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Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba’s (1963) seminal The Civic Culture described the characteristics of a political culture that presumably enables nations to develop stable democratic processes. The civic culture was a mix of many traits, but several features were prominent in their descriptions of democracy in the United States and Britain. A democratic political culture is based on an aware, participatory public, although participation is often a potential rather than a reality. Similarly, a democratic culture requires a supportive public that identifies with the political community and trusts the institutions of government. They highlighted this pattern with the allegiant citizen described in the following example (Almond and Verba 1963, 443–44):
Miss E. is well informed on the uses of tax funds and is on the whole satisfied with the way in which tax money is being used. She has had some routine official contacts at the local Social Security office for instance, and she found the officials “in every way as nice as could be.” She remembers her father’s writing to the government about a state problem and receiving a pleasant and courteous reply. She feels that she would always be treated with friendliness and consideration by any government officials.
To many readers this description of the “good” democratic citizen must seem like an image of a different political era.
In addition, the early political culture studies described the political cultures of many Third World nations that supposedly lacked these civic traits (Pye and Verba 1965; Almond and Coleman 1960; Lerner 1958). These scholars maintained that many people in these nations were unaware of and uninvolved in politics. The everyday needs of life and limited social skills and experiences created parochial citizens. Furthermore, even among the politically aware, social norms and history had socialized acceptance of tradition, hierarchy, and an autocratic form of government. In contrast to the participatory citizens in established democracies, these cultures were often characterized by a mix of parochial and subject political orientations.
Still today, The Civic Culture by Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba counts as one of the most influential studies in comparative politics. The opus was pathbreaking because it formalized a model to describe the political culture of a nation and applied this model cross-nationally in five countries. As Sidney Verba (2011) has recently suggested, The Civic Culture’s most important legacy has been planting the seed of political culture research for the following half-century.
The evolving literature on political culture has shown how citizen values can change over time, as Almond and Verba (1980) demonstrated in The Civic Culture Revisited. Indeed, their second study provided some of the first insights into the social dynamics that affect postindustrial democracies and transform their political cultures.
More recently, public opinion research has expanded beyond a small number of established democracies to a true global scale. Before that expansion, attempts to identify the political culture in the developing world were based on the impressionistic insights of expert observers. Although rich in their descriptions of local traditions, these experts could only observe what was observable; they could not provide voice to what people were thinking in autocratic states. Congruence theory suggested that autocracies were supported by a noncivic political culture in which the populace accepted or even embraced rule by monarchs, dictators, or military governments. But to what extent this assumption was true could not be tested in the absence of systematic evidence. Today, this situation has changed significantly: The World Values Survey (WVS), the Global Barometer Surveys and other cross-national survey projects provide plenty of public opinion data that can help answering the question of regime legitimacy in different parts of the world.
This book re-evaluates Almond, Verba, and Pye's original ideas about the shape of a civic culture that supports democracy. Marshaling a massive amount of cross-national, longitudinal public opinion data from the World Values Survey Association, the authors demonstrate multiple manifestations of a deep shift in the mass attitudes and behaviors that undergird democracy. The chapters in this book show that in dozens of countries around the world, citizens have turned away from allegiance toward a decidedly 'assertive' posture to politics: they have become more distrustful of electoral politics, institutions, and representatives and are more ready to confront elites with demands from below. Most importantly, societies that have advanced the most in the transition from an allegiant to an assertive model of citizenship are better-performing democracies - in terms of both accountable and effective governance.
Approximately fifty years ago, Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba (1963) published The Civic Culture, followed soon after by Sidney Verba and Lucian Pye’s (1965) Political Culture and Political Development. The importance of these two classic studies cannot be overemphasized. They widened the political culture approach into a global framework for the comparative analysis of political change and regime legitimacy in developed as well as developing countries. The guiding question of the Almond-Verba-Pye approach concerned what citizen beliefs make democratic regimes survive and flourish. With the expansion of democracy into new regions of the globe, this civicness question is even more relevant today.
Political Culture and Political Development laid out the analytical tool kit and categories to examine the civicness question empirically. The volume was particularly important on conceptual grounds, yet it lacked systematic cross-national data to support its conclusions because such research was not feasible. Today, this situation has changed dramatically. The World Values Survey (WVS) and other cross-national projects have opened large parts of the developing world to public opinion research. Now there is an abundance of evidence on a wide range of social and political attitudes. This situation creates an excellent opportunity to evaluate contemporary political cultures in terms of the civicness question.
Sometime in the 1960–70s, the paradigm of comparative politics began to change in the established democracies. Until this point, one of the field’s major concerns was to explain the collapse of democracy in interwar Europe and the rise of fascist governments in their place. The landmark study, The Civic Culture, thus looked at postwar Europe and before to assess what type of political culture sustained democracy. Political culture research argued that people’s deference and allegiance to democratic institutions, combined with limited, elite-mandating mass involvement, were the foundation of stable democracy.
But societies and their people change. Mass prosperity, education, information, and other forces of social modernization were transforming citizens and the democratic process. New issue demands entered the political agenda, new citizen groups challenged the status quo, and a “participatory revolution” extended popular demands on governments. Usually, scholars and pundits depicted these developments as threats to democracy, often hearkening back to the model of citizenry proposed in the political culture studies of the early postwar era.
One of the first scholars to recognize the erosion of the allegiant model of democratic citizenship was Ronald Inglehart. He has been one of the strongest voices in the political culture field to object to the stereotypical interpretation of “elite-challenging mass action” as antidemocratic.
G Bingham Powell's core intellectual contribution to the study of politics has been to help us understand fundamental normative tradeoffs that are inherent to institutional choice in democratic political systems. The tradeoffs involve dimensions of political performance of central concern in the discipline, including political violence, political participation, political representation, political accountability, and political stability. In offering innovative insights about these substantive topics, Powell's research has played a crucial role in shaping the subfield of comparative politics by offering important lessons about how to advance the study of democratic systems.