Political culture according to David J. Elkins and Richard E.B. Simeon “consists of assumptions about the political world” (Elkins & Simeon, p. 127). They define political culture shortly as follows; “Political culture is the property of a collectivity- nation, region, class, ethnic community, formal organization, party or whatever” (Elkins & Simeon, p. 129). Political culture is about the collection of rules, regulations, norms and habits that are strongly felt in a specific culture or in other words in a specific area. Political culture is very important in comparative politics because comparative studies focus on the similarities and differences between different cultures, different states and it is very important to determine differences between political cultures of these countries. Doing x can be an appropriate thing in the country A whereas it can be a very negative thing in the country B. Political culture helps social scientists a lot in understanding the differences between countries. Political culture can also be related to social groups such as the working class culture, poverty culture or elite political culture.
One of the earliest and most important works that deals with political culture is Max Weber’s famous “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”. In this masterpiece Weber dealt with the relation or better to say the positive correlation between the dissemination of Protestant belief and the rise of capitalism in European countries. He basically claimed that Protestant ethics were in conformity with the capitalist mode of living, thinking and that is why capitalism developed more in the regions where Protestant population was higher. Long decades after Weber, Almond and Verba conducted a research in 1963 which was dealing with the linkage between participatory civic culture and democracy across five societies. ”Almond and Verba sought to identify features of political culture that foster democratic performance. They paid special attention to the contrast between participant and subject cultures, arguing that democratic outcomes are more likely where participatory norms are widespread” (Jackman & Miller, p. 634). Thirty years later, Robert Putnam published his work in 1993 which was about the linkage between the effective governance and civic participation to politics. Putnam analyzed different Italian regions in his work.
Moreover, Ronald D. Inglehart and Paul R. Abramson in their article “Economic Security and Value Change” dealt with the rise in the post-materialist values in economically developed countries in Europe. Inglehart claimed that new generations in Europe tend to be less materialist than ex-generations and although there are some fluctuations caused by the temporary rise of unemployment and inflation, generally there is a trend in Europe from materialism towards post-materialism among new generations. Inglehart and Abramson substantiated their arguments by giving statistical data and evidence. Clarke and Dunn on the other hand, rejected Inglehart’s theory and asserted that there is no such a trend and even if there is such a trend it is positively correlational with rising inflation. Inglehart and Abramson later showed that rising inflation and unemployment cause rise in the materialist values again but the general trend is never disappeared and becomes more and more evident year by year. Inglehart claims that this trend is mostly caused by generational replacement. “Inglehart’s thesis maintains that the trend toward post-materialism results mainly from generational replacement” (Inglehart & Abramson, p. 339).
These works starting from Max Weber’s classic masterpiece to Inglehart and Putnam’s contemporary works, have all dealt with the notion of political culture. There are some common points in these works according to Jackman and Miller. First of all, they take cultures as relatively coherent clusters of attitudes. Secondly, their arguments about political culture are fundamentally concerned with the prevalence of such value clusters within societies. Thirdly, they consider these cultural syndromes as durable. Lastly, in all these works “the significance of these enduring cultural syndromes stem from the way in which they drive their outcomes” (Jackman & Miller, p. 635).
Social scientists explain differences between different countries’, nations’ political cultures by different reasons as I mentioned earlier. Weber thought of religious belief whereas Putnam focused on civic participation and Inglehart preferred to deal with the economic development as a criterion of political culture. This discussion about political culture is also related to cultural relativism which refers to “the concept that the importance of a particular cultural idea varies from one society or societal subgroup to another, the view that ethical and moral standards are relative to what a particular society or culture believes to be good/bad, right/wrong”. Of course there are certain things that are true in every place of the world but making too much generalizations and thinking that there is only one way for modernity for instance, is not a very healthy approach in social sciences. Cultural relativism allows somehow a degree of freedom to other cultures and helps them not to be suppressed by the Eurocentric thought both in real politics and in the academic world. Political culture is also important for developing countries since democracy cannot be established just by making democratic laws and channels. The important is to install democratic mentality and lifestyle to all citizens and to moderate radical movements.
- Elkins, David J. and Simeon, Richard E.B., “A cause in search of its effects, or what does political culture explain”. Comparative Politics (1979) 11: 127-145.
- Jackman and Miller, “A renaissance of political culture?”, American Journal of Political Science (1996) 40: 632-659.
- Inglehart, Ronald and Abramson, Paul, “Economic security and value change”, American Political Science Review vol. 88, no. 2 (June 1994), pp. 336-354.