Culture Matters: Essays in Honor of Aaron Wildavsky

Culture Matters: Essays in Honor of Aaron Wildavsky

Culture Matters: Essays in Honor of Aaron Wildavsky

Culture Matters: Essays in Honor of Aaron Wildavsky


Including contributions from leading political and cultural theorists, Culture Matters explores the role of political cultural studies as one of the major investigative fields in contemporary political science.


Gabriel A. Almond

Like the mythical phoenix that rises from its ashes, political culture rises intermittently from the reductionist ashes to which its antagonists consign it. There have been four creative periods and about a half dozen reductionist episodes in the intellectual history of political culture. It has been on a positive and creative course for several decades, and the signs are for continued creativity.

Reductionism No. 1: Christianity. When Christianity conquered the classical world of Greece and Rome, the works of Herodotus, Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, and Plutarch, among others, with their insights into the differences among cities, nations, elites, and leaders, were lost to view in a homogenization of thought that divided humankind into the gross categories of the saved and the damned. It took the Islamic world in its secular and cosmopolitan moment, almost a thousand years later, to dust off the classics and make them available to a reawakening Europe. These rediscovered classics fed into the Renaissance, reviving speculation about the cultures and institutions of cities and nations, past and present, their causes and consequences. Thus Machiavelli Prince and Discourses on Livy rehabilitated the classical insights into culture and personality, the conditions that shape them, and their consequences.

Systematic recognition of the importance of national differences reached a high point in the work of French Enlightenment philosophe Montesquieu. His Essay on Causes Affecting Minds and Characters first fully broached these themes in modern times, and his The Spirit of Laws fully elaborated a theory of national character.

"Men are influenced by various causes," he observed in his famous Book xix of The Spirit of Laws, "by the climate [he has additional chapters in the Essay on Causes that deal with other physical factors, such as soil, terrain, food, and the like], the religion, the laws, the maxims of government, by precedents, morals and customs, from whence is formed a general spirit that takes its rise from these. in proportion, as in every nation any one of these causes acts with more force, the others are in the same degree weak. Nature and the climate rule almost alone over the savages; customs govern the Chinese; the laws tyrannize in Japan; morals had formerly all their influence at Sparta, maxims of government, and the ancient simplicity of manners, once prevailed at Rome" (1977, 287).

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