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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2000
  • Online publication date: April 2010

Introduction - Social Capital and Political Culture in Africa, America, Australasia, and Europe


Societies work best, and have always worked best, where citizens trust their fellow citizens, work cooperatively with them for common goals, and thus share a civic culture. A civic community is marked, in Putnam's words, “by an active, public-spirited citizenry, by egalitarian political relations, [and] by a social fabric of trust and cooperation.” Vibrant networks and norms of civic engagement are essential for such a community. In societies where distrust is prevalent and horizontal ties of mutual involvement are replaced by hierarchical politics, social capital is absent, and little civic engagement exists. Indeed, the dilemmas of collective action at almost any level can best be solved through networks of reciprocal trust, a key component of social capital and a essential ingredient of democracy. For political stability and government effectiveness, Putnam says, “social capital may be even more important than physical or human capital.”

The accumulation of reciprocal trust, as demonstrated by a variety and combination of voluntary efforts for the creation of common goods, helps to build social capital and contributes to effective government. Societies with high levels of social capital function with greater, rather than lesser, participation of citizens. Social capital contributes to the making of civil society. A civic culture exists because citizens have accumulated large amounts of social capital. Although political culture is the term that describes how a society and a collection of leaders and citizens chooses, and has long chosen, to approach national political decisions, high levels of social capital contribute to the creation of a political culture that is open, pluralistic, deliberative, tolerant, and democratic.