Growth of the American Political Culture

We are all familiar with the American Dream. It is the faith and belief that every American will have the freedom to seek a better life. The comfort that we are free to seek out a nicer home for our family, or to get a car or two, and to have more comfort than our parents had.

This freedom is what fuels the amazing “rags to riches” stories we hear. The stories we learned about future Presidents growing up in log cabins and successful millionaires who arrived in America as poverty stricken immigrants. All of these tales are part of the American political culture.

Each and every country on Earth possesses a political culture. They are cultures where beliefs are shared – as well as the values and norms that constitute the link between the government and its citizens, as well as citizens to each other. Shared beliefs about the common economic life are a strong element of the political culture as economics are highly affected by politics.

A solid grasp of a given country’s political culture will often define how that country’s government is designed and how political leaders make decisions for its citizens.

One example of this is why Great Britain has a queen. She has no real political power, so why haven’t they ended this monarchy? This is quite baffling unless you understand the political culture of Great Britain.  They obviously place a high value on tradition.

The American View

The political culture in America that was described by Tocqueville during the 1830s has drastically changed over time, but yet has also remained the same in many ways as well.

Political culture in the United States places a high emphasis on working hard, and is full of great stories about successful businessmen and leaders who grew from humble beginnings.

    • Liberty: Most citizens believe in their right to be free, as long as the rights of others aren’t abused.
    • Equality: This usually means “equality of opportunity,” and not absolute equality.
    • Democracy: Elected leaders are held accountable to their citizens. People have the ability and responsibility to select their leaders wisely.
    • Individualism: The rights of individuals are valued above the rights of the state (government); individual initiatives are very strongly encouraged.
    • The Rule of Law: Government is based on a structure of law to be applied fairly and equally, and not at the whims of a ruler.
    • Nationalism: Most Americans are proud of its storied past and tend to overlook problems like intolerance or military setbacks. This is the belief that our nation is stronger and more virtuous than other countries.
    • Capitalism The American Dream relies on the belief in our right to procure and own private property and to freely compete in open markets with little government involvement.

We will find that several other nations might share some or all of the same beliefs and values. It is the combination and the subtleties of these core beliefs that form a unique political culture that differs from the rest. One of the stronger elements of our American political culture is debate and disagreement. They include the value of ideas, but leave ample room for the reality of failure and recreation.

Notable events from throughout American history such as the settlements of the Wild West, the Industrial Revolution, the Civil War, their participation in both World Wars I and II, and the New Deal have all been a huge part of the American political culture. Many such events have actually questioned and established the beliefs and values of America. But more than anything else, it is the culture that defines our political institutions, attitudes, and activities that are most beloved by all Americans.