Saturday, 2 June 2012

What is Political Culture?

Political Parties in Cambodia. The red dot indicates parties who competed in the Commune Council Election on 3 June 2012.

Photo of Commune Council Election on 3 June 2012 in Cambodia 

In general, different cultures and traditions, custom, beliefs, and values have been found among different countries and regions. Political regimes such as democracy and authoritarianism have been strengthened or eroded according to popular support and their thinking in a country with comparison to other countries in the region. Political moves are affected by the ways of thinking, attitudes, beliefs, and practices of political decision makers and the views and participation of the whole population.  As economic development can have positive impact on the sustainability of democracy, political culture, which has entrenched in a society consisting of different classes and religions, is also an important factor for social and political development. In some countries, such as United States and Great Britain, democracy has been firmly established and continued to be improved with high stability due to strong political culture of democracy which have existed a long time in the history. However, Western political culture may not be the same as that of Asia, in which during the period of cold war, communism and authoritarianism was the dominant political regimes. How about political culture in Cambodia? I leave the answer to all readers after go through this discussion article. The issue of political culture has been the major topic of discussion and studies by many scholars such as Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, Larry Diamond, Yu-tzung Chang et al., and Amaney Jamal and Mark Tessler. Is there a democratic political culture – a pattern of political attitudes that fosters democratic stability, which in some way fits the democratic political system?  Has the growth of democratic legitimacy in East Asia stagnated or even eroded? What do East Asians think of how democracy works in their countries? Is popular support for democracy deeply rooted in a liberal-democratic political culture?      

I. Literature Review
1.  Gabriel A. Almond and Sidney Verba. 1963. “ The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations

The two scholars have conducted a study on political cultures in five countries, namely United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), German, Italy, and Mexico.  They stressed that this is a study of the political culture of democracy and of the social structures and process that sustain it. For the civic culture, it is not a modern culture, but a mixed modernizing-traditional one.  The development of the civic culture in Britain may understood as the product of a series of encounters between modernization and traditionalism, encountering sharp enough to effect significant change. Partly because of remote security, Britain came into the era of national unification and of absolutism able to tolerate a greater measure of aristocratic, local, and corporate autonomy than could continental Europe. A first step toward secularization was the separation from the Church of Rome and the beginning of toleration of religious diversity. A second step was the emergence of a thriving and self-confident merchant class, and the involvement of court and aristocracy in the risks and calculations of trade and commerce.  Britain entered the industrial revolution with a political culture among its elites which made it possible to assimilate the gross and rapid changes in social structure in the 18th and 19th centuries smoothly.  The aristocratic Whigs found it possible to enter a coalition with nonconformist merchants and industrialists, to establish the principle of parliamentary supremacy and representation. The traditional aristocratic and monarchic forces assimilated enough of this civic culture to compete with the secularist tendencies for popular support and to impart them a love and respect of the nation and its ancient institutions.  What emerged was a third culture, neither traditional nor modern but partaking of both; a pluralistic culture based on communication and persuasion, a culture of consensus and diversity, a culture that permitted change but moderated it. This was the civic culture. It shares much with the rationality-activist model in which its characteristic of democratic citizenship are indeed components of the civic culture. In fact, it is such a culture plus something else.

For political culture, they put it that the political culture of a nation is the particular distribution of patterns of orientation toward political objects among the members of the nation. Then, there is a need to define and specify modes of political orientation and classes of political objects.  Their definition and classification of types of political orientation follow Parsons and Shils. Orientation refers to the internalized aspects of objects and relationships. It includes (1) “cognitive orientation”, that is knowledge of and belief about political system, its roles and the incumbents of these roles, its inputs, and its outputs; (2) “affective orientation,” or feeling about the political system, its roles, and performance, and (3) “evaluational orientation,” the judgments and opinions about political objects that involve the combination of value standards and criteria with information and feelings.

In classifying objects of political orientation, they start with the “general” political system.  In treating the component parts of the political system, they make a distinction between three broad classes of objects: (1) specific roles or structures, such as legislative bodies, executives, or bureaucracies, (2) incumbents of roles, such as particular monarchs, legislators, and administrators, and (3) particular public policies, decisions, or enforcement of decisions. These structures, incumbents, and decisions may in turn be classified by whether they are involved either in the political or “input” process or in the administrative or “output” process.  The important thing for their classification is what political objects that individuals are oriented to, how they are oriented to them and whether these objects are mainly involved in the “upward” flow of policy making or in the “downward” flow of policy enforcement.  So, the political culture becomes the frequency of different kinds of cognitive, affective, and evaluative orientations toward the political system in general, its input and output aspects, the self as political actor. There are three types of political culture, namely Parochial Political Culture, Subject Political Culture, and Participant Political Culture.

Figure 2: Types of political culture

System as General Object
Input Objects
Output Objects
Self as Active Participant

If the three types of political culture represented in figure 2 are the pure forms of political culture, three types of systematically mixed political cultures may be distinguished: (1) the parochial-subject culture, (2) the subject-participant culture, and (3) the parochial-participant culture. First, the parochial-subject culture is a type of political culture in which a substantial portion of the population has rejected the exclusive claims of diffuse tribal, village, or feudal authority and has developed allegiance toward a more complex political system with specialized central government structures. Second, in the subject-participant culture, a substantial part of the population has acquired specialized input orientations and an activist set of self-orientations, while most of the remainder of population continues to be oriented toward an authoritarian governmental structure and have a relatively passive set of self-orientations. Third, the parochial-participant culture has the contemporary problem of cultural development in many of the emerging nations which its culture is predominantly parochial. The structural norms are usually participants. Therefore, for congruence, they require a participant culture. Thus the problem is to develop specialized output and input orientations simultaneously.  So, the civic culture is a participant political culture in which the political culture and political structure are congruent.

Both scholars argued that in the two relatively stable democracies, Great Britain and the United States, their political cultures approximate the civic culture. This pattern of political attitudes differs in some respects from the “rationality-activist” model or the model of political culture which, according to norms of democratic ideology, would be found in a successful democracy.  That the civic culture is appropriate for maintaining a stable and effective democratic political process can best be appreciated if the impact of deviations from this model is considered. In United State and Britain, they differ from each other in the way in which they approximate the model. Both nations achieve a balance of the active and passive roles of the citizen, but whereas in the United States the balance appears to be weighted somewhat in the direction of active, participant pole, in Britain its tends somewhat in the direction of the subject, deferential pole. However, Germany, Italy, and Mexico have relatively lower levels of social and interpersonal trust. More importantly, what social trust there it does not penetrate into political relationships, which tend to represent a separate and autonomous realm of attitudes. The absence of general social attitudes that penetrate the political realm inhibits the citizens to cooperate with each other in their relations with the government. Italy suggests an even higher level of instability. While Germany and Mexico have some of the components of the civic culture, Italy lacks both the passive output satisfaction of the Germans and the aspirational input satisfaction of the Mexicans.

For the future of the civic culture, they raised that its gradual and fusional growth has generally occurred in a political system whose problems have been spread over time. This gradualness of political change characterizes British and American political history. However, the problem of the new nations of the world is that such gradualness is not possible. So, they need time for gradual development.

2.      Yu-tzung Chang et al. “ Democracy Barometers: Authoritarian Nostalgia in Asia”

They used data from the first and second Asian Barometer Survey (ABS) to help them assessing the extent of normative commitment to democracy that citizens feel in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia, the Philippines, and Thailand. Participants were asked based upon the three notions of liberal democratic value: political liberty, separation of powers, and the rule of law. The assessment involves seeking answer to the following interrelated questions: Has the growth of democratic legitimacy in East Asia stagnated or even eroded? What do East Asians think of how democracy works in their countries? Is popular support for democracy deeply rooted in a liberal-democratic political culture?  
Although many forces can affect a democracy’s survival chances, no democratic regime can stand long without legitimacy in the eyes of its own people.  What elites think matters, but for democracy to become stable and effective, the bulk of citizenry must develop a deep and resilient commitment to it. A necessary condition for the consolidation of democracy is met when an overwhelming proportion of citizen believe that “the democratic regime is the most right and appropriate for their society, better than any other alternative they can imagine.”  In short, the citizens are the final judges of the legitimacy as well as the characteristics of their democracy.

Their survey used three succinct indicators to gauge how citizens assessed the working of democracy. The first was the overall satisfaction “with the way democracy works in our country”. The second measures perceptions of the extent of corruption in the government, and the third taps people’s assessment of general economic condition over the last few years. In each of the five new democracies, negative assessments of democratic performance increased remarkably on at least one of the three items. Dissatisfaction with the way democracy works decline slightly in Taiwan but increased in each of the other four countries. Moreover, in all East Asian democracies (including Japan), citizens were appalled by stories of rampant corruption at the level of national government. For economic condition, most of East Asia’s democratic regimes cannot rely on economic performance because the region’s growth momentum has not fully recovered to the levels seen before the 1997 financial crash. As for the three notions of liberal democratic value, there is a trend of diminishing support for the rule of law, the judiciary, and political liberty. Clearly, the liberal-democratic values have not taken hold in Mongolia, the Philippines, and Thailand. On the contrary, the political culture in each country seems to take an authoritarian turn. 
The lesson they draw is not that East Asian cultures preclude liberal democracy from taking root, but that this form of government must win citizens’ support through better performance. The public confidence in democracy’s superiority has waned. Many East Asian democracies are still struggling against a haze of nostalgia for authoritarianism, as citizens compare life under democracy with either the growth-oriented authoritarianism of the recent past or with their prosperous nondemocratic neighbors of the present. This does not mean that democratic consolidation in East Asia is a lost cause, but that it will require steps to make democratic regimes more effective, honest, and responsive.  

3.      Larry Diamond. “ Political Culture”

His study makes the case for political culture, particularly beliefs about democratic legitimacy, as a central factor in the consolidation of democracy. To advance our understanding of how political culture change and democratic development relate to one another, he argued that we must not only assess the available evidence, but also weigh some of the methodological issues that arise from this new generation of public opinion studies. To conceptualize, political culture is a people’s predominant beliefs, attitudes, values, ideals, sentiments, and evaluations about the political system of their country and the role of the self in that system. These components of political culture have been classified to three type of orientation: a cognitive orientation, an affective orientation, and an evaluational orientation.  However, he focused only on the affective and evaluational orientation. He asserted that the more active one in politics, the more likely one is to support democracy, and the higher the degree of one’s participation, and the higher is likely to be one’s support for democratic governance.

For legitimacy, participation, and the civic culture, he found that stable democracy also require a belief in the legitimacy of democracy. Indeed, the growth of this belief and behavioral commitment is the defining feature of the consolidation process. One factor that seems to enhance the legitimacy of democracy among citizens is personal experience with it. For this reason, as well as for the quality and authenticity of democracy, participation is another central element of the ideal-typical mass democratic culture. This implies both valuing popular participation as a norm of political life and a disposition to actually participate in politics, based on an informed interest in public affair.   

He concluded that support for the idea of democracy and support for the institutional form of democratic governance fit together in a meaningful pattern that hold positive implications for democracy’s future in the region.

4.      Amaney Jamal and Mark Tessler. “ Attitudes in the Arab World”

They began with the concern that Arab world have remained largely untouched by the global democratic trend that have swept across the developing and postcommunist worlds in the last quarter of the 20th century.  However, despite the persistence of authoritarianism across the Arab world, popular support for democracy there is widespread. The evidence for this may be gleaned from twenty different surveys carryout out in nine different Arab countries between 2000 and 2006. The most recent of these surveys were carried out in 2006 as part of the Arab Barometer survey project. According to the findings, there is considerable variation in the way that citizens in the Arab world think about democracy. On the one hand, a solid majority expresses support not only for democracy as an abstract concept, but also for many of the institutions and processes associated with democratic governance. On the other hand, when asked to identify the most important factors that define a democracy, about half the respondents emphasized economic considerations rather than political rights and freedoms. In general, Arab-world majorities support democracy, at least in part, because it promises to make governments more accountable and more attentative to the concerns of ordinary citizens, particularly their economic concerns. In other words, for at least some respondents, it is not so much that democracy is the “right” political system in a conceptual sense, but rather that democracy is a “useful” form of government that has the potential to address many of a country’s most pressing needs.

For the relationship between democracy and Islam, they found that personal religiosity is not significantly related to political-system preference in any of five countries (Jordan, Palestine, Algeria, Morocco, and Kuwait) in which Arab Barometer Surveys were conducted. This is consistent with earlier findings; not only does religiosity not lead men and women to be less supportive of democracy, it does not lead them to be more supportive of a political system that incorporates an Islamic dimension. By contrast, political evaluations are significantly related to political-system preference in every country. They concluded that citizens’ attitudes and values, including those relating to Islam, are not the reason that authoritarianism has persisted.

II. Contributions and Criticism

-     For Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, they have made a path-breaking work on the theory of political culture and the definition of civic culture based on that theory and “rational-activist” model. Five democratic countries, US, UK, Germany, Italy, and Mexico, were studied to find the components of civic culture in each country. Their analysis on the components of political culture is very systemic and scientific. However, it seems too difficult to apply their theory and model to make a present research on the political culture and the civic culture in a country.

-   For Yu-tzung Chang et al, their contribution is highlighted in the relationship between democracy and legitimacy in which popular support for democracy is so important for stability of democracy.  According to their finding, it appears that legitimacy of democracy in Asian countries has waned in recent year, especially in term of corruption and economic condition. However, corruption is not a problem of democracy, but it is an inherent issue of administrative government. To use corruption as an indicator of assessing the working of democracy could make the research face the problem of validity.

-      For Larry Diamond, his work is quite similar to that of Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, but he focused more on the affective and evaluational orientation. He also made a conceptualization of political culture which is more practical and understandable than Almond and Verba. Interestingly, connection was made among the legitimacy, participation, and the civic culture in which the three factors have positive correlation.    

-      For Amaney Jamal and Mark Tessler, their finding from various surveys such as World Values Survey and Arab Barometer Survey is really amazing that support for democracy in the Arab world is as high as or higher than in any other region in the world. They appear to conclude that political culture in the Arab world does not conflict with democracy and conclude that Islam and Democracy can go together in harmony. However, the two surveys used closed-end question about democracy which could not provide their real opinion on democracy.  Academically, their research has little validity as it did not provide conceptualization of democracy and political culture and its indicators.


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