A country’s politics reflects the values and historical experience of its people. In turn, a nation’s values are a significant part of its identity and distinctive outlook.
Every nation has its own distinctive history, influencing the lives of its people. Each country has its own political institutions, and the way these work in practice has a great deal to do with the prevailing beliefs, habits and expectations of that country.
People acquire their political values – their political identity and identification with a larger political community (such as the nation) – through a process of ‘political socialisation’. In New Zealand, as elsewhere, people acquire their political values from family members (initially, in most cases, from their parents), schools, the media (including the internet, films, television, music and books, as well as from news sources), work, friends, travel and their own unique experiences.
Some educators have attempted to introduce a more systematic approach to the process by which New Zealanders acquire their particular beliefs and principles. The Ministry of Education has attempted to give greater emphasis to the explicit articulation of values in the New Zealand social studies curriculum.
While there is much diversity in any society, every nation has distinctive views, shared by many of its people, about government and politics. These expectations about what governments ought to do, and how they should function, is a nation’s ‘political culture’.
Continuity and change
A nation’s political culture changes over time. New Zealand’s political development has been characterised more by evolution than revolution – slow change rather than sudden change, and its political system functions without a single written constitutional statement of principles and policy direction. New Zealand’s political values do not reflect a consistent, logically organised perspective on the means and ends of politics and government. However, certain features of a nation’s overall political outlook remain more or less constant, sometimes strengthening over time.