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How useful is the concept of political culture for analysing the German polity?

a)     Intro

b)     Political culture defined

2 extremes – rational individuals, and completely cleavage, traditions based society.

c)      Historical aspects

i)        Weimar Republic collapse

Much pressure on proper design and planning. Constitutional settings to determine powers. weak president.

ii)      Second WWII defeat and separation

Caution in adopting policies. Letting France dominate. European Union popularity. few interest groups.

d)     Regional aspects

i)        CSU in Bavaria. Differences in regions remarkable. Rational individuals would act similarly everywhere

ii)      Aspects of Unification – DDR problems, economic problems. Unpopularity of Communism and popularity of free market stuff. the process of political and legal unification as 'absorption', as the imposition of a political system 'from outside'

e)     Mass meedia

like everywhere else really. standard things about “modern high-speed information flows etc”

television and press coverage of Bundestag proceedings are sporadic. unrealistic public expectations of the Bundestag

f)        Deliberate observation – people becoming more educated – no culture

growing political sophistication in the electorate but, especially from the 1970s onwards, this process has given rise to more 'unconventional' forms

g)     Dynamic aspects of the world trends in political culture – Post-Materialism and distance from politics

i)        Greens, 1970-s. frustration of a younger generation of Germans, who sought more personal involvement in politics

ii)      Distance from politics. like 1940-s (Oberreuter)

h)      Other more useful factors of analysing Germany

i)        Constitution design – good voting system, makes policies rational not dependent on culture. However, maybe good design due to cultural pressures of reform

ii)      Globalisation – pressures from abroad. European Union

i)        Conclusion

Continuities and changes of German political culture have attracted a great deal of attention of historians and political scientists interested in processes of democratisation. It has become a paradigmatic case having experienced five entirely different political systems in a relatively short period. Of course, the society could also be analysed by the institutions, like constitutional design of government, by the leaders it happened to have, and by looking at the various events in history and calculating the rational, pragmatic, response to them. Although my personal view is that the later is becoming more and more important as time progresses, the responses will have to be formulated in the existing institutional framework with existing leaders. Their choice depends heavily on the political culture that prevailed at their initiation time.


Political culture is very much a historic phenomenon. Its origins lie in the fact that Germany was situated in the middle of Europe, between Catholic south and Protestant north and it was the starting place for Lutheran reforms. This situation divided Germany into two initially with Bavaria remaining catholic. In the subsequent unification process the relatively poor Prussia was forced to organise its-self under a coherent leadership, and managed to unify Germany into Bismarck republic. This all occurred with the repression of farmers, however, it also provided the starting point for efficient government where reforms were relatively easy to be carried out. The efficiency is one of the characteristics of the German culture today, as opposed to the strong conservatism in Britain historically and high government volatility and few sustaied reforms in France before the fifth republic.


The efficiency and easy access initially helped to create the democratic Weimar republic. However, it also provided the possibility for fascist coup. Subsequently, after the defeat in WW II the constitution was reformed to introduce more inertia and bias towards status quo. From this analysis arise two further points about the German political culture. First, the caution and willingness to prevent future world wars has made Germany support EU and announced fascist parties illegal. Secondly, Germany’s political system is now thought of as a model for other states, mostly because its development was carried out so recently with the benefit of hindsight into the other historical systems.


Finally, when talking about the German political culture one should not forget the regional differences. Bavaria is very different and East Germany is different. Integration and unification has thus created problems. More here


In terms of the usefulness of political culture in analysing German polity I would like to look at a few specific topics in German polity, and the factors that contribute them. This allows me to evaluate the relative importance of the political culture in explaining the polity. The other things that affect the outcomes and must be weighted against culture are the constitution and voting design, charisma of individual leaders, and globalisation and global events forcing a rational culture independent response aand of course the existig cleavages.


I want to concentrate on:

Participation in the democratic process:


Mass meedia

The resulting policies

Basically there is lots of of public participation, leading to high legitimacy and respect and power for Bundesraat. However, sometimes the expectations are too large.


Post-Materialism tendencies

The support for Greens being intensive, but developing and maturing very fast.

The strength of cleavages in forming the policy outcome. Tension between labour and capital has been effectively intermediated. Few antisystem forces and high participation and little direct action.


Pressure groups being not very effective.


Government executeive powers are great and effective.


EU leader


Conclusion – culture is very useful, however, the outcomes we have now have been achieved by countries with different cultures as well.  But maybe not to the same extent and not as fast.




“From Dictatorship to Parliamentary Democracy” By Thomas Saalfeld, Parliamentary Affairs

“Political Culture in Germany” Schlosser, Rytlewski

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