Monday, December 3, 2012

NEVIS REVIEW NO 5 Sec I, Part A; Ref # 5.1.(A)

Section I: Political culture-(Part A)
Ref # 5.1.(A)
Dec 3, 2012

Democracy and Political Culture: Part One
By Hiwot Wendimagegn

Ever since the demise of communism, democracy has attained prominence in virtually every nation of the world. Nations take pride in using this term in some form or another to describe themselves irrespective of their widely differing political social and economic systems. “ “People’s democracies, “revolutionary democracies”, “capitalist democracies”, “democratic republics”, “ liberal democracies”, “representative democracies” and “federal democracies” are but a few of the terminologies one could cite as evidence” (Pempel, 1992:5). Be that as it may, “these favorable opinions are often superficial and unless they are accompanied by deeper-rooted orientations towards tolerance, trust and a participatory outlook the chances are poor that effective democracy will be present at the societal level” (Inglehart and Welzel, 2003:62).

Evidently, most developing countries which claim to be democracies are far from being democratic. By the 1990’s, observers from Latin America, Eastern Europe to East Asia were concluding that cultural factors played an important role in problems they were encountering with democratization. In these nations, and others like them (African nations), the mere presence of democratic constitutions and democratic institutions could not bring about democracy (Joseph, 2002: 241-62, Prempeh, 2008, Tessler and Ebru, 2004: 21-50, van de Walle, 2003 Young, 2004:31 …etc). The Guatemalan sociologist Bernando Arevalo astutely expressed the semblance of democracy in his country by saying, “we have the hardware of democracy but the software of authoritarianism” (cited in Huntington and Harrison (eds), 2000).
Thereof, one of the main purposes of the study of political culture is determining the attitudes and values that foster democracy. Prominent theories of democracy both classic and modern have asserted that, democracy requires a distinctive set of political values and orientations from its citizens. These peculiar political values in the likes of civility, tolerance moderation and participation enhance the development and maturity of democracy, while their absence impairs it (Almond and Verba, 1963, Diamond, 1980:14-28, Pennock, 1979:236-259, Putnam, 1993, Pye, 1985….etc). Although a lot of attitudinal values could be pointed out as vehicles or obstacles of democracy, for the purpose of this article the concepts of “amoral familism” and “survival versus self expression values” are focused on.

Amoral Familism
In “The Republic”, Plato famously discusses about the family as the force underlying institutionalized social class and ascription. He asserted, the inherent relations among family members especially parents and children press them to make particularistic preferences that benefits the family even if the preferences require that they harm others. The opposite of particularism being universalism, the commitment to treat others according to similar standards, Plato cleverly concluded; to create an egalitarian society, the family itself has to be abolished and that children should be reared from birth in public institutions not knowing their parents (Plato, 1992: Chapter 5).
Two and a half millennia later, Edward Banfield modified Plato’s idea and introduced the concept of ‘amoral familism’ in his 1958 work, “The Moral Basis of a Backward Society”. Simply defined, amoral familism is “the felt obligation to help, to give resources to persons to whom one has a personal obligation, to the family above all, but also to friends and membership groups” (Lipset and Lenz, 2000:119). He used this concept to describe his observation of cities of Southern Italy, a self centric society which sacrificed the public good for the sake of nepotism.
In a similar vein, Putnam (1993) put forward the idea that a national culture of strong family ties generates extremely persistent distrust in government and parties. In his assessment of the Mafia, Putnam also established the negative sides of social capital which thwart societal well being. Such cooperation occurs among group members who are devotedly loyal to one another; forlornly, they care less about the rest of society. Good examples for such alliances are the Mafia, Hell’s Angels, Bandidos, the Skinheads, and the Ku Klux Klan.
After their thorough observation and empirical experimentation, Banfield, Putnam and others concluded, the backwardness of societies that mirror cities like Southern Italy could be explained largely by the inability of the citizens to act together for the common good or any end transcending the immediate, material interests of the nuclear family or particular groupings (Banfield, 1958, Galtung, 1974, Giuliano and Alberto, 2008, Putnam, 1993…etc). “Amoral familism prevents the development of well functioning political institutions, creates a situation where politics is simply a private affair of those who control it, common goods are completely disregarded and there is little interest in participating in public affairs” (Giuliano and Alberto, 2008:2).
All in all, extreme self-interestedness hinders democracy. “In a society that exhibits such tendencies, there is little loyalty to the larger community or acceptance of behavioral norms that require support of others. Hence, familism is amoral, gives rise to corruption and fosters deviance from norms of universalism and merit” (Huntington and Harrison (eds), 2000:120). To flourish and to persist, democracy requires a society that exhibits interpersonal trust, tolerance and participation in decision making. Such sentiments and behavioral patterns are unlikely to occur in a nation filled with groups that are at best antagonistic and at worst enemies.
Survival versus Self Expression Values

The emergence of the post- industrial world has brought about a wave of cultural change. One such change is the shift from survival values to self expression values especially in 1st and 2nd world countries (Inglehart, 1971, 1997). The wealth that has accumulated in such advanced societies means that an increasing share of the population grows up taking survival for granted. Thus, priorities have shifted from an overwhelming emphasis on economic and physical security towards an increasing emphasis on subjective well being, self expression and quality of life (Ibid, Inglehart and Welzel, 2003, Huntington and Harrison (eds), 2000: 84-87). Such a shift diminishes social constraints in unprecedented ways, is thus one of emancipation from extreme and oppressive authority (Inglehart and Welzel, 2005).
Elaborately, survival values are characteristic of a society that prioritizes physical survival and economic well being above all else. “Societies that emphasize survival values show relatively low levels of subjective well being, report relatively poor health, are low in interpersonal trust, are relatively intolerant toward out groups, (…) emphasize materialist values (…) and are relatively favorable to authoritarian governments” (Huntington and Harrison (eds), 2000:85).
On the other hand, “Self expression values are a syndrome of mass attitudes that tap a common underlying dimension, reflecting emphasis on freedom, tolerance of diversity, and participation at both the individual and aggregate levels” (Inglehart and Welzel, 2003:64). Self expression values are present in a political culture in so far as the public emphasizes liberty and participation, self expression, tolerance of diversity, interpersonal trust and life satisfaction (ibid,). In analyzing data from the 1981 World Values Survey, Inglehart found that societies with relatively high levels of interpersonal trust and life satisfaction were more likely to have democratic institutions than societies with relatively low levels of trust and well being (Ibid:74).

As documented by many empirical evidences, democracy requires the presence of self expression values as opposed to survival values ; self expression values enhance democratization while survival values hinder it. Survival values are often held by poor nations which helps explain why richer societies are more likely to be democracies (Huntington and Harrison (eds), 2000:81). “People must be educated and fed before they can appreciate democracy, for there is no choice in ignorance and there are no possibilities for self fulfillment in extreme poverty” (Joseph, 2002:35).