to Kavanagh it is worth “tapping” the political culture for two reasons. 22 Firstly, citizens attitudes towards the political system clearly affects the kinds of demands made, the way they are expressed, the response of the elites, the reserves of popular support for the regime. The political culture approach enhances our ability to describe and analyse the interactions between the political system and its culture and by distinguish between behaviour and attitudes, we are able to point out differences in performance across political systems and structures in terms of culture. The other reason is that, by comprehending the origin of the relationship between the political culture and the system’s performance, we are better able to appreciate means by which progressive political changes might be brought about.23

All in all, in my opinion I would agree that political culture is the value and faith that affects how a political system works by helping us to explain why broadly similar circumstances across nations can produce different results. Moreover, I believe that although political culture actually doesn’t supply all the answers it can always be a starting point.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Almond, G and Verba, S (1980) Civic Culture Revisited, Canada, Little, Brown Company.

Eatwell, R (1997), European Political Cultures. Conflict or Convergence?, London, Routledge.

Kavagnah, D (1972), Political Culture, London, The Macmillan Press LTD.

K. Roberts, G (2000) German Politics Today, Oxford Road Manchester, Manchester University Press.

S. Bell, D (2002) French Politics Today, Oxford Road Manchester, Manchester University Press.

1 Kavagnah,, Dennis “Approaches to Political Culture”, Political Culture 1972, p.9-10

2 G. Almond, “Comparing Political Systems”, The Journal of Politics, 1956, 18, p.396

3 Kavagnah,, Dennis “Approaches to Political Culture”, Political Culture 1972, p.10

4 Kavagnah,, Dennis “Approaches to Political Culture”, Political Culture 1972, p.11

5 R. Eatwell, “The Importance of Political Culture approach”, European Political Cultures. Conflict or Convergence? 1997, p.1

6″Daniel J. Elazar, “Politics: continuity and change”, Globalization meets the worlds politics, 1999

7 R. Eatwell, “The Importance of Political Culture approach”, European Political Cultures. Conflict or Convergence? 1997, p.1

8 Almond, Gabriel A., Verba, Sidney The Civic Culture Revised ,

9 Kavagnah,, Dennis “Political Socialisation”, Political Culture 1972, p.28

10 Kavagnah,, Dennis “Political Socialisation”, Political Culture 1972, p.35

11 Kavagnah,, Dennis “Political Socialisation”, Political Culture 1972, p.35

12 Geoffrey K. Roberts, “The Creation of present-day Germany”, German Politics Today , 2000, pg 1

13 Ekkart Zimmermann, “Germany”, European Political Cultures. Conflict or Convergence , 1997, p.89

14 Ekkart Zimmermann, “Germany”, European Political Cultures. Conflict or Convergence , 1997, p.89

15 Ekkart Zimmermann, “Germany”, European Political Cultures. Conflict or Convergence , 1997, p.91

16 Geoffrey K. Roberts, “Political Culture of Germany”, German Politics Today , 2000, p48

17 David S. Bell, “French Political Culture”, French Politics Today, 2002, p3

18 David S. Bell, “French Political Culture”, French Politics Today, 2002, p4

19 David S. Bell, “French Political Culture”, French Politics Today, 2002, p15

20 David S. Bell, “French Political Culture”, French Politics Today, 2002, p15

21http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutions_of_1848_in_the_German_states#The_end_of_the_Revolutions_in_the_German_states

22 Kavagnah,, Dennis “Approaches to Political Culture”, Political Culture 1972, p.12

23 Kavagnah,, Dennis “Approaches to Political Culture”, Political Culture 1972, p.13