“Without federalist consciousness, it is impossible to take into account the interests of the population far from the centre”

Columnist for Realnoe Vremya about political culture: how to learn to think democratically

“Without federalist consciousness, it is impossible to take into account the interests of the population far from the centre”
Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

The vast majority of states on Earth call themselves democracies. The very word “democracy” means “government of the people”. Researchers differ on the question of under what conditions it is possible to say that “people's power” is established in the state. On the other hand, no researcher can say that an imitation of democratic institutions is enough for democracy. Karim Gaynullin, political scientist and columnist for Realnoe Vremya, in another author's article for our publication, talks about one of the methods for assessing “democracy” of a particular society. Against the background of the results of the US presidential election, as well as the formation of the construction of “coronavirus quasi-federalism” in Russia, this topic seems very relevant to us.

Outside of the social contract, people will be in a state of “war against all”

Political culture is a way to understand what democracy is. Building a democratic society is unthinkable without changing the minds of citizens. Democracy is a system where citizens are actively involved in the decision of the political (power) issues. Without the inclusion of the population, democratic institutions will form a rigid stratum of the elite that is not interested in including the masses in solving important issues.

The difference between a democratic system and an authoritarian one is that the people act as sovereignty, i.e. the source of power, in democracies. If the people do not implement power decisions, then power will be based not on them, but on a layer of the elite or an authoritarian leader.

Political culture directly influences the formation of social contract. The social contract means that the population renounces part of their rights and freedoms in favour of the state. The more sovereign a nation is, the more powers it is willing to assume — the less rights it will waive. Outside of the social contract, people will be in a “natural state” — war against all.

The social contract means that the population renounces part of their rights and freedoms in favour of the state. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

Today, it is not difficult to notice that outwardly democratic institutions are common in most countries of the world, including the most underdeveloped countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But the existence of institutions does not imply the functioning of a democratic system. One of the reasons for this is the political culture that is not suitable for democracy.

Attention to political culture: history

Early prerequisites for the analysis of political culture were laid by the ancient Greeks, who compared different poleis (Greek city-states) and peoples. Aristotle in his work Politics compares the political psychology of different peoples (claiming, of course, that the Greeks are the best in all respects). In Islamic history, North African thinker Ibn Khaldun, who put forward the concept of “asabiyy” — cohesion and unity within social groups and peoples, can be considered an outstanding researcher who compared the political consciousness of different peoples.

“And now look at the most diverse peoples of temperate climates: their peculiarities of life, their culture, conditioned by the environment, made them bearers of crafts, civilisations and cultures. They were sent prophets most of all, they founded great dynasties, they became legal scholars and scientists, it is their hands that belong to the great cities and wonders of the world, what shapes humanity. These people who are so different in their data — Arabs, Romans, Persians, Jews, Indians and Chinese — live in a relatively temperate climate," Ibn Khaldun wrote.

In European history, the prerequisites for the study of political culture were laid by the great thinkers of the European Enlightenment: Machiavelli, Tocqueville and Montesquieu. But all of the above can rather be presented as a study of the psychology of peoples. For the first time the concept of “political culture” was put forward by German theologian Johann Herder in the 18th century.

For the first time the concept of “political culture” was put forward by German theologian Johann Herder in the 18th century. Photo: wikipedia.org

In the 20th century, world political science saw an increase in interest in the study and conceptualisation of the category “political culture”. It was associated with the growth of national consciousness in the former colonies, the problems of democratisation of post-fascist states, national and democratic movements, as well as the failures of modernisation of developing societies. In such conditions, researchers have the question: what objective conditions are necessary for building a modern state?

One of the factors that prompted researchers to study political culture was the formation of new states after the collapse of colonial empires.

The foundation for the conceptualisation of the study of political culture was laid by American researchers C. Verba and G. Almond. Their work 'The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations' became famous in America in the 1970s. But it was translated into Russian only in 2014. In Soviet times, political science was considered a “bourgeois science”, and classical works (and Almond is one of the classics of the American political science tradition) were not translated.

Their work 'The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations' became famous in America in the 1970s. Photo: goodreads.com

Between idealism and pessimism

The study of “political culture” by Almond and Verba is associated with disillusionment with the “idealistic” approach to the establishment of democratic regimes. This idealism is also characteristic of Democrats in Russia: the belief that political reforms will emerge by themselves. The protest movement does not come to the formation of grassroots institutions, it is aimed at approving new faces in the existing political system.

The researchers considered five countries: the US, UK, Germany, Mexico and Italy. At the time of the study, liberal democracies in Germany and Italy were less than a couple of decades old, and Mexico had an autocratic one-party regime.

The condition for the functioning of a democratic regime is the involvement of ordinary citizens in political processes. One of the weaknesses of democracy is that it is impossible to build a society out of millions of Aristotle, Plato, and Ibn Khaldun who understand political processes. In addition to politics, people need to engage in ordinary life: work, look after their family, improve their skills in other, non-political areas. A society where the population views all its actions as political will not be able to function normally.

On the other hand, the stagnation, the lack of feedback and the closed nature of the political regime may lead the state to stagnation. The more independent mass media and non-state communications develop, the more difficult it becomes for the authorities to interfere in private life. Disillusionment with the state and the lack of “healthy” nationalism can lead to disinterest among ordinary people in supporting the regime. This is what we saw in the 1990s in our country, when the masses of people did not go to defend their state and the “Soviet” national project after the coup.

In working democracies, only a minority have a deep understanding of politics, but there are significantly more such people than in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. The problem of democracy is how to organise a society of 140 million ordinary people so that the interests of all are taken into account.

The protest movement does not come to the formation of grassroots institutions, it is aimed at approving new faces in the existing political system. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

Typology of political culture

Almond and Verba define extreme disinterest in the life of the state as “parochial political culture”. People with patriarchal consciousness do not think in terms of the state, existing in parallel structures: tribes, communities, or sects. They have little identification with the life of the state. The goal of modernising a society with a parochial culture is to integrate society into a single political system. Thus, the existence of parochial structures parallel to state structures complicates modernisation in African countries, where there is a need to include people in political and economic life.

The difference between a subordinate (or dependent) political culture is that citizens identify themselves with the state, but at the same time, they are ready to accept negative decisions from the authorities. The citizens with a predominant subordinated consciousness often view power in the state as divine, and accept all its decisions as received from higher forces. The sacralisation of power has been characteristic of humanity throughout the existence of political power.

Finally, the culture of participation implies that citizens not only view and recognize themselves as part of the state, but also believe that they have the right to participate in the decisions of the state. If the decisions of the state contradict their ideas and interests, citizens will fight for the realisation of their rights and freedoms to assert their ideas about the good. In its purest form, the culture of participation can lead to conflicts, even revolutions, and instability in the state.

Almond and Verba note that in reality there are no “pure” political cultures. It is always a set of understandings. Even one person in different situations can behave differently, change over the course of life. Some groups within the state can identify with the official authorities, while others can identify with parallel groups.

The population should be loyal to the government, feel that they belong to it, but if the decisions of the state contradict their own interests, they should be ready to take part in a political struggle. Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov

Civic culture

In the views of researchers, the perfect is the “civil”, subordinated-participative culture. The population should be loyal to the government, feel that they belong to it, but if the decisions of the state contradict their own interests, they should be ready to take part in a political struggle. I think that this requires an understanding of the political nature of the state, its history and values.

“This (civil culture) is a mixed political culture. Within it, many citizens can be active in politics, but many others play a more passive role as “subjects”. Even more important is that even for those who play a civic role, the qualities of parishioners are not completely repressed. The member role is simply added to those two roles. This means that an active citizen retains his traditionalist, non-political connections, as well as his more passive role as a subject," Almond and Verba noted.

In large states that differ in their composition, such as Russia, the interests of the population are often local in nature. Therefore, in such states, the culture of participation should form a federalist consciousness and local identities. Without it, it is impossible to take into account the interests of the population far from the centre. This will create alienation and indifference of the population to political life.

It is important to maintain a balance between political struggle and loyalty. In many cases, different “extremes” of political culture can complement each other. Non-state political structures can shape political goals, and loyalty to the state can be combined with the desire to correct the weaknesses of the political system. Analysing own political behaviour and the political behaviour of groups can be the key to building a working and fair society.

By Karim Gaynullin
Reference

The author's opinion may not coincide with the position of the editorial board of Realnoe Vremya.