Political culture (20TH CENTURY)

Explanation of the character of politics.

A nation or a society is characterized by a political culture, into which its children are inducted, and by learning which they participate and preserve values and institutions.

Geoffrey Roberts and Alistair Edwards, A New Dictionary of Political Analysis (London, 1987)


María Eugenia Vázquez Semadeni defines political culture as “the set of discourses and symbolic practices by means of which both individuals and groups articulate their relationship to power, elaborate their political demands and put them at stake.”[2]

Gabriel Almond defines it as “the particular pattern of orientations toward political actions in which every political system is embedded”.[1]

Lucian Pye’s definition is that “Political culture is the set of attitudes, beliefs, and sentiments, which give order and meaning to a political process and which provide the underlying assumptions and rules that govern behavior in the political system”.[1]


The limits of a particular political culture are based on subjective identity.[1] The most common form of such identity today is the national identity, and hence nation states set the typical limits of political cultures.[1] The socio-cultural system, in turn, gives meaning to a political culture through shared symbols and rituals (such as a national independence day) which reflect common values.[1] This may develop into a civil religion. The values themselves can be more hierarchical or egalitarian, and will set the limits to political participation, thereby creating a basis for legitimacy.[1] They are transmitted through socialization, and shaped by shared historical experiences which form the collective or national memory.[1] Intellectuals will continue to interpret the political culture through political discourse in the public sphere.[1] Indeed, elite political culture is more consequential than mass-level.[3]


Trust is a major factor in political culture, as its level determines the capacity of the state to function.[3]

Postmaterialism is the degree to which a political culture is concerned with issues which are not of immediate physical or material concern, such as human rights and environmentalism.[1]

Religion has also an impact on political culture.[3]


Different typologies of political culture have been proposed.

Almond & Verba

Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba in The Civic Culture outlined three pure types of political culture based on level and type of political participation and the nature of people’s attitudes toward politics:

  • Parochial – Where citizens are only remotely aware of the presence of central government, and live their lives near enough regardless of the decisions taken by the state, distant and unaware of political phenomena. They have neither knowledge nor interest in politics. This type of political culture is in general congruent with a traditional political structure.
  • Subject – Where citizens are aware of central government, and are heavily subjected to its decisions with little scope for dissent. The individual is aware of politics, its actors and institutions. It is affectively oriented towards politics, yet it is on the “downward flow” side of the politics. In general congruent with a centralized authoritarian structure.
  • Participant – Citizens are able to influence the government in various ways and they are affected by it. The individual is oriented toward the system as a whole, to both the political and administrative structures and processes (to both the input and output aspects). In general congruent with a democratic political structure.

Almond and Verba wrote that these types of political culture can combine to create the civic culture, which mixes the best elements of each.


Daniel J. Elazar identified three kinds of political culture:[3]

  • Individualistic culture – In which politics is a marketplace between individuals seeking to maximize their self-interest, with minimal community involvement and opposition to the government, as well as a high degree of patronage. See also: Neopatrimonialism.
  • Moralistic culture – Whereby government is seen as important and as a way to improve peoples’ lives.
  • Traditionalistic culture – One which seeks to preserve the status quo under which elites have all the power and citizen participation is not expected.


Samuel P. Huntington classified political cultures according to civilizations on the basis of geography and history:[3]

  • Western civilization
  • Japanese civilization
  • Islamic civilization
  • Hindu civilization
  • Slavic-Orthodox civilization
  • Latin American civilization
  • Chinese civilization
  • African civilization

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