National Character: A Psycho-Social Perspective

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National Character: A Psycho-Social Perspective

By Alex Inkeles
Transaction Publishers, 1997
392 pp. $49.95
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All those who have dealt with societies other than their own are aware that something like national character, a modal personality, links individuals and serves as a context for and constraint on political institutions. Since the 1950s, however, national character has been denigrated in the social sciences due to a lack of clear measurement tools and a history spotted with crude cultural and racial stereotyping. Drawing on the author's earlier work on character development in the Soviet Union and other countries, this book seeks to restore national character to respectability by placing it on a firm methodological footing. It uses psychological and survey data to define German, Soviet, and American national character and relates national character to the development of political institutions like democratic government. Inkeles concludes that there is in fact an empirical basis for saying Germans respect authority and Americans trust one another readily. While the introductory chapter will be rough going for nonspecialists, the book is a healthy sign that the social sciences are moving beyond their parochial disciplinary boundaries and grappling with important, common-sense issues.