Theories of Democratic Transitions: “The Civic Culture”

In the book “The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations, An Analytic Study,” Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba present a study of the political culture of democracy and discuss the social structures and processes that help to improve its overall stability. A common concern among political scientists is the future of democracy at the global level. In the years following World War II, events such as de-colonialization have raised some questions about the long-term stability of Democratic political systems and placed the issue into the broader context of the world’s culture. Despite the fact that Almond and Verba feel that the direction of political change at the global level is unclear, they argue that a political culture based upon individual participation will emerge due to demands by ordinary citizens. Additionally, Almond and Verba propose that the emerging nations will be presented with two different models of the participatory state, the democratic and totalitarian models of participation. The democratic model of participation offers the ordinary man the opportunity to take part in the political decision-making process as an influential citizen, whereas the totalitarian offers him the role of the “participant subject.” Both the democratic and totalitarian models of participation have appealed to emerging nations, but it is unclear which one will ultimately win.

According to Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, the democratic model of participation will require more than the introduction of formal institutions of democracy such as freedom of speech, an elected legislature, and universal suffrage. A participatory democratic system also requires a consistent political culture. On the other hand, Almond and Verba argue that there are several problems with transferring democratic political culture to emerging nations. The first issue is that many of the leaders in developing states have little experience with the working principles of democratic policy and civic cultures such as political parties, interest groups, and electoral systems. As a result, the idea of democratic policy as conveyed to the leaders of new countries is incomplete and heavily stresses ideology and legal norms as opposed to conveying the actual feeling and attitude towards democratic ideals. A further reason why the diffusion of democracy to new nations is difficult is that they are confronted with structural problems. For example, many of the new nations are entering the global stage at a time in which they have not fully developed industrially. As a result, individual leaders may be drawn to a policy in which authoritarian bureaucracy promotes industrial development and technological advancement, and where political organization becomes a device for human and social engineering.

Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba then go on to discuss the idea of the civic culture. The civic culture is a mixed set of values that contains attributes from both modern and traditional cultures and allows them to interact and interchange without polarizing and destroying each other. Additionally, Almond and Verba describe the civic culture as pluralistic and based on communication and persuasion, consensus, diversity, and accessibility to gradual political change. Almond and Verba then explore the development of civic culture in Great Britain. One of the circumstances that resulted in the creation of a modern society in Britain was the emergence of a thriving merchant class and the involvement of the court and aristocracy in economic decisions. Moreover, the English Reformation and the increasing prevalence of religious diversity resulted in a higher level of secularization within British society, leading to greater modernization. As a consequence of both factors, Britain entered the 18th Century with independent merchants and aristocrats who established a parliamentary system that made it possible to assimilate rapid social changes without any sharp discontinuities. By establishing a civic culture, ordinary people were able to enter into the political process and develop British democratic structures.

Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba describe several different types of political cultures. According to Almond and Verba, political culture refers to the overall attitudes that individuals have regarding the political system and their attitudes toward their respective roles in the system. The term political culture is used because it allows Almond and Verba to separate the non-political concepts from their study and allows them to employ an interdisciplinary approach to their analysis of mass attitudes towards democracy. In classifying objects of political orientation, Almond and Verba start with the general political system, which deals with the organization as a whole. In explaining the components of the political system, Almond and Verba distinguish the specific roles or structures, the functions of incumbents, and particular public policies, decisions, or enforcement of decisions. These structures, incumbents, and decisions are then classified by involvement either in the political (input) process, or in the administrative (output) process.

In their study of mass attitudes and values, Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba have identified three distinct types of political cultures. The first type of political culture mentioned by Almond and Verba is the parochial political culture. A parochial political culture emerges when the citizens of a particular nation have no understanding of the national political system, do not possess any tendency to participate in the input processes and have no consciousness of the output operations. Additionally, there are no specialized political roles within a parochial political culture, and the leadership roles are not separated from their religious and social orientations. Examples of parochial political cultures include African and Native American tribes and indigenous communities within particular nations. A subjective political culture is when people are aware of the mechanism of government and the political process, but are not taught to or are not allowed to participate in the system. Examples of subjective political cultures include traditional monarchies or authoritarian government systems. In a participant political culture, the populace is involved in the decision-making process and more or less has a say in public policy decisions. Examples of participant political cultures include the United States, Great Britain, and many other countries throughout the world. The three different classifications of political culture described by Almond and Verba does not assume that one classification replaces the other. On the other hand, the introduction of new classifications serves as a way to encourage previous political orientations to adapt.

Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba also mention that a number of political cultures are systematically mixed. A systematically mixed political culture occurs when there are elements of more simple and more complex patterns of political orientations. The first example of a systematically mixed political culture is the parochial-subject culture, which occurs when a majority of the population has rejected the exclusive claims of diffuse tribal, village, or feudal authority and has developed allegiance towards more complex political systems. Examples of parochial-subject political cultures include the Ottoman Empire and the loosely articulated African kingdoms. In a subject-participant culture, a substantial part of the population has acquired the ability and desire to become more engaged in governmental decisions, whereas the rest of the population continue to be oriented toward an authoritarian political structure and have a relatively little desire to get involved in critical public policy decisions. Additionally, a successful shift from a subject to a participant culture requires the diffusion of positive orientations toward a democratic infrastructure, the acceptance of norms of civic obligation, and the development of a sense of civic competence among a substantial proportion of the population. France during the 19th Century and Germany during the early 20th Century are examples of subject-participant political cultures. A parochial-participant political culture occurs when elements of a participatory system are introduced to a traditionally parochial society. As a result of the lack of structure and experiences with democracy, parochial-participant political cultures have the most experiences with instability and teeter back and forth between democracy and authoritarianism.

Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba focus on the political cultures of five different countries in their study: The United States, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and Mexico. Almond and Verba selected these countries because they have experienced a wide range of historical and political experiences and have gone through a number of events that influenced their political systems. The United States and Great Britain both represent relatively successful experiments in democratic governance despite the fact that the rationale behind their acceptance of democratic values is different. For example, the political culture in Great Britain combines deference toward authority with a lively sense of the rights of citizen initiatives, whereas the political culture of the United States is based on political competence and participation rather than obedience to legitimate authority. Germany is included because its experiments in democratic governance during the late 19th and early 20th Century never resulted in the development of a participatory political culture necessary to legitimize democratic institutions of government. Almond and Verba include Italy and Mexico in their study because both represent less developed societies with transitional political systems.

Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba then go on to discuss the feelings towards government and politics that are prevalent in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and Mexico. The first metric that they measured was the national factors in which the resident of all five countries were most proud of. A majority (85%) of American respondents cited their political system as the greatest source of pride they feel towards their country. In contrast, only 46% of British, 30% of Mexican, 7% of German, and 3% of Italian respondents cited their governmental institutions as their greatest source of national pride. Moreover, American and British respondents were more likely to refer to public policy accomplishments than the respondents from other countries. The Italian respondents cited their countries contributions to the arts and its cultural treasures, whereas the German respondents cited their countries economic system as the greatest source of national pride. Additionally, Mexican pride was distributed equally between the political and economic systems and the physical attributes of their country.

The findings show that the Americans and British express great pride in their political institutions and thus feel the least alienated towards their political systems. On the other hand, the Germans and Italian respondents express a low level of pride in their political institutions and feel more alienated towards their governments. The results from the Mexican respondents show that they have a keen interest in political involvement despite the fact that their political culture is largely parochial. The fact that Mexican respondents expressed an interest in politics is due to past feelings associated by the populace with events such as the Mexican Revolution. The continued connection to the Mexican Revolution shows that the Mexican people believe that the revolution did not accomplish its stated political goals and that the process of political change is ongoing. When broken down by educational level, a majority of American, British, and Mexican respondents with higher levels of education expressed more pride in their respective political systems. Additionally, the fact that educational attainment does no influence the levels of national pride among the German and Italian respondents further suggests alienation from the political system as opposed to a lack of awareness of the system.

Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba also go on to explore the expectation of treatment by governmental authorities among the respondents from all five countries. Both Almond and Verba hypothesized that if the respondents expected fair treatment by governmental authorities, they would, in turn, express more support for legitimate authority. The respondents from the United States, Great Britain, and Germany expected a higher level of treatment by governmental authorities than the respondents from Italy and Mexico. Additionally, the expectation of treatment by governmental authorities varies by educational attainment. For example, respondents from the United States, Great Britain, and Germany with higher educational levels expect more equitable treatment by political authorities than respondents with lower levels of education. Even though the number of Italian and Mexican respondents expecting fair and equal treatment in government were relatively low, the differences between the advantaged and less advantaged groups regarding education were larger than in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany. Such findings show that there is a connection between expectations regarding treatment by governmental authorities and alienation from the political system.

The attitudes towards political communication are also discussed by Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba. A key component of democratic governments is the willingness for ordinary men and women to get involved in the political process. The main factor that influences such willingness is the level of comfort with discussing political issues. Respondents from the United States and Great Britain expressed the highest level of willingness to discuss politics. Additionally, even though German respondents expressed the highest frequency of following reports about public affairs, the number of people who discuss politics on a regular basis was lower than in the United States and Great Britain. On the other hand, the Mexican and Italian respondents expressed a relatively low willingness to discuss political affairs. With regards to the percent of respondents who refused to report their voting decision, the American, British, and Mexican respondents expressed little reluctance when revealing their political choice, whereas the German and Italian respondents expressed the highest level of reluctance. The reluctance on the part of the German and Italian respondents to reveal their voting choices shows that they feel that identifying with a political party is unsafe and inadvisable. Additionally, their unwillingness to reveal their voting choices indicates that there is a higher level of alienation from the political system on the part of the German and Italian respondents when compared to the American, British, and Mexican respondents.

Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba then discuss the relationship between the civic culture and democratic stability and the impact of political culture on the political system that it belongs to. One view that Almond and Verba discuss is the rationality-activist model, which stipulates that a stable democracy involves the population to be informed and active in politics. Additionally, the rationality-activist model requires the citizens to base their voting choices on careful evaluation and carefully weighing in the alternatives. On the other hand, Almond and Verba mention that current research shows that most citizens in democratic nations rarely live up to the rationality-activist model. As such, Almond and Verba feel that the rationality-activist model is only a part of the civic culture and does not make up its entirety. Moreover, Almond and Verba describe the civic culture as a mixed political culture that involves both citizens who are informed and take an active role in politics and citizens who take a less active role in politics. The diverse nature of the civic culture also implies that the different roles in political such as parochial, subject, and participant do not replace each other and instead build upon each other.

In conclusion, Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba discuss the idea of the political culture and its relationship to democracy in “The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations, An Analytic Study.” A major concern among political scientists is what factors result in the establishment of a political culture that allows for the stability of democracy within a particular country. In their study of political culture, Almond and Verba looked at several factors such as citizen views on government, views on treatment by governmental authorities, and the willingness of people to discuss political issues and the views that respondents from five different democracies have regarding them. The results of their study determined that countries with a long-term history of democratic governance were more likely to have political cultures that foster democratic ideas than countries with a shorter history of democratic government. Additionally, Almond and Verba discuss the relationship between political culture and the long-term stability of democratic political systems.

the author

Matt is a graduate of Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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  1. Steven on February 24, 2018

    Matthew Rose, thank you for your blog post. Really thank you! Awesome.

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