Philippine Political Culture Circa 2009

Philippine Political Culture Circa 2009

Are we ready for a Participatory Political Culture?

Are we ready for a Participatory Political Culture?

What is Political Culture?

The open source reference defines Political Culture as

The orientation of the citizens of a nation toward politics, and their perceptions of political legitimacy and the traditions of political practice,” and the feelings expressed by individuals in the position of the elected offices that allow for the nurture of a political society.
(Refer to

Jeffrey Olick, Tatiana Omeltchenko, “Political Culture”, INTERNATIONAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES, 2ND EDITION, p. 300 write further:

Although insights into political culture have been part of political reflection since classical antiquity, two developments in the context of the French Revolution laid the groundwork for modern understandings. First, when members of the Third Estate declared “We are the people,” they were overturning centuries of thought about political power, captured most succinctly by Louis XIV’s infamous definition of absolutism: “L’etat, c’est moi ” (“I am the State”). Henceforth, sovereignty was seen to reside in society rather than in the monarch and his divine rights. A century later, Max Weber turned this political claim into a scientific one when he defined legitimacy as that which is considered to be legitimate-not only by elites but by the population in general; to understand the political power of the state, social science must therefore attend to its reception and sources in society. Second, when Jean-Jacques Rousseau retheorized the social contract as one in which individual interests were taken up in an overarching “General Will” of the collectivity, he raised the question of how social solidarity could be maintained in the absence of recourse to divine right. His answer was “civil religion,” symbols and rituals that establish and dramatize the sense of collective belonging and purpose. A century later, Émile Durkheim took up these themes when he questioned whether modern, complex societies could generate sufficient solidarity to function in a stable manner. Durkheim’s interest in what he called collective effervescence (generated in and through communal rituals) and collective representations (embodied in symbols as well as more abstractly in “collective conscience”) extended Rousseau’s concerns and has underwritten contemporary analyses of political culture as the sets of symbols and meanings involved in securing and exercising political power.Contemporary work on political culture, however, dates more directly to the mid-twentieth century, particularly in the United States. In the wake of World War II (1939-1945), social scientists were motivated to explain why some nations had turned to authoritarianism while others supported democratic institutions. Before and during the war, anthropologists such as Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict were proponents of a “culture and personality” approach, which asserted that members of different societies develop different modal personalities, which in turn can explain support for different kinds of political programs and institutions. In a somewhat different vein, the German exile philosopher Theodor Adorno and colleagues undertook a massive study during the war into what they called, in the title of their 1950 work, The Authoritarian Personality, continuing earlier research by critical theorists into the structure of authority in families, which they believed had led Germans to support authoritarian politics and social prejudice. In a similar vein, Harold Laswell described a set of personality traits shared by “democrats,” including an “open ego,” a combination of value-orientations, and generalized trust.Perhaps the most important work on political culture in this period was Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba’s 1963 The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations, which combined Laswell’s description of the democratic personality with at least two strands of social science theory at the time. First, the predominant sociological theory in the United States was that of Talcott Parsons, who explained social order in terms of institutions that inculcated individuals with coherent sets of norms, values, and attitudes-what Parsons called culture- which in turn sustained those institutions through time. In contrast, the so-called behavioral revolution in political science argued that such accounts neglected extra-institutional variables as sources of social order (a concern that could be traced back to Montesquieu in the mid-eighteenth century, who sought external factors-in his case climate-to explain the different forms of law in history); in Parsons, moreover, critics charged that norms, values, and attitudes were more often simply assumed as necessary integrative features of social systems rather than measured empirically (hence the appeal to behaviorism, which in psychology held observability to be the only relevant criterion for science).

The major point of Almond and Verba’s comparative study was to address the role of subjective values and attitudes of national populations in the stability of democratic regimes. This fit clearly within the behavioral revolution because it turned to extra-institutional variables (norms,values, and attitudes) to explain political outcomes. Nonetheless, the work was presented as a study of political culture, defined as the aggregate pattern of subjective political dispositions in the populace, thus incorporating and, indeed, operationalizing, the Parsonsian concept of culture. On the basis of extensive survey research, The Civic Culture theorized three basic orientations toward political institutions and outcomes: parochial, where politics is not differentiated as a distinct sphere of life and is of relatively little interest; subject, in which individuals are aware of the political system and its outcomes but are relatively passive; and participant, where citizens have a strong sense of their role in politics and responsibility for it. The Civic Culture rated five countries on these qualities, finding Italy and Mexico to be relatively parochial, Germany to be subject, and the United States and the United Kingdom to be participant political cultures.

Subsequent work in this tradition by Ronald Ingelhart and others has shown that the effect of basic satisfaction with political life and high levels of interpersonal trust (what would later be called “social capital”) are analytically distinct from economic affluence, thus arguing forcefully that democracy depends on cultural as well as economic factors. Contemporary authors such as Samuel Huntington have extended this kind of argument about norms, values, and attitudes to the world stage, where they describe a “clash of civilizations” in terms of basic “cultural” differences understood in this way.

In sum, political culture theory makes empirical sense out of the French Revolution’s claim that sovereignty derives from society rather than the state. One temptation with this recognition, however, is to assume that while states are about power, societies are about meaning and the reception of power. One solution, inspired by Michel Foucault, among others, has been to declare society the true locus of power. The problem is that this misses the ways in which states do indeed set agendas for societies. Recent analyses have thus returned to the political culture of the state (e.g., Bonnell 1997). But they do so without supposing that societies are mere recipients of such productions.

In contrast to much work in political sociology, which has drawn a facile distinction between “merely” symbolic politics and “real” politics, recent political culture theory has thus demonstrated that social life is an ongoing reproductive process. New political culture analysts in particular have focused not only on how political acts succeed or fail to obtain some material advantage but also on how in doing so they produce, reproduce, or change identities. The struggle for position that constitutes politics, we now understand is always simultaneously strategic and constitutive: As Lynn Hunt has written, “Political symbols and rituals were not metaphors of power; they were the means and ends of power itself” (Hunt 1984, p. 54). Interpreting them and understanding how they are generated and how they work is thus of paramount importance.

Types of Political Cullture

According to their level and type of political participation and the nature of people’s attitudes toward politics, Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba outlined three pure types of political culture:

* Parochial – Where citizens are only remotely aware of the presence of central government, and live their lives near enough regardless of the decisions taken by the state. Distant and unaware of political phenomena. He has neither knowledge or interest in politics. In general congruent with a traditional political structure.

* Subject – Where citizens are aware of central government, and are heavily subjected to its decisions with little scope for dissent. The individual is aware of politics, its actors and institutions. It is affectively oriented towards politics, yet he is on the “downward flow” side of the politics. In general congruent with a centralized authoritarian structure.

* Participant – Citizens are able to influence the government in various ways and they are affected by it. The individual is oriented toward the system as a whole, to both the political and administrative structures and processes (to both the input and output aspects). In general congruent with a democratic political structure.

These three ‘pure’ types of political culture can combine to create the ‘civic culture’, which mixes the best elements of each.

Civicness, Culture, Society, and Governance

In their essay “What Insights can Multi-Country Surveys  Provide about People and Societies?”, Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel write:

We start from the trivial but significant premise that human societies are composed of people. This means that societies are driven by patterns of mass behavior. This behavior is rooted in people’s prevailing psychological orientations, including their beliefs, values and motivations. Hence, in order to understand how societies function and develop, one needs to understand how their traditions, institutions and regulations are anchored in their people’s beliefs, values and motivations. Survey research makes this possible.Some additional considerations are useful in exploiting the potential of cross-national surveys.First, it is necessary to deal with representative surveys that measure the motivational and behavioral patterns of entire countries, if countries are the unit of analysis. Many of the most interesting variables, from democratic institutions to economic growth rates, exist at the national level, which means that representative national surveys are needed in order to analyze population-system linkages.

Second, it is useful to focus on survey questions that tap deeply seated values, and beliefs, rather than opinions that fluctuate from day to day. Opinions are highly  susceptible to the problem of “non-attitudes” (Converse, 1970), and this is particularly true of political opinions. Specific political issues are usually remote from people’s daily lives, and tend to evoke superficial opinions. Moreover, salient political issues generally depend on nation-specific and period-specific political agendas, which reduces their comparability over space and time. It is useful to design questions that tap relatively deep-rooted values, such as people’s beliefs about gender roles, religion, personal liberty, state authority, and peoples’ trust and tolerance towards others.  Such social values not only have a higher comparative value across space and time; surprising as it may seem, they also tend to have more impact on important system-level variables than do political orientations. Social trust, for example, has a stronger impact on “good governance” than has political trust, though the latter would seem to be more directly relevant (Newton, 2001).  Similarly, such attitudes as tolerance, trust, and emphasis on self-expression are a much stronger predictor of system-level democracy, than is overt support for democracy itself (Inglehart 2003).

Growing evidence that the orientations of ordinary people are important for a society’s level of economic productivity, gender equality and democratic consolidation, had increased the relevance of survey data. Accordingly, economists, sociologists, psychologists and political scientists are increasingly using data from the World Values Surveys and other large cross-national surveys to analyze social and political change. Questions of civicness have become a common forum that integrates various disciplinary that share an interest in human progress and well being. The insight that the orientations of ordinary citizens matter, is central to the concept of “human development” (Sen, 1999), which integrates economic, social and political aspects of progress into a single people-centered concept of development (Welzel, Inglehart and Klingemann, 2003; Welzel, 2003).  There is considerable debate about which civic orientations are most effective in leading people to behave in productive, cooperative and democratic ways, but the concept of civicness serves as a common point of reference.

In the context of survey research, the theoretically most far-reaching type of analyses is done in studies relating aggregate survey data to societal level phenomena. Knack and Keefer (1997), for example, use aggregate measures of social trust to explain economic growth. Inglehart (1997) has explored the linkage between civic norms and the longevity of democratic institutions. Another example is shown in Figure 1, which demonstrates the relationship between individual-level self-expression values and “good governance”– a composite indicator of “voice and accountability” developed by the World Bank. This indicator summarizes various measures of the extent to which people can select, replace and monitor governments (Kaufman, Kraay and Mastruzzi, 2003).

Our indicator of self-expression values is taken from the earliest available survey among the second to fourth wave of the World Values Survey (1990-2000). This measure reflects the percentages of people who (1) emphasize freedom and participation, (2) tolerate sexual liberty, (3) sign petitions, (3) trust other people and report high life satisfaction. As Figure 1 demonstrates, there is a strong linear relationship between mass emphasis on self-expression values in a society, and the extent to which their respective political systems provide open and accountable institutions.

The relationship can be interpreted in various ways, but theoretical considerations suggest that the linkage between open and accountable institutions and mass-level self-expression values reflects the impact of values on institutions rather than the reverse. For, while self-expression values inherently lead people to demand open and accountable institutions, there is no reason why the presence of such institutions would tend to create these values. Moreover, in Figure 1, self-expression values are measured prior to open and accountable institutions. Thus, the relationship does not reflect the impact of institutions on values, unless both self-expression values and open and accountable institutions have a third common cause, such as economic development or prior democracy. However, even controlling for prior measures of democratic institutions and economic development, the effect of self-expression values remains significant:  when one controls for per capita GDP in 1995 and the number of years a society has spent under democracy, mass-level self-expression values still have a significantly positive effect on open and accountable institutions (partial r = .48, significant at the .001-level).

Regardless of whether mass-level self-expression values create or reflect open and accountable institutions, the fact that these two phenomena are so strongly related to each other is an important finding, which has two implications.

The fact that a society’s institutional performance is strongly linked with mass-level value orientations measured by completely independent methods, helps validate the survey evidence:  despite the undeniable difficulties of cross-cultural survey research, it is extremely unlikely that one would find such strong linkages if the survey data were contaminated by massive measurement error.

Second, the finding that ordinary people’s value orientations shape or reflect a society’s basic institutional traits, points to the existence of a population-system linkage that ties genuine system characteristics, such as the quality of democratic institutions, to the central tendencies of given populations. Analyzing such population-system linkages is crucial to understanding how societies operate and develop.

The thesis that political institutions are rooted in ordinary people’s value orientations is far from new– it is the central claim of civic culture theory.

Challenges to Civic Culture Theory

In a paper written by a research colloquia presented at the Center for the Study of Democracy and the Department of Politics and Society, University of California, Irvine, November 1995. Almond discusses the development of the “Civic Culture” study and his views of political culture research since this landmark study. Almond notes:

It is cited in the concluding chapter of the Civic Culture as the source of our hypothesis that more stable democracies have a “mixed political culture”. We got from Harry Eckstein the idea that a democratic political system requires a blending of apparent contradictions, “balanced disparities” as he called them, if it is to function effectively. On the one hand, a democratic government must govern; it must have power and leadership and make decisions. On the other hand, it must be responsible to its citizens. For if democracy means anything, it means that in some way governmental elites must respond to the desires and demands of citizens. The need to maintain this balance between governmental power and governmental responsiveness, as well as the need to maintain other balances that derive from the power/responsiveness balance–balances between consensus and cleavage, between affectivity and affective neutrality–explains the way in which the more mixed patterns of political attitudes associated with the civic culture are appropriate for a democratic system. Verba and I found confirmation of Eckstein’s “balanced disparity” theory in our analysis of British and American attitudes, contrasted with those of Germany, Italy, and Mexico.We were also influenced by Harry Eckstein’s congruence theory of political authority, the argument that political stability was enhanced if non-political authority patterns–particularly in groups closest to the state–were similar or congruent. Thus we had found in our data that there was a stronger relationship between civic competence and adult participation in workplace decisions, than between civic competence and earlier participation by the child in family decisionmaking.There was a 30th anniversary “retrospective” on the Civic Culture study at the 1994 meetings of the American Political Science Association. Among the commentators was Robert Putnam of Harvard who concluded his remarks with the observation that the civic culture theory reminded him of “Goldilocks”.

In the story of “Goldilocks And The Three Bears,” the young heroine, possessed of even more than ordinary feminine curiosity, ventures into the house of the three bears and proceeds to explore its furnishings and contents. In sequence she tries out the three chairs at the dining table, the three plates of porridge, and the three beds. In each case she finds the Papa and the Mama versions not to her liking, and settles on the baby bear’s chair, plate of porridge, and bed as more appropriate for her–as being “just right”. As you may recall she is ultimately discovered fast asleep in bed by the baby bear. Not to leave the reader in suspense, Goldilocks escapes from the bears by leaping through a window.

At the time I did not fully grasp what Putnam meant by the Goldilocks metaphor. Was it his way of putting a common criticism of the Civic Culture study that it was conservative, smugly Anglo-American, and morally indifferent? That while its “balanced disparity” theory of political stability enabled a democracy to run cool and avoid intense and sustained conflict and breakdown, it also meant the postponement and moderation of political action intended to achieve social justice. Or was Putnam speaking from his current preoccupation with what he calls declining American social capital, the attrition of the American propensity for forming voluntary associations and in general the evidence of decline in the vibrancy of American civil society (1995)? Was it this that made the celebration of political coolness in the Civic Culture study seem particularly smug to Bob Putnam?

As a Goldilocks theory the Civic Culture theory was saying that to run well a democratic polity had to avoid becoming overheated on the one hand or apathetic or indifferent on the other- -that it had to combine obedience and respect for authority with initiative and participation, and not too much of the one or of the other; that not all groups, interests and issues would ignite simultaneously, but that different groups, issues, and sectors of the electorate would become mobilized at different times, thus regulating the pressure on the political system. Putnam’s Goldilocks metaphor is really an equilibrium theory, comparable to the economic theory of the market, a situation in which sellers and buyers reach a price at which the market is “cleared”. We were specifying in civic culture theory a set of conditions under which political markets would clear when the price of responsive public policy was “just right”.

The model of effective democratization which has come out of what Samuel Huntington has called the “third wave” of democratization has much in common with Putnam’s Goldilocks model and tends to confirm the Civic Culture theory. Students of contemporary democratization have discovered in Nancy Bermeo’s (1990, p. 360) words, that effective democratization rests on “the patience of the poor”. In the same sense more than half a century ago the German Jewish exile, Adolf Lowe reflecting on British and German political experience, commented that we pay 4 the price of liberty by foregoing integral political demands and final resolutions, settling for half or a quarter of a loaf, or simply keeping options open in hope of some future improvement (1935). I would argue this morning that the theories of democratic transition of the last decade with their step-by-step, hard-liner, soft-liner, gradualist–maximalist bargaining process was foreshadowed in the Civic Culture study and in Harry Eckstein’s theories more than three decades ago.

Civic Culture theory is a democratic equilibrium theory, a theory that democratic stability tends to be sustained when processes and propensities are in balance–when the heat of political conflict does not exceed or fall below a given temperature range. I am prepared to accept Putnam’s characterization of the Civic Culture theory as a Goldilock’s theory. justice.The Cold War sustained and legitimized the subject role in the political cultures of the advanced democracies. You needed government in order to be secure, and politics had to be kept under control to avoid division, and in order not to risk the loss of vigilance.


What happens when this bipolarity and delicate balance collapses through the resignation of one of the parties?

Let me spell out the possible implications for political culture of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the disappearance of the Cold War as the organizing principle of international relations. Theories have been around for quite some time as to how international politics effects domestic politics in general terms.

What this suggests is that we can work causally from the international environment to domestic institutions and attitudes, and observe how they combine with, filter, or magnify these international tendencies. Or we can begin with technological change and observe how the rise of the tertiary sector and the information and communication revolutions have interacted with international structural changes to transform political culture.

What I am stressing is that in our efforts to explain political cultural change, we need to be monitoring both the international and the domestic structure and the ways in which these several processes interact. We have tended to take the international structure for granted, and the “subject part” of political culture as a given. It has taken the Gingrich revolution to show that there are tendencies in American political culture, which, in the absence of a clear cut international threat, are prepared to go quite far in disassembling the national state. The collapse of communism and the discrediting of macrosocialism has shifted the center of political gravity to the right, thus weakening support for a welfare net no longer justified by national security.

Thus, the balanced mix of the Civic Culture of loyal subject and consensual participatory elements celebrated in our book of 1963, begins to give way to an alienated subject combined with a form of participation weakened and demoralized by populism, extremism, and apathy. Students of the emerging political cultures of the modern democracies are going to have to ask anew what democratic equilibria are possible given these structural changes, now that the Civic Culture has had its day.


Conclusions that lead to more questions

Seems like the zeitgeist in Lolo Jose’ times wasn’t so far off when he said, “Like people, like government”.

Clearly there is a need to have an “upgraded” version of the Civic Culture Theory (one framework is the IEMP 4 networks theory by Michael Mann). However, the theory has done much in establishing the direct linkage between culture and governance.

Using the Civic Culture Theory as a frame of reference, based on the description of each type of political culture, in my opinion the Philippines’ political culture – is that of a SUBJECT.

– FILIPINOS “are aware of central government, and are heavily subjected to its decisions with little scope for dissent. The individual is aware of politics, its actors and institutions. It is affectively oriented towards politics, yet he is on the “downward flow” side of the politics. In general congruent with a centralized authoritarian structure.”

Will the the upcoming 2010 elections reflect a shift in political culture?

What can be done to affect a shift?

Moving past the Civic Culture framework, how will the diaspora affect domestic politics in general terms?

The primary question really is, should this type of political culture be conserved or should Philippine society exert efforts to move towards a participatory political culture?



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