Identify the five main values/elements of the American political culture. Explain how these values shape our laws and influence our political and economic behavior. What are the main sources of these values (i.e. where these values come from)? Identify the major influences that have led to America’s distinctive way of thinking about politics. How deeply do these values resonate with you? What are some of the things you have learned about political cultures in other industrialized democracies (e.g., Japan, Sweden, France)? What differences do you see in the cultures of the United States and other industrialized democracies? Identify and demonstrate a connection between a specific cultural value in Japan, Sweden, or France and a policy/law in that country (in other words, demonstrate how the cultural values in Japan/Sweden/France shape their national laws/policies).

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Five main cultural values that have shaped the American (US) experience arise out of the circumstances of the United States' settlement patterns and European philosophical currents of the 17th, 18th, and 19th century, most notably Protestantism, the Enlightenment, and Romanticism (which became Transcendentalism in this country). It must be noted...

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Five main cultural values that have shaped the American (US) experience arise out of the circumstances of the United States' settlement patterns and European philosophical currents of the 17th, 18th, and 19th century, most notably Protestantism, the Enlightenment, and Romanticism (which became Transcendentalism in this country). It must be noted that these values through most of US history have applied fairly exclusively to whites of European and Christian descent and most particularly to white males:

Religious faith/exceptionalism: Many of the early settlers to his country were Protestants of various denominations, most notably Puritans and Quakers, who came here explicitly to attain religious freedom. The Puritans especially believed that they were sent by God to the New World with a mission to be a light on a hill and show the world how God's kingdom could be manifested on earth. This belief in exceptionalism later morphed into Manifest Destiny, the idea that God meant the European settlers to control the North American continent from sea to sea and, in more recent times, to a conviction that our nation has a special role in world politics.

Freedom: The earliest Puritans came here to escape religious persecution and to attain the freedom to worship in their own way. This had nothing to do with allowing anyone else religious freedom—that later concept arrived with the Quakers, who gave land to other persecuted religious groups, such as German Anabaptists, and extended an umbrella of religious freedom to all faith groups. This ideal of religious freedom, combined with the Enlightenment desire for political freedom as described by John Locke, became encoded in foundational documents such as The Declaration of Independence and The Bill of Rights.

Egalitarianism: Puritans to some extent, and Quakers to a greater extent, believed in a flattening of hierarchy and the equality of all people before God. The country's founders also rejected aristocracy and birthright privilege. This too, became encoded in the nation's DNA: for example, the Constitution forbids the establishment of an aristocracy. Early American literature promoted the idea of the US as a nation of yeoman equals, where nobody had to bow and scrape to another.

Individualism: North America was, to European eyes, a huge, "untamed" continent, which seemed to offer endless possibilities for individuals who would have been constrained in Europe to forge their own destinies. This combined in the early nineteenth century with Romantic/Transcendentalist concepts (influenced by Protestantism) that a person should rely on the guidance of his individual inner light, not tradition, to make decisions. To Americans, it became evident that people pursuing their own individual destinies was a value to be safeguarded. This was a sharp contrast to traditional societies in Europe and Asia that believed first and foremost in everyone fulfilling their born social roles.

Optimism: It took optimism to face the rigors of a new life in a new place and a can-do spirit has been an enduring feature of the American psyche.

Because of this, the United States has put more emphasis than countries like Japan, Sweden, and France on protecting individual liberties, often at the expense of social cohesion and social welfare but often with the benefit of freeing individual drive and creativity. We can learn from the examples of other nation-states, as they can learn from us.

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This seems to have several different questions within a single post, so I will focus specifically on the five primary values of American political culture (as I perceive them), though in the process of explaining those, I may cover some of the other questions as well.

The first value I would identify is liberty. America was a nation founded in Republican (not as in the political party, but as in the sense of a Republic) revolution. This laid the ground for the revolutions that followed throughout South and Central America, Europe, and elsewhere. The outright refusal to be under the rule of a government without representation is deeply embedded into American society and has resulted in the Bill of Rights being treated less as law and more as Gospel by the public.

The second value I would name is independence. America has always viewed itself as a land of frontiers. Many colonial nations were built by settlers moving into uncharted (by white men) lands, uninhabited or otherwise, but few others idealized these frontiersmen in the way that the United States did. This image of rugged individualism is deeply ingrained into our political culture, and it is part of the reason why many collective systems, like nationalized healthcare, that are common in much of the world are so fiercely opposed here.

The third value I would identify is the Protestant work ethic. The idea of the Protestant work ethic was laid out by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and it basically consists of the very American idea that anyone who is poor is poor due to some kind of moral failing, and anyone who is wealthy is wealthy due to a moral superiority. This idea is closely tied to the ideas of independence and the self-made man.

The fourth value I would identify is the sense of American exceptionalism and patriotism. America is extremely patriotic, and it has almost universally placed its own success ahead of that of the world as a whole. This contributed to nearly every American foreign policy, such as the Monroe Doctrine, isolationism during the early twentieth century, and the "World Police" status that the nation has held in the last few decades.

The fifth and final value I would name is capitalism. In part due to the Red Scares and the heavy anti-Communist propaganda during the Cold War, America has come to identify very strongly as Capitalist, with many seeing Capitalism as inseparable from Democracy. While this has contributed to a rising wealth gap, many also say that it's part of the reason the United States' economy includes more than a full quarter of the world's wealth.

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There are more than five elements of American political culture. The five most important elements are:

  • Liberty: Americans believe they should be free to do as they please, with the exceptions of infringing on the rights of others.
  • Equality: Americans believe everyone is created equal and deserves to be treated equally without favoritism or bias.
  • Democracy: Americans believe government officials should be chosen by the people.
  • Civic Duty: Americans believe participating in community affairs with benefit the country as a whole
  • Individualism: Americans believe that, barring some disability, individuals are responsible for their own actions and well-being.

Industrialized democracies are the world's most technologically advanced countries and have the most effective forms of government.

Industrialized Democracies include the following:

  • The United States
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Most of Europe

In regard to varying political cultures, America is—especially compared to other democracies in the world—a conservative country, preferring the private sector to the public sector in most activities and industries. For example, in America, almost everything can be commercialized, while overseas many more infrastructure activities are state owned and operated.

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