The United States is usually hailed by many as the most powerful nation on earth. This has been mainly because of their superiority in fields like economy, military and political systems. Many nations have tried to emulate their dominance and success by critically studying their socio-economical and cultural practices (Bardes 212). However, the relationship between their political practices and their culture is what continues to raise eyebrows on all the corners of the world. This is mainly because of their core values, which are credited by many to their rich and diverse culture. Therefore, one can say that the American politics is a literal or a metaphorical symbol of the nation’s culture.
The American political culture comprises of a set of inherited beliefs, expressed opinions and attitudes that American citizens have about their government’s conduct (Bardes 212). This political culture usually evokes a critical pattern of thoughts in the minds of Americans about how they think the political and economic life should be carried out. The American political culture is formed based on core values and ideals that were rooted in the country’s European heritage. Although these values may appear mythic, inaccurate and contradictory, they have played a major role in the achievements that America has made over the past generations. This core values include liberty, equality, federalism, democracy, individualism and civil duty.
One of the core values of American politics is Liberty. Liberty can be defined as the right to freedom within a society from oppression by a government on an individual’s way of life (Choby 1). In American political culture, liberty is considered as a core value because of its historical relevance in the American Revolution. It has remained a core value since it was first cited by John Locke and later by Thomas Jefferson as one of the natural rights, which includes life, and the pursuit of happiness. In their pursuit for personal liberties, American citizens added the bill of rights into their constitution (Choby 3). These rights include the freedom of expression, the freedom of religion, the right to privacy and the rights of persons accused with crimes.
The most basic democratic right is usually the freedom of expression. This right can be used literally to describe the American culture. Americans are known to be people concerned with their rights (Bardes 215). They have the belief that an individual is never free until he/she can express himself/herself freely. However, this right is usually an exception to unique cases that may threaten the well-being of another person or that of the nation. In addition, the freedom of religion says a lot about the American culture. It shows that the American culture is a culture that is diverse and open to beliefs of other cultures (Choby 29). On the other hand, the right to privacy can also be used to highlight the nature of the American culture. The desire of privacy shows that the American culture is a culture built on principles of individualistic nature.
Another core value in the American political culture is equality. This core value is based on the belief by Americans that there should be political, legal, social and economic equality regardless of the race or gender (Griffin 3). Thomas Jefferson ones cast light on the importance of this core value through his famous words, “All men are created equal” The political equality clause in this core value advocates for the equal opportunities to all race and gender to participate in the political process. On the other hand, the legal equality clause is used to ensure the equal treatment of all citizens before the eyes of the law. There is a conflict when it comes to the economic equality clause and the social equality clause. This is because the economic equality clause is biased towards the high-class citizens. This simple conflict tends to undermine the main aim of the core value.
In American history, the American culture can be widely credited for the integration of this core value into the political scene (Griffin 39). One can cite several instances in American history that significantly influenced equality as a core value. An example is the revolutionary black power movement in the 1950s and 1960s that saw the recognition of the rights of the African Americans. It was not until 1954 during the court ruling in the Brown vs. Board of Education that the racial segregation of African American students in public schools was declared as unconstitutional. This was made possible by the amendment of the equal protection clause. Other groups of the American society that have contributed to the establishment of equality as a core value by fighting for their rights include women, Native Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans.
Another core value that is a consequence of the American culture is Individualism. The American political culture is designed to ensure that the American citizens have rights as well as responsibilities and obligations. Individualism or rugged individualism as it is commonly known refers to the belief that the success of the country is dependent on the ability of the individual to take responsibility of their well-being and compete for success (Sami 1). This is actually the exact opposite of collectivism, which is widely embraced from other nations. Nonetheless, there are traces of collectivism in American culture. For instance, during the Second World War, Americans came together to fight the war (Sami 9).
One can argue that the American culture has immensely contributed to the integration of individualism in to the political culture as opposed to collectivism. Examples can be drawn from naming the many successful people who have thrived in America since the nation was first founded. In the founding years of America, the idea of discovering a New World largely inspired the act of rugged individualism. The Turner thesis explains that the birth of rugged individualism was due to the constant reinvention of Europeans in the New World, which led to the formation of the American culture. Individualism as a core value says a lot about the American culture. It portrays a unique class of people who are ready to adapt to new ways of doing things for the better development of their nation.
Additionally, another core value in the American political culture is civic duty. Civic duty is described as the general responsibility of a citizen. This core value is based on the American belief that it is the obligation of the citizen to assist in building the community by participating in community development affairs (Bardes 212). Civic duty in America is comprised of activities associated with the democratic governance of the country and social development. Civic responsibilities include active participation in the government activities and participation in voluntary services like community service. Activities linked with civic duty are often inclined towards the building of different aspects of the community. These aspects may include the economy, social wealth, civil society and the standards of living.
Civic duty draws its roots from the rich history of America, which is a reflection of the American culture. It dates back to 1787, when it was it was applied as a blueprint for democracy in the constitution of the United States of America (Bardes 217). However, its relevance to politics and culture dates back to early 19th century, when Americans had a good sense of community and individual responsibility towards the development of the community. Activities such as voluntary services to the fire department and the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and the 1940s shaped the way American citizens related with their communities and the country at large. This core value says a lot about the American culture and its people. It mainly shows that the American culture is a culture that promotes cohesiveness.
Moreover, another important core value in the American political culture is Democracy. Democracy is best defined by the famous quote by Abraham Lincoln, “A government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” A democratic government is a government that derives its governing power from the people (De 3). This core value is founded on the American belief that the legitimacy lies entirely in the hands of the people. Through the core value, the American constitution provides for limited government control over its citizens mainly by dividing the supreme powers through the creation of smaller governing institutions (De 5). This provision ensures that the individual rights of the individuals are protected from infringement by the government.
Democracy as a core value is a consequence of the American history. This claim can be supported by the historical events that took place after America gained independence from Britain. After their independence, America was forced to form a central government under the Articles of the Confederation (Bardes 212). However, the outcome of this necessary activity was a very weak constitution. This was mainly because they feared that they might be victims of their own doing if they assigned great powers to the government. Another reason was the weary experience that the Americans had endured in the hands of their colonial masters, the British. However, in 1787, a concern was raised on the role of the public in the governing of the state. The parties concerned came up with a solution by proposing self-governance. They designed a government that was aimed at provoking popular opinion, while at the same time regarding the opinions of the minority, so that the true public interest can be determined. This historical moment can be credited for paving the way for the democratic value that the political culture has today.
The last core value of the American culture is federalism. Federalism is among the most fundamental characteristics of the American government. It is based on the belief that the amount of power exercised by the government should be equal to its obligations and responsibilities. In American History, the constitution was created because the government could not accomplish its goals especially those of defense and the economy departments (Bardes 217). As a result, a stronger national government was created to ensure better governance especially in the areas of taxation and commerce. Federalism involves the division of the governing authority between the nation and the governing states. However, federalism is not a fixed principle for allocating power between the nation and the governing states. It is a compromise or a political bargain that changes with the changes in the political needs of a country. Federalism defines the American culture as a culture that is flexible to change if the environment demands it.
The American political culture has been victim to a lot of criticism. There have been many arguments advocating for the rejection of the culture in he past years. One such argument is the individualism-collectivism argument. The people against the culture argue that the individualistic approach is biased against the development of representatives from the many immigrant cultures living in the United States. This is mainly because of the principles in which Individualism is based on (Sami 9). These features include the advocacy for independence and individual achievement, promotion of self-expression and individual thinking, promotion of egalitarian relationships and flexibility in roles and the association of private property with individual ownership.
Another argument that arises from those against this culture is the capitalistic-democratic values argument (Choby 9). The main failure of the American political culture is the conflicting nature of its core values. Core values like liberty are largely associated with capitalism while values like equality are associated with democracy. This significant difference in values that are supposed to be core values is the real conflict. An example of how these two values can be conflicting is apparent where liberty gives the right to participate in free market economy and at the same time, equality ensures the right to participate in a democratic system. This scenario is contradicting because it is impossible for two people to participate in a democratic society on equal basis if one is economically disadvantaged.
The criticism above sheds a lot of light on the people who reject this culture. For instance, it shows that they suffer from political inefficacy. This is defined as ones incapability to understand and influence political decisions (Bardes 217). Most of these people have the belief that they have no impact on the government process. They believe that the government is too big to be sensitive to its citizens. This level of political inefficacy is to blame for the cases of government mistrust. On the other hand, the criticism reveals something entirely different about its supporters. It paints the supporters as influential and extraordinary personalities who believe that America is the land of dreams and it is an individual’s responsibility to achieve it.
In conclusion, it is evident from the arguments presented in this context that the American politics is a literal symbol of the nation’s culture. The critical analysis of the core values of the American political culture, which include liberty, equality, federalism, democracy, individualism and civil duty, shows that indeed the American Political culture is derived from the cultural roots of the American people. Despite the negative criticism of the core values, this critical analysis is also relevant in explain why the United is still hailed as the most powerful nation on earth.
Bardes, Barbara A, Mack C. Shelley, and Steffen W. Schmidt. American Government and Politics Today: The Essentials. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.
Choby, Dr B. Liberty in America, Past, Present and Future: A Prescription for America. S.l.: Authorhouse, 2010. Print.
De, Tocqueville A. Democracy in America: (two-volume Set). Boston: MobileReference.com, 2010. Web. May 9, 2013.
Gerston, Larry N. American Federalism: A Concise Introduction. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe, 2007. Print.
Griffin, John D, and Brian Newman. Minority Report: Evaluating Political Equality in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. May 9, 2013.
Sami, Gholamreza. Ragged Individualism: America in the Political Drama of the 1930s. S.l.: Authorhouse, 2011. Print.
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