American Political Culture
Previous chapters focused on the legal and historical aspects of the United States government. This
chapter concentrates instead on the somewhat less concrete notion of “political culture,” or the
particular set of beliefs, attitudes, and opinions people (in this case, Americans) have about how their
government ought to operate. After reading and reviewing the material in this chapter, the student
should be able to do each of the following:0
Define what scholars mean by political culture, and list some of the dominant aspects of political
culture in the United States.
Discuss how American citizens compare with those of other countries in their political and
List the contributions to U.S. political culture made by the Revolution, by the nation’s religious
heritages, and by the family.
Explain how the “culture war” between orthodox and progressive Americans shapes the debate
over controversial policy issues.
Identify reasons for Americans’ mistrust of government, and explain how it is affected by both
political events and political efficacy.
Explain why political tolerance is a necessary component of a democratic system.
The United States system of government is supported by a political culture that fosters a sense of civic
duty, takes pride in the nation’s constitutional arrangements, and provides support for the exercise of
essential civil liberties (albeit sometimes out of indifference more than principle). In recent decades,
people’s mistrust of government officials (though not of the system itself) has increased, and
confidence in officials’ responsiveness to the popular will has declined.
Although Americans value liberty in both the political system and the economy, they believe equality is
important principally in the political realm. In economic affairs, although a few people wish to see
equality of results, many support equality of opportunity and inequality of results.
Not only is the American culture generally supportive of democratic rule, it also has certain distinctive
features that make the American way of governing different from other democracies. Americans are
preoccupied with their rights. This fact, combined with a political system that encourages the vigorous
exercise of rights and claims, gives political life in the United States an adversarial character. Unlike
the Japanese or the Swedes, Americans do not generally reach political decisions by consensus, and
they often do not defer to the authority of administrative agencies. U.S. politics, more than that of many
other nations, has protracted conflict at every stage.