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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

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political culture

Political Culture

Wilson Chapter 4

Klein Oak High School

tocqueville on why democracy could take root in the u s
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Cultural Differences Affect
  • political systems
  • economic systems
danger in overgeneralizing
Danger in Overgeneralizing
  • many diverse groups in each culture
comparisons with europe
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
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
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
The sources of political culture
  • Historical roots
  • Legal–sociological factors
historical roots 1
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Historical Importance of Culture War
  • More people consider themselves progressives than previously
  • Rise of technology makes it easier to mobilize people
culture wars affect
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
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
Mistrust of Government – Causes
  • Watergate
  • Vietnam
  • However, trend was the same before and after these events.
mistrust in context
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
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
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
Political Tolerance
  • Crucial to democratic society
  • It allows
    • free discussion of ideas
    • selection of rulers without oppression
levels of tolerance
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
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