GT32P - The Politics of Industrial Societies.


Topic 5

Lectures 7&8.

Oct. 3-5.



We study political culture to see:

(1) What attitudes and values seem to more strongly support democracy;

(2) How these attitudes and values are distributed between social groups and generations;

(3) Controversies about how democratic and undemocratic different classes are;

(4) The importance of post-materialist values in explaining the paradox between growing economies and declining trust in politics.

(5) Comparative changes in political culture in industrial societies.


Political culture is understood as the pattern of individual attitudes and orientations that a people hold towards their political system. At the subjective level these attitudes consist of the meanings people attach to politics and political action. The extent of one=s political acculturation depends on one=s political knowledge, the depth of political feelings and identification, and the extent of one=s judgmental and evaluative abilities about politics.

This means that people=s cultural orientation to politics differ between levels of high participation and apathy; feelings of efficacy, that is, how strongly or weakly one might feel he can affect changes in society through politics; democratic and undemocratic attitudes; knowledge at the national level or knowledge restricted to the local levels of politics. Sometimes this depends on one=s social, generational and regional location in society as it has been demonstrated, or at least argued, that different social classes, racial groups or other status groups, gender, generation and geographical location condition the kind of political culture of the individual.

The Civic Culture.

An important concept in the study of political culture, particularly as it relates to democratic attitudes and democratic stability is that of the >civic culture.=.

In 1963, two political scientists, Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, published a book called The Civic Culture. They wanted to find out what kind of political culture was conducive to a stable democracy and how satisfied different populations were with their political systems. The findings of the book are now out of date since the surveys were done between 1959 and 1960. Yet, the study established a basis for comparing how people felt about their society and politics then and now, what changes have occurred in attitudes and why, and what this might tell us about their satisfaction with democracy and the future of democratic stability.

Almond and Verba concentrated on the UK, US, Germany, Italy  (and Mexico). The first two (of the industrialised countries) had a long unbroken democratic history and were then seen as the epitome of stable democracies while the latter two had experienced democratic breakdowns and fascist governments in the 1930's and 1940's. Almond and Verba wanted to find out if a country=s political culture had anything to do with these contrasting experiences.

In this regard they sought to find out two things: how proud or satisfied populations were with their governments and politics; and how participant they were, that is, the degree to which they felt that they could influence their governments.

The authors interviewed population samples to find out how proud people were of their political institutions, the role of their governments, the international status or reputation of their country, the performance of their economies and the quality of their cultural lives and their nation=s cultural achievements.

They found that Americans and Britons were most proud of their political institutions, role of government and position in international affairs, while Germans were proud of their economic success, characteristics of their people and culture.

Levels of pride.

How did these populations feel about their country?

Their responses to pride in:   (%)  US             UK              W. Germany       Italy


-  political institutions were:          85              46                          7                  3

-  social legislation:                        13              18                          6                  1

-  position in international affairs:   5               11                         5                   2

- economic system:                         23              10                        33                  3

- characteristics of people:               7               18                        36                11

- contribution to the arts:                  1                 6                        11                16

- contribution to science:                  3                 7                        12                  3

                                (Source: G. Almond, S. Verba, The Civic Culture, p. 102.)

Levels of efficacy.

How strongly did they feel they could influence government and politics? When asked, how much they felt they could do something about an unjust local or national regulation, they answered:

                                              US            UK            W. Germany        Italy

Local Regulation (%)            77              78                    62                   51 

National Regulation.(%)       75              62                     38                   28

                                                    (Source: Almond and Verba, p.185).

The authors concluded that there was a higher feeling of civic competence in the US and Britain but that Germans suffered from political detachment and Italians had an alienated political culture.

Attitudes towards participation.

The authors also asked, how active should the ordinary man be in his local community. They got the following answers (%):

                                               US             Britain        W. Germany       Italy

                                                51                39                     22                 10


General conclusions.

The authors came to certain overall conclusions:

(1) Italians were cynical about democracy and resigned to a belief that the system was run by a few for the few and there was little they could do about it. This was not good for democracy.

(2) Germans were prouder of their economic achievements and had a high sense of nationalism but were not proud of their political institutions and did not feel particularly competent to influence political events. Their attitudes were not antidemocratic, rather they had not sufficiently internalised democratic norms and values.

(3) The US and Britain were described as having a Acivic culture@, that is one conducive to democracy. They were proud of their political institutions and were sufficiently competent in their belief that their participation in political affairs can make a difference. However, there was one difference between the two countries. British civic culture was more deferential and American civic culture was more participant. This meant that in Britain, more people were likely to defer to their leaders because of the tradition of reverence for tradition, the monarchy and the aristocracy. British culture showed greater respect for elites.

The writers concluded that the best political culture for a democracy was a civic culture in which people were participant in politics and not merely passive or cynical subjects of politics; but that people were not so participant that they would constantly mobilise to intervene in politics causing destabilisation and overload on the political system. There must be a certain deference to leaders or elites based on trust in them. Over-participation would lead to over-politicisation  which would create conflicts and erode stability.

Revision and Criticism.

In 1980, another book was published called, The Civic Culture Revisited. In this, a number of authors who were specialists on the US, UK, Germany and Italy, considered what had changed in the political cultures of these countries since 1960.

BRITAIN (David Kavanagh).

Differences between socio-economic groups.

Kavanagh argued that civic culture attributes were unequally distributed in Britain. Qualities of civility, tolerance and support for liberal democratic norms were disproportionately found among those of higher socio-economic status and higher education. This section of the population was more conservative and supported the status quo. Apathy and deference were found among the lower educated and lower socio-economic groups and it was this apathy that actually functioned  as a safeguard of democracy. Those who were less satisfied with democracy were also less inclined to participate in it but it was their relative lack of involvement that provided the elites and the upper classes with the freedom to manage and maintain democracy. This means, ironically, that a certain level of apathy was conducive to the survival and stability of democracy. Kavanagh believes Britain=s more participant people were the confident elites and its more deferential people were a largely passive electorate. He made this point by distinguishing between people who felt they can do something about unjust regulation (two-thirds), and a lesser amount (two-fifths) who would try to do something and an even lesser amount (6%) who had actually tried to influence government.

In other words, he criticised Almond and Verba for asking people if they felt they could do something about an unjust regulation and for taking this to indicate level of participation. Those who actually try to do something is a much lower percentage and that shows the real level of participation.

Differences between generations.

British political culture had actually changed between 1960 and 1980. The electorate had changed by 16 million people or a third. A new and younger generation had emerged with different values. Their experience of the British economy had also been different. Whereas the economy averaged growth of 3% between 1950 and 1965, it averaged 2% between 1965 and 1970 and declined even further in the 1970's.

 Support for the two dominant parties has declined as has voter turn-out from 80% in 1951 to 60% in 1979. Britain=s loss of a world role also affected the level of satisfaction with its position in the world. A London Royal Commission survey of 1970 found less satisfaction with British political institutions. Almost 50% favoured some change such as proportional representation, federalism and a Bill of Rights. A 1974 survey expressed more negative than positive views (nearly 30%) about the parties. The popularity of political leaders also declined as less people had come to feel they were handling their job well. Voters had come to see little to choose between the parties because their parliamentarians had become more homogenous members of the middle class. People had become more cynical about politicians. A 1978 survey showed that a majority (58%) felt that people become MPs for their own gain and to further their own ambitions; almost half felt the country was run for a few big interests and trusted government only some of the time. Sixty percent felt that politicians spoke the truth only some of the time and 45% felt that they put the interest of the party ahead of that of the people. In terms of attitudes of civic competence, more people in 1974 would do nothing to influence government and of those who would do something; more people compared to 1959 were inclined to use direct forms of protest and demonstration to influence government.

In short, there is no great confidence in the political system but there is no desire for radical political change.

UNITED STATES (Alan Abramowitz).

Differences between racial groups.

Abramowitz also found that some sections of the US population exhibited a different political culture than others. He noted that the civic culture described for Americans did not apply to African Americans. They had significantly lower expectations that American police and other officials would seriously listen to their views and treat them equally. Although African Americans were as strongly identified with the American political system as whites, they felt that the system did not provide as much opportunity for black power.

Differences between generations.

But as was the case with Britain, by the 1970's, Americans on a whole had also come to have less trust in government, more had come to feel that government was run by big interests and that quite a few people in government were crooked. A 1973 Senate Committee survey found a drop in confidence in all of the major institutions - the executive, senate, House of Representatives, the press, major companies, organised labour, the supreme court and the military. A 1974 survey showed a fall in the ratings of American political leaders compared to 1959. Much of this was a result of the civil rights unrest and widespread protests against the war in Vietnam between the mid-60's and the mid-70's.

There was also a steady decline in voting in presidential elections from 62% in 1964 to 56% in 1972. Americans remained fairly constant in their participation in conventional political activities like supporting campaigns, but were more involved in less conventional activities like participation in protests.

Yet, a vast majority (86%) were still proud of the American form of government and only 15% favoured a radical change in government. Like Britain, some groups ( classes or races) were more satisfied with the system, trust in government had fallen among all groups, but support for radical change as against moderate reforms was weak.

GERMANY (David Conradt).

Consolidation of the democratic culture.

Almond and Verba had found that the civic culture was weak in Germany in 1960. Later studies showed that by the 1970's, the German political culture was becoming more supportive of the post-war democratic system. The following shows:

Pride in:                                        1959       1978        1988

Political institutions                          7              31             51   democratic consolidation

Economy                                          33             40             50   German economic >miracle=

Social welfare programmes               6             18             39   social economy

Characteristics of the people            36             25             Na  decline of >master race= ideology

Contributions to science                   12             13             37   science and industry

Contributions to the arts                   11              10            22   sports and culture.


By 1978, more Germans had a greater civic competence, that is, they felt that their participation could do something about unjust regulation. This increased from 62% to 70% for local regulation and from 38% to 59% for national regulation. The percentage of persons satisfied with democracy grew from 75% in 1967 to 90% in 1978. Interest in politics increased from 29% in 1959 to 50% in 1977, and 59% said they would actively oppose any neo-Nazi party from 48% in 1959. Germans had also come to feel freer in expressing their political views. While in 1953, only 55% felt free to do so, in 1971, 84% felt freedom of expression existed.

What these figures show is that Germans were moving away from their authoritarian past and the Nazi period as a newer generation replaced an earlier one. They were getting used to democratic government and developing a civic culture. And, they had the close and constant opportunity to contrast their democratic system in the West with the communist system in East Germany. Whereas Almond and Verba=s study had shown cause for concern about how stable democracy would be in Germany, this concern had substantially decreased by 1980.

The culture favoured more independence and trust in others and less emphasis on obedience, order and deference to leaders.

ITALY (Giacomo Sani).

Failure of democratic culture.

Of the developed countries studied by Almond and Verba, Italy was found to have had the least democratic and participant culture. The authors summarised this: AThe picture of Italian political culture one of unrelieved political alienation and of social isolation and distrust. The Italians are particularly low in national pride, in open partisanship, in the acknowledgement of the obligation to take an active part in local community affairs, in the sense of competence to join with others in situations of political stress...It is paradoxical that the majority of politically involved and informed Italians are opposed to the contemporary constitution and democratic regime.@

This culture has not so much changed but later experience provided explanations for it. Sani puts provides some explanations.

1. Italians were not so non-participant in politics as they were simply reluctant to reveal their political orientation in survey interviews. They were not really uninterested in politics but  because of high levels of distrust in the culture they preferred to say they have no partisan affiliation than to reveal what it was. This was out of fear that the information they gave would be used for political purposes. As many as 94% of the electorate went to the polls. Sani calls this reluctance to reveal their political orientations a reticent political culture.

2. Italian politics is highly polarized and partisan along ideological lines. Of the four developed countries, Italy had the strongest post-war communist party along with a strong socialist party on the left and strong parties of the right. Political party affiliations extended by wider social networks of families, friends, community, region, religion etc. In other words, families, family friends, communities, regions, religious denominations tended to be affiliated to their own parties reinforcing the partisanship of Italian culture. In fact, Almond and Verba had noted that Italians had strong feeling against marriage across party lines. Later studies confirmed how intense partisanship was.

3. This partisanship was maintained by a patron-clientilistic relationship between parties and their supporters. Party affiliation often determined who gets what leading to the higher perception and practice of corruption. What you get or expect to get often depends on what party you support. This system of patronage created antagonism and distrust between party supporters and explains the reluctance by many to reveal their party orientation.

4. There was also a strong antisystem attitude among the Italians because of the strength of antisystem parties. The communist party in Italy has been the strongest party up to 1990. The neo-fascist party is the fourth largest. Many small antisystem parties engage in nonconventional forms of political participation including violence.

A 1974 study cited by Sani showed that only 20.6% of Italians felt that the system was fine as it was. On the other hand, 43.2% felt that it was in need of immediate radical reforms, while 34.6% felt that it was radically wrong and that everything should be changed. Increasingly more Italians between 1967 and 1974, had a negative assessment of the honesty of people in government, waste of public resources and government indifference towards citizens.

Contemporary issues/ debates on the civic culture.

Modern scholars of political culture have raised questions about the theoretical meaning of Almond and Verba=s study, quite apart from its empirical approach and findings. The main ones are:

(1) Is the civic culture more important than socio-economic level of development in sustaining democracy?

There is evidence that it is not so much the level of economic development that is important for a stable democracy but a sufficiently high level of education of the population and a relatively equal income distribution.


(2) Does the civic culture cause democracy or does democracy cause the civic culture?

Muller and Seligson say it is the latter.( ACivic Culture and Democracy@, APSR, 88,3,1994). Again, there is evidence that the longer democracy is sustained or unbroken, the more time exists for the habits of democracy and for tolerance to develop.

(3) Is it elite attitudes or that of the mass public that is more important for preserving democracy?

 Elites have greater opportunity and ability than the general public to influence the kind of regime a country will have. This means that studies of political culture should take special account of the attitudes and beliefs of elites. Military, bureaucratic, economic elites have been known to support coups that overthrow democratic systems when mass or lower class interests threaten their own. Some scholars indeed say that the single critical determinant of the stability of democratic regimes is consensus among the elites in general on support for democratic institutions and values. For example, American elites were highly intolerant of communism as seen in repressive state and national legislation against communists in the 1940's and 1950's. This might have been more important than general public attitude towards democracy.

(4) Why has political alienation and the civic culture declined while material improvements have increased?

One of the puzzles of industrial societies is that material and social conditions of living has greatly improved since WW11, yet the populations have become highly critical of politicians, parties, governments and politics. Some authors see the rise of a new politics of resentment in Western Europe. (Hans-George Betz, CP, July 1993). The social and political stability of the 1950's and early 1960's have given way to, A a disenchantment with the major social and political institutions and profound distrust in their workings.@ Another writer (Michael Le Roy CP, 27,3,1995) studied Sweden, Norway and Denmark in the 1990's and found,@ It is no great secret that citizens of Western democracies are deeply frustrated with contemporary politics. the evidence reveals a great dissatisfaction with government performance, economic performance and the political options available to voters.@ Bear in mind though that there is generally  a preference for gradual reform and for defending democracy against subversive forces and those wanting revolutionary change. Between 70%-75% support gradual reform while between 2%-8% support radical change.

Materialist and post-materialist political culture.

Ronald Inglehart has an explanation for this >politics of resentment=. Drawing upon psychoanalytical findings he begins with the proposition that individuals satisfy their needs in priority order. They first satisfy their material and physical needs - food, shelter, clothing, consumer goods. For this reason jobs and income and a growing economy are important. Once a society reaches a high level of material economic development that these material values can be satisfied, they then need to satisfy post-materialist values. These are less tangible and more spiritual and aesthetic values. Individuals, especially the higher educated, become more interested in qualitative issues such as quality of life, society, politics, government, justice, rights, freedom, respect, esteem.

According to this explanation, individuals can achieve material development but be dissatisfied with their society. They might become dissatisfied and disillusioned by their society=s selfishness, inequalities, injustices, pollution, corruption, and direct these feelings at their politicians and political system.

Post-material values will be stronger among the newer generation and among the middle class. Inglehart studied ten industrial countries in the 1970's - the four in Almond and Verba=s study along with France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark and Ireland. In all of these countries he found that the percentage of respondents showing materialist values increased as one moved to successively older age groups (29 years or older) while the percentage showing post-materialist values was stronger in the younger age groups, (especially those who were 19-28 years).

There is a generation gap in the political culture of these countries. This is explained by the experiences of the generations. The older generation is more attached to materialist values because they more intensely experienced the Great Depression of the 1930's and the economic suffering caused by the Second World War. They came more from working class families and were aware of economic insecurities. They placed a high value on jobs and income, house and furniture, clothes and food, and savings. The younger generation has come more from middle class families and are more distant from material deprivation. But they value their rights and self-esteem and would like for the political establishment to include them more in its distribution of power.

Political socialisation, social structure and political culture.

An important and revealing aspect of political culture is how democratic and authoritarian attitudes develop. The learning of political attitudes occurs through socialisation. Some of the most important agents of socialisation are the family, school, church and peer group (age and occupational cohorts).

The family.

American family structures and those of the British middle class, according to Almond and Verba are more democratic because more children in these families remember having an influence in family decisions, being free to protest family decisions and had actually done so.

European family structures and that of British working class families are more authoritarian. The father-figure adopts a more authoritarian role where his decisions are beyond question. However, where the father figure is absent, and the mother-figure substitutes, the consequence on the attitude of children is more ambiguous.

The school.

The authority system in the American school is more democratic. In Britain and continental Europe as well as Japan, the authority of the teacher is virtually absolute. The system of learning promotes a pattern where the child learns by rote and reproduces what the teacher expects.

The church.

Religious instruction in schools, especially in Catholic in countries like Germany and France where the church=s authority remains relatively strong, mirrors the dogmatic and authoritarian structure of the Catholic Church.

The peer group.

Many of these findings come from the Almond and Verba study and one must be careful not to see the changes that have taken place since then. For instance, the vast increase in the numbers of the younger (baby boom) generation (those born between 1944-1964) and their successor generations and their greater connectivity through the modern mass media as well as their shared identity in the enlarged consumer market, have increased peer group influence relative to those of family, school (except where school becomes a forum for reinforcing generational identity) and church. The mass media and mass consumer market have helped to spawn a popular culture and together these have helped to democratise attitudes. The media gives more voice, the market gives more choice and popular culture has leveled the classes and broken down the class distinctions and social snobbery associated with >high= and >low= culture.

Also, the change in parenting structure has changed the relative influence of father and mother. The growth of single-mother families as more women enter the job market, has lessened the impact of authoritarian father figures and the reinforcing authority roles of both father and mother.

Together such changes have given the younger generations more opportunity for free expression, participation and the sense of liberty that goes with these. These changes have helped to shape stronger democratic attitudes among the young, and led to a convergence of attitudes among the young across industrial societies while leading them to distrust the older, more closed elitist political structures of the state, party and power elites which they resent.   

 Democracy and the civic culture.

Carol Pateman raises some issues about the concept of the civic culture and liberal democracy.

1. Is it more important for certain politically active classes to share the values of the civic culture or must those values be shared by the whole society?

Studies have shown that different social and economic groups, generations and genders do not participate in politics to the same extent, with the same effect or with similar feelings of political competence. Pateman makes the point that liberal democracy must evolve in a way that society as a whole becomes more democratic. For instance, the workplace is often one where workers are not sufficiently consulted or consulted at all on decisions. The attitudes about the competence of workers, women and other groups that have not been historically promoted by liberal democracy (being a white, male enterprise in its beginnings), must change in society for a true civic culture to develop.

2. How important is the civic culure to democracy in the developing countries?

Almond and Verba say that the civic culture can be passed on to democracies in the developing countries through a process of diffusion. They identify the process of education and other channels of socialisation as the vehicles through which acculturation would occur. If these are the vehicles expected to carry civic cultures then the prospects are limited by the small size of the middle classes and the educated sections of the population, the lesser effectiveness of family and community socialisation as family and community collective structures change, and economic problems undermine the capacity of trust in what governments can do and for whom. Democratic politics would have to rid itself of class and racial bias so that adversarial and discriminatory values in these cultures are replaced by civic ones.

3. What forms of participation best qualify as Acivic@ participation?

Almond and Verba seem to suggest that a certain amount of trust in elites is necessary so that there is no over-participation that might destabilise politics. Does civic particpation therefore take the form of the acceptable norms of democratic participation - voting, contacting MPs, lobbying and advocacy by interest groups? There are other forms of participation that arise from distrust of political elites or unresponsiveness of the political system. These include protests, demonstrations and civil disobedience. These forms represent more intense forms of civic activism. But do these count as forms of civic participation in the sense that Almond and Verba use the term.  Almond and Verba seem to emphasise the more conventional form of democratic participation that support rather than challenge democracy.

4. If the civic culture is equated with the liberal political culture does one have to be a liberal to accept the civic culture?

The civic culture seems to be equated with liberal democracy. Does this mean that one can only be regarded as legitimately practicing the civic culture if one is engaging in activities in support of liberal democracy? Can there be a socialist civic culture or is the civic culture part and parcel of the liberal democratic culture? Cubans probably feel as proud in their institutions, people, and culture as the British. They participate as much if not more in politics. But is Cuba disqualified as having a civic culture because its politics does not take place within the framework of liberal institutions. If this is so, then the concept is a limited one and Almond and Verba=s entire argument becomes a tautology: Liberal democracies have civic cultures because civic cultures produce liberal democracies.


There is some value in the study of political culture. The more participant and less apathetic, detached and alienated a culture is, the better for democracy. The more national one=s orientation is the better than if it is purely local. The more competent one feels the better for democracy than if he feels only to be a subject of what others do.

However, democracy depends on a certain level of elitism. There must some trust in representatives and other managers of government for a people to be willing to leave certain decisions and actions up to them. If too many people divide and if each division tries to have too much say, then the levls of politicisation and mobilisation intensifies beyond which the political system can handle. This might mean that relatively low levels of electoral participation is not bad for democracy; or if electoral participation is high but other forms are not too contentious, then democracy can survive.

Does a civic culture exist in countries like the Caribbean? No comparable study exists for the Caribbean but it is safe to say that in about 1960, Caribbean citizens were more optimistic about their leaders and institutions. But a certain parallel exists. Citizens have subsequently become more participant, aware and knowledgable about their politics and so there is more civic participation. But they too, especially a younger generation, have become more cynical about their leaders and political institutions. They value democracy but search for a constitutional model that is more appropriate to their time and place.     


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