The political culture of any society or government is constituted by the various phenomena, as well as, the elements of their social wisdom. Political culture plays a substantial role in the influencing of the both the creation and development of a state and its political institutions. It also has a substantial bearing on the functioning of these institutions.
The role of a political culture in a given jurisdiction is to identify and further stipulate the accepted norms and regulations within the political circles. It is also largely derived form the acceptable ethical norms in the culture of the people who are found within the jurisdiction.
Currently, every democratic nation is on the frontline of ensuring that they develop their political culture as well as foster their sovereignty/national independence. In doing this, the main emphasis is laid on providing remedies to the issues in the society, but at the same time, maintaining congruency with the modern worldview of politics (Jumaev, 19). This essay critically examines the effect of both the American and Iranian political cultures on their respective political institutions.
It begins by first unraveling the characteristics of the respective political cultures. It then analyses each one of them, in regards to their influence on the development of the political institutions, and finally draws a conclusion.
This term defines a set of commonly held value system, beliefs, and norms in a nation, which describe its economic as well as political character of a people. It can be said to represent the ideas and ideologies that are held dear by the people and this has a bearing on their affiliations with other foreign states or nations. It also explains the relationship among citizens of a nation, their economy, and government.
Political culture has a bearing on the decisions and policies that government makes. In the accurate definition of what s political culture is, the explanations offered by both Verba and Pye (513) are quite appropriate; they state that, “political culture is the system of empirical beliefs, expressive symbols, and values which define the situation in which political action takes place, and provides the subjective orientation to politics.”
Pye, as cited in Mibagheri (35) also provides another classical definition of the same by stating that, “who reiterates that a political culture to consist of only those critical but widely shared beliefs and sentiments that form the ‘particular pattern of orientation’ that give order and form the political process”.
A political institution refers to a legal entity that is mandated to govern all aspects of life for a given group of people living within a particular jurisdiction. These institutions are heavily influenced by the political culture that prevails in a given society.
They are formidable symbols of a nation’s political system and are the platforms from which the elected or appointed public representatives make formulate laws and policies. In addition, they also act as a vital source of information as to how politics influence all the key government decisions and processes.
The American Political Culture
The American political culture is a major determinant factor in the government’s decision-making process. It also heavily influences America’s foreign policy, which describes the nature of relationship between the US and a particular nation. The political culture borrows heavily from the accepted norms, values, and traditions of the American people.
It can be said to have historically originated from both the American peoples’ belief system as well as their experiences in the past. These include attributes such as equality, liberty and the rule of democracy. The political culture also inculcates the national outlook, also referred to as the nation’s ideology. This in turn defines the manner in which a nation approaches legal and political issues both domestically and internationally (Yalof & Dautrich 90-150).
The American Political Institutions
Political institutions are at the heart of American politics and government. They include the law courts (judiciary), legislature (congress), and the executive (President, Vice President, Cabinet and their agencies and/or departments). Each of these branches exercises their own measure of powers and in a specific jurisdiction. However, none of them is dominant over the others.
The political institution in America is based on six fundamental principles, which govern the manner in which the entire government system executes its functions. These are explained as follows:
The government does not exercise absolute control of power but this is limited by the people. This is to say that the government cannot act in impunity but has to adhere by the constitution.
There is the principle of popular sovereignty, which ensures that political power is wielded by the masses and not a few powerful minorities.
There is also the separation of powers in the American political structure. This ensures that there is a harmonious execution of government processes, which results in an efficient dispensation of the powers vested in the government. Again, each of the branches of government functions to carry out specific roles, which are aimed at promoting democracy and providing justice to the people.
The constitution makes provisions for checks and balances for the interest of the people. This means that each of the branches is there to countercheck the other and so ensuring that none of them operates in complete dominance to the others.
The constitution also makes provision for the judiciary to review any of the acts and laws for the purposes of ascertaining their correctness against the constitution.
The principle of federalism, which prevents the central government from wielding absolute power and control, over local and state governments.
The American political process is also guided by the constitution, which dictates the mode of filling up positions in local, state, and federal levels of government. There is freedom of association and democratic space (Yalof & Dautrich 90-150). The country has several political parties with the dominant parties being the Republican and the Democratic parties. The electoral process in America includes the local, state, and federal levels of government. Unlike in Iran, these are conducted in a free and fair manner.
The Iranian Political Culture
According to Cronin (2010), “the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979 wrought a profound transformation not just in the spheres of politics and society but also, like other revolutions, in the realm of intellectual life.” The modern day Iran has undergone major political changes in its culture over the last few millennia. As Iran marks a quarter century since its last revolution, it is important to note the influence that this has had on the development of the political institutions.
Iran is among the oldest nations, having a documented history that spans over two and a half centuries. Before the advent of Islam in Iran, the nation was ruled by a monarchy system. After the revolution, Shi’ism replaced the monarch system of government. Shi’ism is based on the teachings of a denomination of Islam called the Shia Islam.
This is among the largest of the several known denomination of Islam and its followers are often referred to as Shiites. It is exclusively based on the teachings of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, as taught by Islam’s prophet Muhammad. Unlike the other denominations, Shiites highly regards the descendants of Muhammad’s family, with some of these descendants in positions of influence both spiritually and politically.
With the adoption of Shi’ism, the Iranian political culture developed in numerous ways. The most notable being introduction of an Islamic system which was deemed to liberate the nation from the yoke of imperialism and westernization. Other developments included the modification of the principles that governed nationalism.
The Iranian Political Institutions
Iran’s political culture has heavy undertones of the Persian Empire that ruled the region for centuries in ancient times. The Islamic revolution, which resulted in the toppling of the Shah monarch, gave birth to the modern-day Iran, which is dominated by more than 65 million Shiite Muslims.
This form of government can also be viewed as a theocratic one in the sense that the supreme leader, who also is the head of state, is an actually an Islamic cleric. This head of state is appointed, to serve for the rest of their natural life, by an agency of the executive known as the council of guardians. He is the only one who has the power to question the judiciary, can disqualify both the election results and candidates as he pleases. The head of state operates in absolute disregard of the wishes of the citizens and is above the law.
It is evident that the form of government and political institutions existing in Iran do not offer a conducive environment for the exercise of democracy as well as other fundamental human rights. The government in Iran is subdivided into branches. These include the supreme leader, who acts as the executive, the head of government or president, the ministers, assembly of experts and several other councils. These operate as mandated by the Iranian constitution that was first adopted in 1979 and again revised in 1989.
The Iranian political institutions exercise a strict adherence to the Islamic teachings and culture. The Imams (religious clerics) who exercise totalitarianism govern the country (Moran, Harris & Moran 334). This is viewed by the Iranians as the only sure way of ensuring absolute liberation from imperialism and westernization. However, the Americans and a majority of the western countries, view it as extremely oppressive and undemocratic.
From the radical Islamic culture, Iran has adopted various policies both on its domestic and international front. A good example is its unyielding support for terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, a Lebanese Islamist Shiite militia, which Iran believes is fighting a holy wart against Israel. Iran is known to finance, offer military training, and arms to Hezbollah
Again, from the Islamic Shiite teachings, Iran has adopted a radical stand as far as global peace and harmony is concerned. As a sovereign country recognized by the United Nations, it defies most of the agreements lobbied by the western world, terming them to be an attempt at imposing imperialist and western ideologies on Iran.
This has led to UN Security Council to impose several rounds of economic sanctions and embargoes on Iran. A good example is the recent sanctions imposed on Iran’s energy sector, to halt its highly disputed nuclear programme. These sanctions were lobbied by the American and some European foreign ministers.
In Iran, the citizens do not enjoy numerous basic freedoms and human rights. For instance, there is state interference in all general and presidential elections. This denies the people a chance to exercise their democratic rights to elect leaders who they feel will best represent their interests.
In addition, the openly radical Islamist regime in Iran has and is still viewed as oppressive both in the eyes of a minority of Iranians and globally. Currently there is widespread violation of human rights. The government continues to hunt down and execute all its citizens who dare criticize it. These include several human rights activists, journalists, minority religious and ethnic groups.
The Impact of US and Iranian Political Cultures on the Evolution of their Prospective Political Institutions
It is now evident that the political culture of a people greatly influences the evolution of their country’s political institutions. In the case of America and Iran, their political institutions have greatly been shaped by the political culture of the people. The Islamic republic of Iran is among the world’s 42 nations in which Islam has a major following (Moran, Harris & Moran 331).
In Iran, the political institutions exercise little regard for equality and rights. According to Archer and Lloyd (8), Iranian women are denied basic gender equality rights. They are obligated to stay at home, denied education and even forced to wear the chador (Islamic traditional clothing for women, usually having a veil that covers their entire face).
On the other hand, the American political culture and institutions have borrowed heavily from Christian teachings. The core beliefs of freedom liberty and equality are all indoctrinated into the functioning of the American political institutions. There is room for tolerance and exercise of freedom and rights as spelt out in the constitution.
People from all walks of life are able to peacefully coexist, without any form of discrimination targeted at them. This includes all diverse manner of minority groups and ethnic communities. Both citizens and non-citizens residing in America enjoy a great deal of liberalism. This means that their basic liberal values, such as the freedom of press, speech etc, are not interfered with by the government (Akerman 35-40).
The evolutionary process of the political institutions in both America and Iran has largely been determined by the political cultures of the people. The hostility that exists between the two states finds its origin in the stark contrast that these nations share as far as their political culture is concerned.
The American government has always been on the frontline in protesting against the state of affairs in Iran. These include the abuse of human rights, nuclear programme, support of terrorism and the instability of the Middle East region, which the US largely blames on Iran.
On the other hand, Iran is America’s biggest rival in the Middle East region. It openly opposes the American foreign policy especially concerning the region, and support radical Islamist militia and terrorist groups that target America and its allies including Israel.
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