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Understanding political culture is the same as understanding the political pulse of the nation. From the point of view of freedom-loving citizens, an accurate assessment of their nation’s political culture will help them map a strategy to improve their situation from being non-involved to fully engaged when it comes to policymaking and other government-related activities. For leaders who possess dictatorial powers there is a need to perpetuate the status quo and prevent the country from improving – from parochial to a participant type of political culture.
Types of Political Culture
The study of political culture is the attempt to uncover deep-seated, long-held values characteristic of a society rather than the transient attitudes toward specific issues (Encyclopaedia Britannica, par. 1). According to Almond and Verba there are three broad types of political culture:
- parochial, in which there is no clear differentiation of specific political roles and expectations among actors;
- subject, in which institutional and role differentiation exists in political life but the citizens are largely passive; and
- participant, in which specialized institutions and citizen opinion and activity are interactive (Riley, par. 2).
Without a doubt, those who live in highly industrialized societies would prefer the participant political culture as opposed to the parochial political culture. The former has all the qualities of a democratic way of governance while the latter has all the characteristics of a dictatorship. As the two terms would imply there is more interaction and participation with latter type of political culture while the latter is more restrictive.
It is common knowledge among political thinkers that a one-man rule will only benefit a few people. Moreover, corruption is also rife when there is no transparency as seen in dictatorships. Yet, even in oligarchies, the rule of the few, the same problems are also prevalent. The best example is the former Union Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) where the whole nation was governed by an elite group called the Communist Party (Wiseman, p. 35). History is witness to how the USSR went down in flames its people victims of inefficient rule and rampant corruption in the highest levels of government.
The ideal political culture is therefore the participant type wherein the majority of the population is well aware of what is going on in the local and national levels. This is evident in democratic countries wherein there is active participation on the part of the citizens. National and local elections are just some of the primary evidence of this kind of participation, another proof is the freedom of the press where the information in the highest levels of governance is being trickled down to the general public due to tools of communication that can reach every household and therefore can practically inform every citizen of what the national government is doing in terms of the people’s money (taxes) and the powers given to them.
One possible application of this theory allows for a quick grouping of modern day national-states into three basic categories: a) democratic governments; b) non-democratic countries e.g. ruled by despots; and c) those that are in transition. When it comes to the democratic form of government, where one can observe a participant political culture, the United States and the United Kingdom comes to mind.
Interestingly, Almond and Verba asserted that there is no government in the modern world that can exhibit one type of political culture in its pure form (Magone, p. 213-214). In other words there is no country or political system that can claim to have government where all its citizens are involved in the political system of the land. More importantly this also means that there is no nation or government in this planet where the citizens have given up all their rights and privileges and are completely ignorant of the political system of their country.
If it is the case, that none of these ideal political cultures existed in a modern democratic political system, then it is not possible to provide examples of countries that exhibit a parochial, subject, or participant political culture. On the other hand one can observe the mixture of these three political cultures, especially in a democratic political system (Magone, p. 214). In order to be more concise Almond and Verba suggested at least two types of systematically mixed political cultures (Wiseman, p. 36).
The first type is the parochial-subject culture. In this type a considerable portion of the population has rejected the exclusive claims of a tribal leader or feudal authority. The same group of people has developed some form of allegiance to a more complex political system and its specialized structures (Wiseman, p. 36). A good example would be the loosely-articulated African Kingdoms as well as the Ottoman Empire of the past century.
The second type is the subject-participant culture. In this mixture a substantial part of the population is ready and willing to participate and be active in the political system. Yet, the rest of the population is oriented to the authoritarian government. Thus, a part of the population is willing to embrace a more democratic form of government but they are being held back by the authoritarian-oriented group. The best example is France during the time of President de Gaulle when the leaders used plebiscites to achieve or maintain power while at the same time allowing the people to believe that they are participating in politics even if the president is the one dominating the decision-making process (Wiseman, p. 37).
This also allows for a more in-depth understanding of Almond and Verba’s ideal political cultural types. Firstly, this is the realization that parochial political culture exists in less sophisticated political systems such as those founding remote villages where tribal leaders still rule the area. Secondly, one can also understand that a subject type of political culture is best described through a monarchial form of governance. Finally, a participant type of political culture can be seen in a democratic form of government.
In the attempt to understand the radical changes that occurred in the political arena, right after the turn of the 20th century, Almond and Verba went to assemble a method of political analysis that goes beyond the use of questionnaires and determining what the average person has to say with regards to a particular issue. As a result the duo was able to develop the idea that there are in existence three ideal political cultures namely, participant, subjective, and participant. But instead of simplifying the discussion by saying that nations evolve from one form to another, Almond and Verba asserted that there is no government in the modern era that can demonstrate an ideal culture in its pure form.
The best that one can observe in a real-world setting is a mixture of two or three ideal types. This makes more sense especially when it comes to the study of emerging nations and those that are in transition from a non-democratic form of governance to one where the citizens are more active in their participation. This theory is also helpful in understanding the different reactions of different groups of people in a large territory such as the United States.
Magone, Jose Maria. The Politics of Southern Europe. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003.
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“political science.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web.
Riley, Jim. “Almond and Verba’s Civic Culture.” Web.
Wiseman, Herbert. Political Systems. New York: Routledge, 1966.