Essay on Political Culture

The political importance of the physical setting is uncertain, “but some consequence there will be if only by affecting the size of the population and the ease of communication and thereby the relative strength and co­ordination of that population compared to other political units.”

The politics of a particular community is also affected by its economy, which may be basically agricultural or industrial or, more generally, a mixture of the two. The economy may provide a mere subsistence or plenty even verging on superfluity. India has a mixed economy, though 70 per cent of the population is dependent, directly or indirectly, on agriculture.

The total wealth of the country is most unevenly distributed and 37 per cent of the total population lives under poverty line. In Switzerland, there is no poor and in Canada there is superfluity.

A particular economy will create particular possibilities. In a country with basically agricultural economy the population will be predominantly rural leading a corporate life with family as the pivot of loyalty.

On the other hand, in a highly industrialised and urbanized economy it would just be the reverse. Because of the development in the means of transport and communication men of diverse customs, habits, beliefs and languages would come together in larger units, become accustomed to close proximity and thereby develop wider allegiances.

The social relations which develop in a particular place and which are related to the methods of producing goods and services provide a social setting for political activity.

A society may be one in which all the members, may be of the same race, subscribe to similar religious beliefs and in which disparities of wealth and social status are small. Another society may be multi-racial, have many religious groups, and show marked caste, class and social distinctions; India being such a society.

In the former, decision- taking may be simple whereas in the latter the conflict potential is much greater and its politics may, consequently, be more acrimonious and decision-taking result from the interaction of numerous clearly defined groups. Whatever the social environment, the relationships existing in non-political spheres may be expected to carry over into the political.

There is, thus, a continuous interaction between the physical, social and political. The physical setting both affects and is affected by the social, as the social and political also affect both each other and the physical situation.

The individuals who make up a society in which a political system is set may be categorised according to race, wealth, economic ideology and even religion, but really there is more to the setting than what is often termed the social structure. In the social system there exists also the culture of the society.

The individual members of the society will have certain values, beliefs and emotional attitudes which make up the culture the community of which political attitudes are a part. Such social behaviour has its basis in the culture of a society and, similarly, political behaviour has its basis in the political culture.

A political culture is a pattern of individual values, beliefs and emotional attitudes. Individual notions of what is right or wrong, good and bad in political affairs, together make up the value pattern—the pattern of norms, of what it is considered ought to be.

Closely linked with such values will be the beliefs about what it really is, that is, of what exists in the world of politics. The values and beliefs of an individual are such that his emotions are aroused in the realm of politics. Such political emotions sustain values and beliefs and are evoked by symbols.

If a political culture were merely the individual writ large, then one might speak of a completely homogeneous culture. However, it is more; it is a unique pattern of values and beliefs and emotional attitudes of a collection of individuals.

In the modern world, while in some countries the degree of cultural differences is relatively small, differences will, no doubt, be found.

Such heterogeneity of a political culture rests in differences between the political culture of groups and in differences between individuals. Where the differences between a group and the whole are substantial, there is a political sub-culture.

In some countries the military form just such a group, in others the political culture of the bureaucracy, the parliamentarians, an extremist party, a particular race, caste, class or religion may provide a political sub-culture. In any individual case one, few or many sub­cultures may exist. India is a notable example of many sub-cultures and her unity is born out of this diversity.

A political sub-culture most likely to be found is that of rulers and the governed. Within the group of rulers there may be many who retain important elements of the political culture of the mass, but those who exercise vast influence are found, in general, to vary from the many in their orientation to politics. To take the example of India, again, there exists in common parlance the congress culture.

The important political values and beliefs of a society are those which concern the political arrangements as a whole; particular institutions and policies of how they are produced and the place of the individual within the political process. At the general level the value placed by members on the total political unit—the nation in a nation-State – is especially significant.

The value placed on the overall political unit and other units, such as the tribe, the region, even the village is reflected in a hierarchy of loyalties and depending on the placing of units in the hierarchy, nationalism or particularism will predominate.

In modern industrial communities individuals now commonly identify with the nation. Nevertheless, strong intra-national loyalties are to be found even in developed countries, as, for example, in Belgium and Canada.

They are more intense in India. After independence of the country in 1947, regionalism reasserted itself more vigorously and today particularism is the norm, universalism is the exception. Recently, it has been coupled with fundamentalism which is really a disturbing phenomenon.

Political beliefs are symbolised in every society. Certain of these symbols and symbolic activities are obvious enough. The flag, singing of national anthem, Republic and Independence Day celebrations and martyrdom of Gandhi, father of the Indian nation, draw attention to national identity and reinforce it.

In long established nation-States the function of such symbols, for example, the public display of the constitutional document and recitation of its contents by schoolchildren in the United States or the opening of the British Parliament by the Monarch, is to sustain the commitment to the nation.

In newly independent countries such symbols may need to be created and manipulated to produce allegiance or strengthen it where it is weak. There is no difficulty in providing examples of symbols appropriate for all levels of political values and beliefs. Their number is evidence of their importance and their ability to survive.

Political culture is not static. Its characteristics may change as a result of the import of alien ideas, industrialization, the impact of new leaders, population changes and many other factors. The continuity of the culture, even in the face of such occurrences, is a sign of the effectiveness of the process by which political culture is passed from generation to generation—the process of political socialization.