Angel Anqi Zhou


The purpose of this article is to analyse the characteristics in the field of social capital that makes a political system a successful democracy. I will try to answer the characteristics that exist in common in the best democracies.

We know that democracy is more than the sum of its institutions. The political culture is also crucial for the legitimacy, smooth functioning and ultimately the sustainability of democracy (Ramió, 2015). For the well-functioning of democracy the beliefs of the citizens are essential. We can compare the political culture as the software of the democracy which allows the correct performance of the different institutions.

Social capital is defined as the degree to which a community or society collaborates and cooperates through mechanisms as networks, share trust, norms and values (Putnam, 1993). Therefore, my theory is that a collective society will be better in terms of democracy function. This theory is similar to the theory of Carl Smith that
says that a democracy  an only work in a homogenic and collective society. (Schmitt, 1932).

The first step is to identify the best democracies. According to the Economist these are the best democracies of 2016.


The results about political culture was obtained by polling. People were asked for their opinion on different issues such as if it would be good or fairly good to have a strong leader who does not bother with parliament and elections or if they believe that there is sufficient degree of societal consensus and cohesion to underpin a stable, functioning
democracy. (Economist, 2007).

The second step is to analyze the political cultural specifically. I chose the top five countries from the list of the best democracies to do the analysis. The countries are: Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand and Denmark. Additionally, China is included to contrast and compare with the full democracies.

The model that I have used is the Hofstede’s cultural dimensions model. Gerard Hofstede is a Dutch social psychologist and Professor Emeritus at Maastricht University. He is well known for his pioneering research on cross-cultural groups and organizations. His model is based on six dimensions (Hofstede, 2010).

-Power distance index: This dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The fundamental issue here is how a society handles inequalities among people.

-Individualism vs collectivism: This index explores the “degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups.” Individualistic societies have loose ties that often only relates an individual to his/her immediate family. Its counterpart, collectivism, describes a society in which tightly-integrated relationships tie extended families and
others into in-groups. A society’s position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “we.

-Masculinity vs femininity: Masculinity is defined as “a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success.” Its counterpart represents “a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life.

-Uncertainty avoidance index: The uncertainty avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity.

-Long term orientation vs short term normative orientation: This dimension associates the connection of the past with the current and future actions/challenges.Societies with a high degree in this index (long-term) views adaptation and circumstantial, pragmatic problem-solving as a necessity.

-Indulgence versus restraint: Indulgence is defined as “a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun.”Indulgent societies believe themselves to be in control of their own life and emotions.


We find out that full-democracies have in general a low power distance as well as the masculinity. On the other hand, individualism and indulgence are high. About Uncertainty avoidance and long term orientation we can say that it is slightly neutral, since the score 50 means neutral.

As indicated by the graph, full democracies show very similar cultural characteristics with the exception of New Zealand in the aspect of masculinity. It is also worth mentioning that China scores roughly the opposite.

I would like to point out that these aspects do not determine a good democracy. However, i think that some of them can help us to identify some clues of how we can achieve a democracy of better quality.

It is very interesting to talk more about individualism since we expect that a full democracy should be a collective society. For instance, Norway with a score of 69 is considered an Individualist society. This means that the “Self” is important and individual, personal opinions are valued and expressed.There are clear lines between work and private life. Job mobility is higher and one thinks in terms of individual careers.

Therefore, we can say that my theory is not correct since collective society does not imply necessarily to an improvement for a democracy. Moreover, the best democracies are considered as individualist societies.

We came up with some explanations about why full democracies are individualist.

-The first one is that individual society tends to respect more the opinion of others and tolerates alternative views about society. The electoral process periodically divides the population into winners and losers. A successful democratic political culture implies that the losing parties and their supporters accept the judgment of the voters,
and allow for the peaceful transfer of power (Kekic, 2017).

– The division of private and professional life make corruption more difficult. It leads to a more neutral and meritocratic society. (Ramió, 2016)

– Protestant influence: everyone can interpret the Bible, that means that everybody can make their own values with due regards that values are subjective and there are no superior and inferior values. This fact allows many rights to be respected (Vallespín, 2003).

The aim of this article is to establish a point of comparison, that serves as a mark to improve democratic quality. I am not saying that a society can not be a full democracy due to its political culture, it is possible to change the values. I believe that the goal of a democracy is not to create an homoenic and collective society, but to create a space where different options of living can coexist peacefully and harmoniously, allowing the citizens to create their own values and search happiness (Tocqueville, 1835).



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