Cities and Political Culture
from the advent of cities to the present
What is a city? One way to characterize a city is to say that it is a geopolitical unit with a certain (relative) size of population and complexity of structure and functioning. Perhaps the most definitive trait of a city is that it is composed of people who share different cultures in one way or another. That in turn fosters a particular cultural perspective. There have been exceptions to that trait, to be sure — Greek city-states come to mind — but cultural diversity has been the rule for cities.
The governance of cities has (almost) always taken into account the existence of various cultures within them. That most certainly has not always translated into benevolence, but cities’ political cultures have in general recognized cultural diversity as a fact of their existence.
Since the advent of cities in history, they have dominated the geographical areas in which they have been situated. Those areas have been larger or smaller. Areas of direct political domination that involved cities’ domination of other cities have been called empires. The city of Rome came to rule politically and culturally over all of the ‘civilized’ world (the areas of it where cities existed) west of the Indus river and east of China.
With the rise of nation-states cities were relegated to sharing political power not only among cities, but with people within the nation who were not urbanites. Culturally, though, cities have dominated nation-states. Non-urbanite citizens of those countries have always chafed to a greater or lesser extent at that state of affairs.
The cultural dominance of cities has always been furthered by economic dominance, one way or another. Before the rise of the nation-state that economic dominance was enforced by, well, force: force of arms. Within the context of the nation-state, economic dominance has been its own sufficient form of force to further the cultural dominance of cities.
Whether the cultural domination of cities is a good thing or not is a purely subjective matter. (Personally, I believe there is good and bad in it.) The modest intention of this little article has been to articulate its existence from the advent of cities to the present.