Although many scholars stress the importance of a civic political culture for a functioning democracy, there is little consensus about where such a culture originates. The 'bottom-up' approach argues that the civic culture has centuries-old, enduring roots that in turn shape political and economic institutions. The 'top-down' approach implies that political culture itself can be shaped by political institutions. Both schools of thought, however, stress the interrelatedness of civic behaviours; voluntary group membership, newspaper readership and voting are all expected to be high in civic cultures and low elsewhere. In contrast, this article argues that these three components of 'civicness' are differently influenced by contemporary political institutions and are therefore less interrelated than previous scholars have hypothesized. Germany and other German-speaking areas of Central Europe provide excellent cases for investigating these conflicting hypotheses about the origin of the civic community. If the 'bottom-up' approach were correct, there would be no differences in the level of civic community between the eastern and western parts of Germany and Central Europe because they were separated by the Iron Curtain for only four decades. If the 'top-down' approach were correct, 40 years of communist rule would have indeed reduced the level of civic community in eastern Germany and eastern Central Europe. Instead, the article finds marked differences in voluntary group membership across the former Iron Curtain, but much less divergence in terms of newspaper readership and voter turnout.
- Civic community
- Civic culture
- Post-communist political culture
- Voluntary associations
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geography, Planning and Development
- Political Science and International Relations