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Political culture is the traditional orientation of the citizens of a nation toward politics, affecting their perceptions of political legitimacy.



  • Dennis Kavanagh defines political culture as "A shorthand expression to denote the set of values within which the political system operates".
  • Lucian Pye describes it as "the sum of the fundamental values, sentiments and knowledge that give form and substance to political process".

Political culture is how we think government should be carried out. It is different from ideology because people can disagree on ideology, but still have a common political culture.

Political scientist Sidney Verba, describes political culture as a "system of empirical beliefs, expressive symbols, and values, which defines the situation in which political action takes place."

As shared paradigms

One way to understand political culture is in terms of the shared paradigms that co-exist within a single particular society. This involves identifying the various cultures within the society other than the dominant culture. Some of the variables used to define a political culture are its paradigms about government, economics and morality.

There are several distinctions which can be made in identifying political cultures. One distinction is whether it is a belief of the culture that its basic unit is the individual or the family. Another distinction is to ask whether the concept of the culture is cooperative or competitive. Yet another distinction is whether the culture believes the society should be organized hierarchically or is egalitarian. Whether reason or tradition serves as a justification, is yet another.

According to William Stewart, all political behavior can be explained as participating in one or more of eight political cultures. They are Anarchism, Oligarchy, Tory corporatism, Fascism, Classical liberalism, Radical liberalism, Democratic socialism, and Leninist socialism. Societies that exemplify each of these cultures have existed historically, however their historical placement is not of primary significance. These cultures have existed in some form in varying degrees for thousands to years, and still exist today.

As political philosophy

Political culture is a distinctive and patterned form of political philosophy that consists of beliefs on how governmental, political, and economic life should be carried out. Political cultures create a framework for political change and are unique to nations, states, and other groups. A political culture differs from political ideology in that people can disagree on an ideology (what government should do) but still share a common political culture. Some ideologies, however, are so critical of the status quo that they require a fundamental change in the way government is operated, and therefore embody a different political culture as well.

The term political culture was brought into political science to promote the American political system. The concept was used by Gabriel Almond in late 50s, and outlined in The Civic Culture (1963, Almond & Verba), but was soon opposed by two European political scientists - Gerhard Lehmbruch and Arend Lijphart. Lehmbruch analysed politics in Switzerlandmarker and Austriamarker and Lijphart analysed politics in Netherlandsmarker. Both argued that there are political systems that are more stable than the one in the USA.

Ideological perspectives


An anarchist political culture only exists in small societies in which there are no strangers. Every person has face to face accountability, and will have to continue to live together. The paradigms about society and the role of the individual are shared strongly among all of its members. In such a society institutions of government are not necessary. Family contacts and their constant reinforcement through personal contact hold the single-culture society together.

Tory corporatism

A tory corporatist political culture presumes that responsibility to the group is more important than individual needs and desires. Tradition is the justification of the tory culture. The immediate family connections form its basis. The corporatist culture takes cooperation as far more important than competition.


Oligarchy is a political culture where a particular corporate group in a society promotes its own welfare by exploiting others. While the tory accepts that the whole society is one big family and for the anarchist the entire society is the family; for the oligarch, there is a great division between his or her family and the rest of society.

Classical liberalism

The classical liberal political culture is not based on tradition as tory corporatism and oligarchy are. It is based in rationality. It takes the individual as the basic unit of society and is competitive rather than cooperative.

Radical liberalism

The radical liberal shares all of the same paradigms as the classical liberal, however it differs in that its hierarchical nature does not apply to its elections, and its competitive nature is more limited.

Democratic socialism

The democratic socialist political culture is much like radical liberalism, however it attempts to be more egalitarian. They believe that the government is an instrument of changing the prevailing economic paradigm. They are collectivist rather than competitive.

Leninist socialism

Leninist socialists like other socialists take rationality as the justification for their culture. They believe that the rich lie and perpetuate paradigms which support their own interests. While they reject a social hierarchy, the government itself is rigidly hierarchical.

Fascist corporatism

While the tory corporatist culture is established and on-going, the fascist corporatist attempts to create such a culture by force. The tory takes tradition as the legitimate basis of society, while the fascist makes some form of appeal to rationality. The fascist attempts to recreate the conditions of tory corporatism as a response to Leninist socialism.


Almond and Verba

According to their level and type of political participation and the nature of people's attitudes toward politics, Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba outlined three pure types of political culture:
  • 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. He has neither knowledge or interest in politics. 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 he 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.

These three 'pure' types of political culture can combine to create the 'civic culture', which mixes the best elements of each.


By Arend Lijphart, there are different classifications of political culture:

1. classification:
  • Political culture of masses
  • Political culture of the elite(s)

2. classification (of political culture of the elites):
  • coalitional
  • contradictive

Lijphart also classified structure of the society:

Structure of society (right) homogeneous heterogeneous
Political culture ofelites (down)
coalitional depoliticalised democracy consociative democracy
contradictive centripetal democracy centrifugal democracy

The most stable political system is consociative democracy which has the heterogeneous society in which all parts of the society work together and not contradict each other. Those kind of systems are common in Scandinavia (especially Sweden).

Related topics


  1. Page with definitions
  2. Pye, L. (1995) 'Political Culture' in the Encuclopedia of Democracy, ed. S. Lipset. (London and New York:Routledge) pp.965-9.
  3. William Stewart, Understanding Politics
  4. Lukšič, Igor (2006). Politična kultura, p.40-42. FDV, Ljubljana. Retrieved on June 29, 2007.

Further reading

  • Almond, Gabriel A., Verba, Sidney The Civic Culture. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1965.
  • Aronoff, Myron J. “Political Culture,” in International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, Neil J. Smelser and Paul B. Baltes, eds., (Oxford: Elsevier, 2002), 11640.
  • Axelrod, Robert. 1997. “The Dissemination of Culture: A Model with Local Convergence and Global
Polarization.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 41:203-26. nyfutdrysetasrdtufyguhigufydtsryaetrsdfguhiigufiyudtsyrtdufyguh
  • Barzilai, Gad. Communities and Law: Politics and Cultures of Legal Identities. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003.
  • Bednar, Jenna and Scott Page. 2007. “Can Game(s) Theory Explain Culture? The Emergence of Cultural
Behavior within Multiple Games” Rationality and Society 19(1):65-97.
    • Clark, William, Matt Golder, and Sona Golder. 2009. Principles of Comparative Government. CQ Press. Ch. 7
  • Diamond, Larry (ed.) Political Culture and Democracy in Developing Countries.
  • Greif, Avner. 1994. “Cultural Beliefs and the Organization of Society: A Historical and Theoretical Reflection on Collectivist and Individualist Societies.” The Journal of Political Economy 102(5): 912-950.
  • Kertzer, David I. Politics and Symbols. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.
  • Kertzer, David I. Ritual, Politics, and Power. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.
  • Kubik, Jan. The Power of Symbols Against The Symbols of Power. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.
  • Inglehart, Ronald and Christian Welzel, Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2005. Ch. 2
  • Laitin, David D. Hegemony and Culture. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1986.
  • Lukšič, Igor. Politična kultura. Ljubljana: The University of Ljubljana, 2006.
  • Wilson, Richard W. "The Many Voices of Political Culture: Assessing Different Approaches," in World Politics 52 (January 2000), 246-73

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