Political culture as a basis for concepts of local security and crime prevention. A comparison of the conditions in Germany and the Netherlands.

Author:Schulze, Verena


In the present discussion about the actual and supposed necessity of new concepts of local security, one fact is often neglected: the success of these concepts strongly depends--apart from the legal and institutional circumstances, the amount of resources and the qualification of the staff involved--on the adaptation of these strategies to the respective national political culture. How pronounced is the citizens' need for safety and order? Which role, in the people's opinion, should the state play with regard to the maintenance and restoration of safety and order? Do the governmental institutions measure up to the citizens' expectations concerning security and does the population have trust in these institutions to fulfil the task properly? Are the citizens willing to participate or do they even wish to? What are their conditions for participation? We will analyse and compare the national shapings of the political culture of Germany and the Netherlands with regard to four distinctive elements in the following article: the comprehensions of state, democracy, citizenship and safety and order. The aim of this article is to demonstrate the relevance of these elements with respect to concepts of local security using an example of a two-nations-comparison.

  1. Introduction

    Since the 1990s the topic of local security in many countries of continental Europe has been increasingly brought up for discussion. Moreover, it has been discussed under different circumstances. Due to its tight connection to reforms of public administration and the police--with the key words governance, new public management and Neue Steuerungsmodelle--the issue has gained growing attention. The municipal level as a locality characterized by a multitude of social and economic problems is especially becoming a matter of great importance. Security becomes a local task, local crime prevention even advances towards a key issue of rehabilitating and integrating local politics (Pratorius, 2002: p. 76). Certain incidents which reduce the quality of life of the local citizens and spoil the appearance of the community (graffiti, neglected public areas, insufficiently lighted spaces, etc.) lead to rising pressure to meet the expectations of the citizens and, additionally, to a growing interest of the community to improve the local security situation.

    Accordingly, the concepts of fighting and preventing crime receive more of a local focus. The key words community policing and community crime prevention stand for a development within which local security strategies undergo a completely new form of articulation and acceptance. Behind that, many different measures are concealed in order to stop the rising fear of crime and/or crime rates. Just as heterogeneous as the extensive measures are the institutional conditions, the practical implementation, the personnel lineup, the thematic emphasis and, finally, the volume of resources. The focus on the cooperation of local participants in particular is new in these developing arrangements. Crime prevention committees are institutions which mainly initiate, support and reinforce inter-institutional cooperation. Several forms of cooperation exist between the police, municipal authorities, private security services and citizens as well. Many of these projects in Europe, however, are still in a testing phase.

    How successful the few, already established and institutionalised cooperation projects actually are--with respect to the fight against and the prevention of crime, disorder, incivilities and fear of crime--can often not be statistically proven. Scientific evaluations are rare and often face great methodical problems. From nation to nation there are at times very different political-administrative and legal-institutional conditions, so that the scope of certain models and measures is a priori limited and a one-to-one-transformation is only rarely possible.

    One important factor often neglected in the discussion on the transference of particular strategies, in some countries successfully applied, and their prediction of success, is the respective national political culture. Often it provides the binder to harmonize all other factors and, accordingly, to build the basis for success especially of cooperative security strategies. The goal of this article is to examine the importance of the prevailing political culture for the initiative, the formal principle and the successful outcome of security strategies.

    In this article, we will analyse within a two-nationscomparison which enhances the cultural conditions of local security strategies, their differences and similarities as well as their possible influences on the arranging of local security, especially those elements which establish a connection between the cultural configuration of a political system and the authorization and function of the respective national system of security. In this respect the term political culture can be analytically divided into four elements: the comprehension of government, the comprehension of democracy, the comprehension of citizenship and the comprehension of safety and order. We will compare Germany and the Netherlands according to these criteria. Germany and the Netherlands were chosen because both nations embody highly developed and differentiated democratic systems which are based on different institutional patterns and dissimilar ways of political process. As far as the research methods are concerned, the political culture of a particular nation can be reconstructed from the observation of political behaviour, analysis of speech, symbols and the evaluation of survey data (Rohe, 2003: p. 113). However, this article is confined to the analysis of scientific literature dealing with the moulding of the political culture in Germany and the Netherlands with particular respect to the four elements mentioned above.

    Firstly, definition and concept of political culture and its connection to local security are analysed. This is then followed by a comparison between Germany and the Netherlands after a short overview of their respective national historical backgrounds and the cultural bases--the shaping of the four elements in Germany and, in a second step, in the Netherlands. This comparison of the German and Dutch political culture sometimes may appear too sweeping a statement to the reader. However, this is necessary as fundamental statements concerning a national political culture cannot be made without general wording. Finally, the results are juxtaposed in the conclusion. The article concludes with a prospect for further usability of the results with respect to future arrangements of local security strategies in relation to the respective national political culture.

  2. Political Culture--Term and Concept

    In their pioneering study "The Civic Culture" (1963), the American scientists Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba were the first to align culture with political science. The intention was to understand the citizens' attitudes and views concerning political subjects, structures and processes. Their comparatively broad understanding of political culture was later specified in various directions. Apart from an extensive understanding of political culture as the totality of structures and functioning of political institutions, an understanding in the narrow sense exists stating that political culture describes the way societal conflicts are settled politically (Lehmbruch, 1967: p. 13). The notion that political culture implies not only orientations and attitudes towards certain political regimes, but also patterns of recognition and decisions, which form the basis of these attitudes, was widely accepted.

    The political culture strongly interacts with the respective political system it refers to. With regard to David Easton's (1965) functional model, a political system can be described as follows: any political system receives inputs from its environment and converts them into political decisions (outputs), which, in turn, produce feedbacks and thus in turn become inputs to the political system. Under these circumstances, the political system shapes the political culture and vice versa. Thus, attitudes, norms and behaviour are institutionally manifested. The political culture is a relative constant of a political system in so far as it is subject of historical changes and a certain temporal dynamic (Berg-Schlosser, 2003: p. 8; Rohe, 2003: p. 124). Gerhard Lehmbruch (1967) uses term and concept of political culture in a special way: he uses political culture to denote the subject-matter of political conflict and rules of the game concerning dealing with these conflicts. He differentiates between two democratic models: the competitive democracy and the consociational democracy. A competitive democracy is understood to be a type of democracy wherein dealing with conflicts and political decisions is dominated by the principle of majority rule and competition between political parties. In a consociational democracy, however, conflicts and decisions are not primarily attended by competition and majority rule, but, according to the Latin term, concordia, by negotiation, compromise and matters of proportion. The salient difference is that a competitive democracy allows the majority of parliament and the executive sole political shaping and focuses on the majority rule, whereas the consociational democracy limits the majority's and executive's room to manoeuvre in favour of a sharing of power with certain minorities and thus is founded on principles of consensus. Salient features of a consociational democracy are therefore broad coalition governments which include all major groups, a cultural autonomy within these groups, a system of proportional representation and a right of veto of the minorities (Lehmbruch, 1967: pp. 7-8; Lijphart, 1977: p. 25). Furthermore, another important feature of consociational democracy is the fact that...

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