Outline Chapter 4 - CHAPTER FOUR AMERICAN POLITICAL CULTURE...

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CHAPTER FOUR: AMERICAN POLITICAL CULTURE A. INTRODUCTION Every country has a political culture - a set of widely shared beliefs, values, and norms concerning the ways that political and economic life ought to be carried out. The political culture defines the relationship of citizens to government, to one another, and to the economy. A good understanding of a country’s political culture can help you make sense of the way a country’s government is set up, as well as the political decisions its leaders make. The American political culture may share beliefs, values, and norms, with those of others countries, but the sum and configuration of each political culture is unique. A conflictual political culture is one in which different groups (or subcultures) clash with opposing beliefs and values; a consensual political culture experiences less conflict. No matter how broadly the consensus is held, any culture contains values that overlap and conflict; the American political culture is no exception. Although many conflicts exist within the political system in the United States, American political culture is generally consensual because we have a broad based of shared political values. Most of our conflicts occur because we disagree on how these values should be implemented, not on the basic beliefs themselves. B. ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE Alexis de Tocqueville – an early observer of American political culture – came to the United States during the 1830s to investigate why the American democracy seemed to be so successful, especially since his native France seemed to be having so much trouble with it. Tocqueville recorded his observations in Democracy in America, a book that remains today a classic study of American political values. He identified several factors that he believed to be critical in shaping America’s successful democracy: 1. Abundant and fertile land 2. Countless opportunities for people to acquire land and make a living 3. Lack of a feudal aristocracy that blocked others’ ambitions 4. An independent spirit encouraged by frontier living Although many years have passed since Tocqueville made his famous observations about American political culture, these factors shaped our basic values of liberty, individualism, equal opportunity, democracy, rule of law, and civic duty.
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C. SHARED VALUES The values of the American political culture are grounded in the eighteenth century Enlightenment philosophy that so heavily influenced the founders. Over the years other values have been added, some supporting the original ones, some conflicting. American political beliefs and behaviors today reflect an accumulation of these values throughout United States history. 1. CORE VALUES The following values have shaped the political culture since the founding of the country: Liberty - The value of liberty probably was the most important inspiration to the American Revolution, and it remains a core value today. Liberty was one of the natural rights first cited by John Locke and later by Thomas Jefferson: ..."that among these [rights] are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.."
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