The democratic citizen

Taking the argument further, if an individual can change from being self-interested, the reverse can happen as well. If self-interest can be acquired, it may very well be an entirely socially constructed trait. In this light, it is impossible to say that acting in self-interest is the default rational choice. It is equally likely that acting in an innate rational manner may entail altruism, patriotism and civic participation.

One common argument against civic behaviour is the free-rider problem, which occurs when a good, whether economic, political or social, is produced regardless of whether one contributes to its provision or not. In The Logic of Collective Action, Olson argues that "only a separate and 'selective' incentive will stimulate a rational individual in a latent group to act in a group-oriented way," (51) adding that "if the individuals in any large group are interested in their own welfare, they will not voluntarily make any sacrifices to help their group attain its political (public or collective) objectives" (126).

Thus, the incentive to act critically is removed because the benefit is provided without need for action. However, Olsen fails to take into account the societal implications of non-participation. In a civic society, it is unlikely that a person would fail to participate, because of the loss of social capital. By not participating, an individual loses the trust of the community, leading to ostracisation and a loss of the benefits accruing from participation. On the flip side, the expectation that everyone will participate makes it easier for individuals to choose to participate as well.

As Putnam writes, "Fabrics of trust enable the civic community more easily to surmount what economists call 'opportunism,' in which shared interests are unrealised because each individual, acting in wary isolation, has an incentive to defect from collective action, " (89) adding that "citizens in the civic community . . . deal fairly with one another and expect fair dealing in return" (111). Thus, individuals cannot obtain a free ride because they are fully aware of the consequences of doing so, and in any case they do not do so because they do not expect anyone else to do so. In this case, rational choice dovetails with political culture, because the option in your best interest is to have membership in the collective action. 

We must draw a distinction between being civically engaged and civically active or participating. Citizens need not actually participate in the system, only believe they can if they wish to. Almond and Verba write, "the decision maker must believe in the democratic myth- that ordinary citizens ought to participate in politics and that they are in fact influential," regardless of their actual ability to take part.

This resolves another possible source of tension between the rational choice approach and political culture over participation on the part of civically engaged rational individuals. If many different individuals or groups champion opposing viewpoints, all of which present apparently equal benefit for the country, then government slows down or even is gridlocked. This is unlikely to happen in reality, because it is not necessary in a political culture for everyone to participate, only to believe they can if they want to. Almond and Verba elaborate, "because politics has little importance for them, few citizens are motivated to think about their influence or their political activities." For most people, the demands of daily life will mean that little time is left to actively participating in the political process. 

In conclusion, it is safe to say that there is no essential conflict between rational choice and political culture. While there is an apparent conflict, one finds that they arise because of the underlying assumption of rational choice, or of the need for rational choice to simplify in order to produce useful models of coherent behaviour from which to work with. Removed from the theoretical and brought out into the living, breathing world that political culture seeks to capture, one finds that the roadblocks that arise in preventing the two concepts to fit together harmoniously are removed and that they actually conform to each other.

As Almond and Verba write, "The democratic citizen is expected to be active in politics and to be involved. Furthermore, he is supposed to be rational in his approach to politics, guided by reason, not emotion. He is supposed to be well-informed and to make decisions- for instance, his decision on how to vote-on the basis of careful calculation as to the interests and the principles he would like to see furthered" (1963, 29). Where a political culture of active participation in politics and civic engagement exists, the citizen's rational choice is to fully participate.