Political Culture Wilson Chapter 4 Klein Oak High School Tocqueville on why democracy could take root in the U.S. • No feudal aristocracy; minimal taxes; few legal restraints • Westward movement; vast territory provided opportunities • Nation of small, independent farmers • “Moral and intellectual characteristics”— today called “political culture” Definition of political culture • Distinctive and patterned way of thinking about how political and economic life ought to be carried out • For example, Americans generally believe more strongly in political than in economic equality Elements of the American view of the political system • Liberty (rights) • Equality • Democracy (government is accountable to the people) • Civic duty • Individual responsibility Some questions about the U.S. political culture • How do we know people share these beliefs? – before polls, beliefs were inferred from books, speeches, political choices etc. • How do we explain behavior inconsistent with these beliefs? – beliefs are still important and may cause changes in behavior • Why is there so much political conflict in U.S. history? – beliefs contradict one another and are not consistently prioritized Historians Debate • “Consensus” historians (e.g. Louis Hartz) contend that Americans agree on political values based on the principles articulated by John Locke. • “Conflict” historians (e.g. Vernon Parrington) discern a liberal–conservative dimension to American values and dispute the existence of a unified culture. • Perhaps the most consistent evidence of a common political culture is the use of the terms “Americanism,” “un-American” The Economic System • Americans support free enterprise, but see limits on marketplace freedom • Americans believe in equality of opportunity in the economy, but not equality of result • Americans have a widely shared commitment to economic individualism Comparing U.S. to Sweden • Swedes have a well-developed democracy, but are more deferential than participatory – Defer to government experts and specialists – Rarely challenge governmental decisions in court – Believe in “what is best” more than “what people want” – Value equality as much as (or more than) liberty – Value harmony and observe obligations Comparing U.S. to Japan • Japanese – Value good relations with colleagues – Emphasize group decisions and social harmony – Respect hierarchy • Americans – Tend to assert rights – Emphasize individualism, competition, equality, following rules, treating others fairly but impersonally Cultural Differences Affect • political systems • economic systems Danger in Overgeneralizing • many diverse groups in each culture Comparisons with Europe • U.S. and British citizens in 1959/1960 had a stronger sense of civic duty and competence • Americans lag in voting rates but not in other forms of participation • Americans have more confidence in government institutions • Americans acknowledge flaws but are still “very proud” of their national identity and “would be willing to fight” for their country in the event of war Comparing Economic Systems • Swedes (contrasted with Americans): Verba and Orren – Favor equal pay and top limit on incomes – Favor less income inequality – Americans are less likely to believe that hard work goes unrewarded or that government should guarantee a basic standard of living Role of religion • Americans are highly religious compared to Europeans • Religious beliefs have played an important role in American politics • Both liberals and conservatives have and do use the pulpit to promote political change The sources of political culture • Historical roots • Legal–sociological factors Historical Roots 1 • American Revolution was essentially over liberty -- asserting rights • Constitution, though, dealt with other issues as well; it was an effort to reconcile personal liberty with societal control • Adversarial culture • Also a longstanding distrust of authority, reflective of a belief that human nature is depraved Historical Roots 2 • Federalist–Jeffersonian transition in 1800 – reconciling the need and the suspicion of government – Legitimated the role of the opposition party, demonstrating that liberty and political change can coexist Legal-Sociological Factors • Widespread (not universal) participation permitted by Constitution • Absence of an established national religion – Religious diversity a source of cleavage – Absence of established religion has facilitated the absence of political orthodoxy – Puritan heritage stress on personal achievement: • • • • Work Save money Obey secular law Do good works Protestant Ethic • Max Weber described this (previous slide) as the “Protestant ethic” (work ethic) • Miniature political systems were produced by churches’ congregational organization, so civic and political skills could develop Family • instills the ways we think about world and politics – Greater freedom of children and equality among family members ... – . . . leads to belief in rights and acceptance of diverse views in decision-making Class Consciousness • not a high degree in U.S. • Most people consider themselves middle class • Even unemployed do not oppose management – the political views of employed and unemployed people are similar • Message of Horatio Alger stories is still popular The Culture War 1 • Cultural classes in America battle over values • Culture war differs from political disputes in three ways: – Money is not at stake – Compromises are almost impossible – Conflict is more profound The Culture War • Culture conflict due to deep differences in beliefs about – private and public morality • standards that ought to govern individual behavior and social arrangements • What kind of country should we line in? Two Camps in Culture War • Orthodox: – morality is as, or more, important than self-expression – morality derives from fixed rules from God • Progressive: – personal freedom is as, or more, important than tradition – changing rules based on circumstances of modern life • Orthodox associated with fundamentalist Protestants • Progressives associated with liberal Protestants and those with no strong religious beliefs Historical Importance of Culture War • More people consider themselves progressives than previously • Rise of technology makes it easier to mobilize people Culture Wars Affect • trust in government • sense of political efficacy • sense of the freedom that should be granted to one’s opponents Mistrust of Government – Increases • Jimmy Carter’s 1979 malaise speech • Polls showed people – Less often trusted government to “do what is right” all or most of the time – Had diminished trust in the president and Congress – Had virtually unchanged trust in the Supreme Court – Had increased trust in state and local governments Mistrust of Government – Causes • Watergate • Vietnam • However, trend was the same before and after these events. Mistrust in Context • Mistrust of specific leaders and policies, not of the system • Present views are closer to historical norm • No loss of confidence in Americans themselves or in their system Political Efficacy • citizen’s capacity to understand and influence political events • two parts – internal • ability to understand and change events • same as 1950s – external • belief that system will respond to citizens • not shaped by particular events • steadily declined since 1960s Efficacy Conclusions • Americans seem to believe that government is becoming too big to respond to individual preferences • efficacy is still much higher among Americans than among Europeans • Americans today may not be more alienated . . . but simply more realistic Political Tolerance • Crucial to democratic society • It allows – free discussion of ideas – selection of rulers without oppression Levels of Tolerance • Most Americans assent in abstract … • … but would deny rights in concrete cases • Fear that the nation is too tolerant of harmful behaviors leads many people to defend common moral standards, over protecting individual rights • Still, most are willing to allow expression by those with whom they disagree How Do Unpopular Groups Survive? • Most people don’t act on their beliefs. • Officeholders and activists more tolerant than general public • Usually no consensus exists on whom to persecute • Courts are sufficiently insulated from public opinion to enforce constitutional protections The End!