Saturday, May 5, 2018

Can Democracy Save Itself?

I like this one, from Ronald Inglehart, at Foreign Affairs, "The Age of Insecurity: Can Democracy Save Itself?":

To  a large degree, the shifts between democracy and authoritarianism can be explained by the extent to which people feel that their existence is secure. For most of history, survival was precarious. When food supplies rose, population levels rose with them. When food grew scarce, populations shrank. In both lean and fat times, most people lived just above the starvation level. During extreme scarcity, xenophobia was a realistic strategy: when a tribe’s territory produced just enough food to sustain it, another tribe moving in could spell death for the original inhabitants. Under these conditions, people tend to close ranks behind strong leaders, a reflex that in modern times leads to support for authoritarian, xenophobic parties.

In rich countries, many people after World War II grew up taking their survival for granted. They could do so thanks to unprecedented economic growth, strong welfare states, and peace between the world’s major powers. That security led to an intergenerational shift in values, as many people no longer gave top priority to economic and physical security and no longer felt as great a need to conform to group norms. Instead, they emphasized individual free choice. That sparked radical cultural changes: the rise of antiwar movements, advances in racial and gender equality, and greater tolerance of the LGBTQ community and other traditional out-groups.

Those shifts provoked a reaction among older people and those holding less secure positions in society (the less educated, the less well off) who felt threatened by the erosion of familiar values. During the past three decades, that sense of alienation has been compounded by an influx of immigrants and refugees. From 1970 to 2015, the Hispanic population of the United States rose from five percent to 18 percent. Sweden, which in 1970 was inhabited almost entirely by ethnic Swedes, now has a foreign-born population of 19 percent. Germany’s is 23 percent. And in Switzerland, it is 25 percent.

All this dislocation has polarized modern societies. Since the 1970s, surveys in the United States and other countries have revealed a split between “materialists,” who stress the need for economic and physical security, and “postmaterialists,” who take that security for granted and emphasize less tangible values.

In the U.S. component of the 2017 World Values Survey, respondents were asked a list of six questions, each of which required choosing which of two goals was most important for their country. Those who chose things such as spurring economic growth, fighting rising prices, maintaining order, and cracking down on crime were defined as materialists. By contrast, those who gave top priority to things such as protecting freedom of speech, giving people more say in important government decisions, and having greater autonomy in their own jobs were designated postmaterialists.

In recent U.S. presidential elections, this split has had a major influence on voting patterns, dwarfing the effects of other demographic traits, such as social class. Consider the 2012 election: those who gave priority to materialist values in all six of their choices were 2.2 times as likely to have voted for the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, as they were for the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, and those who gave priority to postmaterialist values in all six choices were 8.6 times as likely to have voted for Obama as they were for Romney. This relationship grew even stronger in 2016, when Trump, an openly racist, sexist, authoritarian, and xenophobic candidate, ran against Hillary Clinton, a liberal and cosmopolitan one, who was also the first woman nominated by a major party. Pure materialists were now 3.8 times as likely to vote for Trump as they were for Clinton, and pure postmaterialists were a stunning 14.3 times as likely to vote for Clinton as they were for Trump.

Economic insecurity can exacerbate these cultural pressures toward authoritarianism. In 2006, the Danish public was remarkably tolerant when protesters burned Danish embassies in several Muslim-majority countries in response to a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad published by a Danish newspaper. At the height of the crisis, there was no Islamophobic backlash in Denmark. The next year, the anti-Muslim Danish People’s Party won 14 percent of the vote. But in 2015, in the wake of the Great Recession, it won 21 percent, becoming Denmark’s second-largest party. A backlash against the European migrant crisis was the immediate cause of the party’s support, but rising economic insecurity strengthened the reaction...
Keep reading.