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Study On Texas Individualistic And Traditionalistic Cultures

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Individualistic culture is described as a culture which looks to government to maintain a stable society but with minimum intervention in the lives of the people, while traditionalistic culture is described as a culture that is a product of the Old South, which uses government as a means of preserving the status quo and its leadership.

Daniel Elazar asserts that the political culture of Texas is strongly individualistic in that government is supposed to maintain a stable society but intervene as little as possible in the lives of the people. He identifies the state’s politics with economic and social conservatism, strong support of personal politics, distrust of political parties, and minimization of the latter’s importance.

An important source of Texas’ conservatism is the nineteenth-century frontier experience. In the early nineteenth century, having obtained land grants from Spain, Anglo settlers moved to Texas individually or with such leaders as Stephen F. Austin. Many of these settlers had been unsuccessful in business or wished to escape their pasts, and Texas provided them with new opportunities. After securing independence from Mexico in 1836, the Republic of Texas developed its own economic, military and education system. The Texas republic’s main success was its endurance. Texans, unlike other Americans who received military help from the federal government, had displaced Native Americans from a large region by themselves, established farms and communities, and persevered through extreme economic hardships. These achievements have been enlarged over time by historians and fiction writers emphasizing the violent aspects of Texans’ struggle for independence from Mexico and their clashes with Native Americans who unsuccessfully resisted the westward movement of Anglo settlers. Thousands of Native Americans and settlers (men, women and children) were slain on the Texas frontier from the 1820s to the mid 1870s. This period of frontier warfare lasted longer in Texas than in other states.

After the Texas frontier was secured, there remained the task of bringing law and order to the land. In some areas, range wars, cattle rustling and other forms of violence continued to menace law abiding citizens into the twentieth century. As a result of these experiences, many Texans grew accustomed to the use of force in settling disputes and struggling for survival. In 1995, when the legislature legalized the carrying of concealed handguns by licensed owners, some people interpreted the action as another influence of frontier days, when many Texans carried concealed weapons or bore pistols openly in holsters. Two assumptions underline the concealed weapons law; first, that Texans do not need to rely on law enforcement for protection and, second, that citizens of the Lone Star State have a right to possess and carry weapons. Gun rights groups have helped to advance these presumptions. Today, shootings and other violence may be as common in Texas’ inner cities and elsewhere as they were on the state’s frontier in the nineteenth century.

Elements of the individualistic culture persist in other examples as well. Compared with other heavily populated states, Texas has a limited government with restricted powers: a legislature that meets biennially, with salaries that can be increased only after approval by Texas’ voters; a governor who has limited budgetary, appointment and removal powers; and an elected judiciary with multiple levels of courts. Texas has a climate favorable to business. It remains one of the few states without a personal or corporate income tax. Government spending for social services on a per capita basis is consistently among the lowest in the nation. Public education in Texas is poorly funded and has remained a source of court battles and legislative conflicts for several years. Including independent school districts, Texas has more than 3,000 special districts that perform a single service or groups of related services not performed by city or county governments. Participation in politics and voter turnout remain low. Turnout of the voting age population falls below 50 percent for presidential elections, and consistently below 30 percent for gubernatorial elections. Public perception of government and elected officials remains negative. In 1998, George W Bush became the first Texas governor elected to a second consecutive four year term (although he resigned two years into his second term, following his election as U.S. president in 2000).

The traditionalistic culture of Texas also can be traced to the early nineteenth century. The plantation system thrived in the rich, fertile soil of East Texas, and cotton was by far the state’s largest money crop. Before Texas’ entry into the Confederacy, much of its wealth was concentrated in a few families. Although only a quarter of the state’s population and a third of the farmers owned slaves, slave owners had 60 to 70 percent of the wealth and controlled state politics. After the Civil War (1861-1865), “Jim Crow” laws limited blacks’ access to public services. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s literacy tests, grandfather clauses, poll taxes and “all white primaries” further restricted voting rights.

Today, many Texans are descendants of migrants from traditionalistic states of the Old South, where conservatism, elitism (upper class rule) and one party politics were long entrenched. Although urbanization and industrialization, together with an influx of people from other states and countries are changing the cultural patterns of Texas’ population, Elazar insists that the traditionalistic influence of the Old South still lingers. He notes that many Texans have inherited southern racist attitudes, which for decades were reflected in state laws that discriminated against African Americans and other minority groups. In 2000, however, two Civil War plaques were removed from the Texas Supreme Court building as demanded by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. One plaque bore a likeness of the Confederate battle flag, and the other displayed the official Confederate seal. Similar symbols of Texas’ role in the Confederacy remain in public places throughout the state and are a source of continuing controversy.

The traditionalistic influence of Mexico is discernible among Mexican American Texans affected by a political culture featuring the elitist patron (protecting political boss) system that dominates certain areas of South Texas. For more than three decades, however, the old political order of that region of Mexican Americans. Compared with other areas of the state, however, voter turnout remains much lower in counties along the Mexican border.

The traditionalistic culture can also be seen in the state’s social and economic conservatism. Religious groups have influenced government policies on matters such as blue (Sunday closing) laws, liquor laws, pari-mutuel betting and the state lottery. City councils have drawn public criticism for public financing corporate ventures or providing certain businesses with property tax abatements. Powerful families continue to play an important role in state politics and influence public policies.

A changing culture? Beginning in the mid 1970’s, Texas experienced a large population influx from other areas of the nation and, more recently, from other countries. With regard to Elazar’s appraisal of Texas’ conservative political culture, important questions arise: How long will particular sociocultural influences last? Aren’t past cultural influences being replaced by new ones? Will Texas’ cultural identities, inherited largely from the nineteenth century, survive indefinitely in the face of widespread urbanization, industrialization, education, communication and population change? Will a moralistic culture ever take root and flourish in the Lone Star State?

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