In social matters, cautious generalization beyond narration is possible. Take, for example, the general proposition that culture affects political behavior. This can be shown both by empirical study, Inglehart and Welzel (2005) among others, and from practical experience. A 5/8/07 International Herald Tribune article relates that in 1944, prior to the occupation of Japan, the U.S. government sent 1500 civilian and military administrators to study Japanese culture at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Michigan, “…the U.S. occupation of Japan was an outstanding achievement. At least part of that success can be ascribed to the fact that in the midst of the chaos, confusion, and sacrifices of a war, the Americans had the wisdom to operate on the fundamental assumption that knowledge and culture matter (our emphasis)…This is not a pious point. In nation-building as in life, perceptions matter, and missing the subtlety of the symbols and values of others is an unforgivable strategic error.”.
In the resulting culture wars, the natural reaction of the old elite is to hang on. The reaction of the modernizers is to push for change. The crucial question then becomes whether the political culture allows for compromise and whether good leadership can steer the ship of state and its fractious crew to a safe harbor. Unfortunately, during times of extreme stress, people can turn towards the extremes, which makes the task all the more difficult.
The English regard government as a set of practical arrangements among people. Edmund Burke was the Revolution’s most immediate and famous critic. In Reflections on the Revolution in France (1789), Hackett (ed.), p. 53, he argues that these arrangements cannot be created de novo. He writes, “The science of government being therefore so practical in itself and intended for such practical purposes – a matter which requires experience, and even more experience than any person can gain in his whole life … it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society, or on building it up again without having models and patterns of approved utility before his eyes.”
In particular, Gary Kates (1985) cites that eighteenth-century French politics, “was often guided by circles of friends or other personal networks rather than by formal political parties.” Modern democracies require effective political parties that enable the citizenry to express their political views and to bargain on their behalf. The French were unable to establish order until DeGaulle’s Fifth Republic in 1958 – 169 years later.
The issue of political culture emerged in a congressional hearing looking into the Bush Administration’s firing of eight federal prosecutors. N.Y. Senator Charles Schumer grilled former Justice Department attorney general Alberto Gonzales, pointing out that although the prosecutors represent the legal interests of the federal government in the states, by custom the President appoints a local attorney from the state to administer his justice, who must later return to the community. This custom, probably not described anywhere in the Federal Register, checks the power of the central government in the states and demonstrates how contemporary U.S. democracy operates, also through a subtle set of social checks and balances. The hapless Mr. Gonzales probably did not much care about this dimension, and lost the bipartisan Judiciary Committee’s trust.
Burke then makes the useful formal distinction between democracy as simple majority rule and liberal democracy, p. 119. “All the struggle, all the dissension arose afterwards upon the preference of a despotic democracy to a government of reciprocal control.”