Identify five elements of American political culture. Where do these values come from? What differences do you see in the cultures of the United States and other industrialized democracies like...

Identify five elements of American political culture. Where do these values come from? What differences do you see in the cultures of the United States and other industrialized democracies like Japan and Sweden?

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salterdm eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I will construct each of these as a compare/contrast between the principle in question as it is put into practice in the United States vs. Japan and Sweden. Also, while obviously I have my own political and philosophical views, I'll do my best to keep each entry as neutral and fact-based as possible.

1) Legal freedom of expression. American legal protections for freedom of expression are among the strongest in the world. The First Amendment of the Constitution, the country's literal first rule, protects freedom of assembly, petition, press, religion, and speech, all ways of expressing and sharing ideas. As with all countries and all high principles, we have not always lived up to them, but, by law, our protections are unusually broad by the standards of our socioeconomic peers. For example, there is no legal category of "hate speech" in the United States. Both Japan and Sweden have legally defined categories of hate speech (see reference) that are denied protection of law. The US does not have any such exemptions.

2) Christianity. Despite being legally nonreligious—"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"—Protestant Christianity in particular exercises enormous political and cultural power in the United States. As a simple example, there has never been a non-Christian American President. Additionally, just one, John F. Kennedy, was Roman Catholic. All 44 of the others have been Protestant, at least publicly. A deep dive into the role of religion in American life can be found at the Pew Forum reference below, but the key difference here is numeric. Per Pew Forum, 70% of Americans identify as Christians. By comparison, less than 40% of Japanese citizens identify with a formal religion of any kind. Less than 3% of Japanese citizens are Christian. Perhaps most strikingly, Pew presents numbers for Sweden that seem in keeping with American findings at first: roughly 66% of Swedes identify as Christian. The key difference is that Sweden had an official, legally recognized national church until 2000. America, legally irreligious, has a higher proportion of Christians than a country where, until 17 years ago, everyone was Christian by default. Christianity is plainly a powerful force in American politics. White, evangelical Christians in particular tend to vote as a bloc, having shown loyalty to the Republican Party for decades.

3) Violence. We do not usually phrase it this baldly, but America is an extraordinarily violent place. The numbers are inescapable. The Global Peace Index ranks Japan as the 10th and Sweden the 18th safest countries on Earth. The United States is 114th. By the standard measurement of crimes per 100,000 people, America's murder rate is 26 times that of Japan and 143 times higher than that of Sweden. The United States is simply a great deal more violent, by most measurements, than the rest of the industrialized world. The significance of that fact and what can be done about it are defining components of the American political conversation.

4) Youth. The United States is a comparatively young country. 1777, a year after the country's official founding, is four sixty-year lifetimes from 2017. In some ways, America is still embroiled in the postcolonial age, coming to terms with the complex historical legacy of European imperialism and its continuing fallout in modern life. Some of the most extreme political conflicts in the United States right now are between people deeply invested in the European colonial tradition and people calling for a reassessment of that tradition. We have had riots over that. The wounds of our history are still very fresh. By contrast, Sweden has a constitutional monarchy that traces its origins back to before the year 1000 CE, and Japan's imperial family considers themselves the direct descendants of Emperor Jimmu, who founded the Empire of Japan in 660 BCE. Both are of more symbolic significance than political significance now, but each represents a unifying national tradition that simply is not present in a country that did not exist 250 years ago.

5) Militarism. In a certain sense, the United States has never known an age in which it has not been potentially threatened by conflict. In fact, being at war predates the United States itself: before the country was a cohesive whole, the colonies were often at war with one another and were constantly engaged in conflicts with the American Indians. According to the CIA Factbook, the United States ranks ninth in military spending as a percentage of GDP, as compared to Sweden's 84th and Japan's 102nd. Per the International Institute of Strategic Studies, the United States also has a standing military and paramilitary strength of 2,227,200, 7th largest in the world. This is to be compared to Japan's 315,800 and Sweden's 51,700. More than that, the military plays a vital political and cultural role in American culture. "Support our troops" remains an automatic catchphrase, and Americans of every political stripe are expected to show respect for those in uniformed service.  

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Five elements of American political culture are liberty, civic duty, equality, democracy, and individual responsibility. Of course, there are a few more, but these are some of the most important ones. 

Basically, Americans tend to emphasize individual rights over collective rights. Equality is an important concept in American culture, whether it pertains to gender, sex, or nationality. You may value the concept of tolerance, which is an element of equality. Americans of all political persuasions have the right to their individual beliefs. Perhaps you also value your First Amendment right to free speech, and you appreciate the freedom to be religious (or not), the right to petition the government, and the freedom to assemble peacefully. These First Amendment rights promote your right to liberty, one of the key elements of American political culture. Many of the rights or values described here are derived from the Magna Carta. 

The original Magna Carta was written in 1215, and it contained arguments rejecting King John's tyrannical rule. One of the most important clauses in the Magna Carta was Clause 39, which stated that "No free man is to be arrested, or imprisoned... or exiled, or in any other way ruined, nor will we go against him or send against him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land."

This clause is enshrined in the Fifth Amendment, which states that "No person shall be...deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." Essentially, the elements of American political culture are predicated on the idea of freedom against monarchical tyranny.

In contrast to the decided emphasis on individualism in American political culture, Japanese culture stresses cooperation and mutual harmony. Agitating against the status quo is a practice that is largely frowned upon in Japanese society. The Japanese place a high value on seniority in the political realm, and there is a tendency to defer to voices of authority in matters of social and economic importance. 

The Swedish believe in equality, but they tend to favor equality over liberty. Again, as with the Japanese, there is less of an emphasis on the individual. Instead, the Swedish stress the collective decision-making process as a fundamental element of civilized society. In matters of national importance, the Swedish are inclined to defer to government officials and national experts. These are just some of the differences between the culture of the United States and that of other industrialized democracies; you may be able to add more of your own.