Political culture causes a great deal of difficulty for political scientists. While it is clear that societies share contexts from which they make political choices and that these contexts are learned, it is not clear how valuable political culture is as an explanation for political phenomena. Political culture does have some explanatory value; however, it cannot explain all differences among nations. In fact, political scientists disagree about whether and how to factor culture into the study of politics.
Despite the disagreement about political culture as an explanatory variable, it is clear that it is related to politics in three ways. First, culture can affect a nation’s approach to policy choices. For example, a country’s shared context can explain how it relates to other nations. Second, politicians can use a nation’s culture as a powerful tool to achieve political ends and to establish group identities. Third, culture poses a particular problem as countries struggle over the question of how to deal with cultural ownership.
Students should learn two important lessons from this chapter. First, while political culture can be an amorphous topic, it cannot be ignored. On top of the fact that culture resonates strongly with people, it is clear that it can have an effect on politics. However, it is important not to overly generalize the explanatory import of political culture when other factors may provide satisfactory answers. Second, quit asking about hobbits when you visit New Zealand. It was just a movie. Get over it.