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Regular version of the site

Authoritarianism as the Opposite Pole of Postmaterialism

On April 10, Ronald Inglehart, founder of the World Values Survey and the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, delivered an honorary lecture at the LCSR’s 9th international seminar held as part of HSE’s XX April Academic Conference. The lecture addressed the roots of authoritarianism, its relationship to other widely investigated phenomena and its empirical linkage with contemporary politics.

Professor Inglehart demonstrated that despite starting from very different theoretical bases, the Authoritarian Personality construct and Materialism/Postmaterialism tap into the same underlying phenomenon, with  Postmaterialism being the opposite pole of Authoritarianism.  In economically advanced countries such as the U.S. and Canada, this Authoritarian/Postmaterialist variable plays a major role in generating support for xenophobic populist politicians. Moreover, Authoritarianism/Postmaterialism is closely linked with a phenomenon that has been measured by other investigators under such names as “Individualism-Collectivism,"  "Autonomy-Embeddedness" and "Tight-Loose cultures.”  Recent works by specialists in sociology, political science, evolutionary biology, economics, and anthropology are producing converging findings that explore the same underlying phenomenon, with high or low levels of this phenomenon being driven by the extent to which people grow up feeling that survival is uncertain, or that survival can be taken for granted.

Origins of authoritarianism

Evolutionary modernization theory holds that economic and physical insecurity are conducive to xenophobia, in-group solidarity, authoritarian politics and rigid adherence to traditional cultural norms-- and conversely that secure conditions lead to greater tolerance of outgroups, openness to new ideas and more egalitarian social norms.

It was natural for xenophobic and authoritarian tendencies to appear in pre-historic societies facing starvation, disease and violence. If there is just enough land to support one tribe and another tribe tries to claim it, survival becomes a zero-sum struggle and the tribe closes ranks behind a strong leader to present a united front against outsiders. Similarly, in the 1930s during the Great Depression, when people were literally starving to death, there was an outburst of authoritarianism around the world, leading to the rise of Hitler and fascist regimes.

High levels of economics and physical security in post-war era led to pervasive intergenerational cultural changes that reshaped the values and worldviews of the general public, bringing a shift from materialist to post-materialist values with a heavy emphasis on gender equality, environment protection, democracy, and tolerance for LGBT and immigrants. It has been proven that security from survival threats such as starvation, war and diseases, largely shapes a society’s norms and institutions.

Who gains from economic prosperity

Today, the economies of most high-income countries appear to be doing well with GDP per capita rising. However, the gains are going overwhelmingly to the top 10%. There is a huge and growing disparity between the country’s per capita income and its median income. Simply put, when Bill Gates walks into a hotel, the per capita income of the people of that hotel may quintuple, while their median income increases only slightly.

This trend is especially prominent in developed high-income countries that have transitioned to the knowledge society and have consequently become ‘winner takes all’ societies. As a result of technological innovations, secure well-paid jobs are getting scarcer across the board, with this trend now encompassing such industries as law, medicine, journalism, academic life, etc. This unforeseen component of the knowledge economy brings a huge rise in inequality and consequently rapidly declining feeling of security.

Emotional reaction

It appears that authoritarian reflex kicks in when survival stops being taken for granted. Vulnerability to infectious diseases, for instance, has been shown to be linked with collectivist attitudes, xenophobia and low support for gender equality, all of which hinder the emergence of democracy.

This authoritarian reflex is hardly a rational response but rather an emotional one that was built into people at the time when it was rational - at the beginning of human history. It is deeply rooted in psychodynamics and is by no means a cognitive process. Essentially, people have been misled to believe that an authoritarian leader will help them.

Surveys conducted recently in several countries explored the connection between authoritarianism and populism, finding that people with authoritarian values are far more likely to vote for populist and xenophobic leaders or parties, such as Brexit or Donald Trump.

Older generations that have seen a drastic decrease in their real income and job security tend to shift towards the authoritarian end of spectrum. At the same time, younger people adhering to post-materialist values will most probably vote for a liberal / democratic candidate and are generally more tolerant to diverse cultures.

Such attitudes can be explained by them experiencing relatively high levels of security during their formative years

What is even more important, is that the vote for authoritarian leaders is largely xenophobia-driven. This new wave of xenophobia has been brought on by an unprecedented flow of immigration of diverse cultures and rapid cultural change. Xenophobic surge can be observed even in countries such as Sweden or the Netherlands that have wide social security nets and are generally successful in ensuring better economic equality, which in theory should guarantee a high level of security and therefore high tolerance.

What’s the solution?

To reverse the political situation it is imperative for the younger generation to vote more actively—in recent years, members of the older generations have been much likelier to vote—and to vote for xenophobic authoritarian populist  leaders.

Even more basically, governments need to make changes in allocating the national income to create useful jobs in improving the environment, providing better pre-school child care, better education at all levels, comprehensive health care, and research and development, reallocating resources to improve the quality of life for everyone, rather than continuing the trend toward growing enrichment of the top one percent.

See also:

Advice from Above: Sociologists Have Assessed the Impact that Priests Have on How Their Parishioners Vote

Political preferences of at least 21% of Orthodox voters in Russia may be influenced by the clergy and their fellow believers. Based on an online survey of 2,735 respondents, HSE University sociologists Kirill Sorvin and Maksim Bogachev concluded that religion has a considerable impact on people’s political choices. The scholars assume that the share of those who vote ‘in an Orthodox way’ may be higher: many respondents were under 34, and young people are a minority among Orthodox believers in Russia.

Registration Now Open for XXI April International Academic Conference

On April 6-10, 2020, HSE University will hold XXI April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development. The Conference programme will include presentations by Russian and international academics, roundtables and plenary sessions with participation of members of the Government of the Russian Federation, government officials, business representatives, and leading Russian and foreign experts. Members of the international academic and expert community are invited to register for the conference.

What Do Digital Traces Have to Offer for the Study of Psychological Wellbeing?

The round table on ‘Psychological Wellbeing in the Digital Age’ brought together a range of scholars and one industry professional to talk about how a user’s digital footprint—or ‘digital traces’—can be used to discern a person’s psychological state, predict their behavior, and, potentially, even improve their psychological wellbeing.

‘Isolationism Is the Pathway to Technological Degradation’

The XX April International Academic Conference continued on April 11 with a discussion on digitalization of the economy and public administration. Maxim Akimov, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and Curator of the Digital Economy National Programme, spoke about digital business models, public administration, digitalization in industry and science, and the impact of digital technology on the job market.

Researching the Link Between Organizational Culture and Innovation

Professor Carl Fey from Aalto University has been invited to speak at the 20th Annual April International Academic Conference at HSE Moscow. In his talk, entitled ‘Facilitating Innovation in Companies in Russia: The Role of Organizational Culture’, Professor Fey will present research that he has been conducting with his colleagues on the relationship between organizational culture and innovation. 

HSE's Programmes in Political Science Receive International Accreditation

Bachelor’s programme ‘Political Science’ and Master’s programmes ‘Applied Politics’ and ‘Politics. Economics. Philosophy’ have been granted international accreditation by Central Evaluation and Accreditation Agency (ZEvA), based in Hannover, Germany.

English Graduate Chooses to Pursue Doctoral Studies in Political Science at HSE

Ever since he was a teenager, Judas Everett has been interested in politics. A new postgraduate student in HSE’s Doctoral School of Political Science, Judas says he owes a lot of his continued interest to the teachers he’s had over the years, the right encouragement and the right reading suggestions.

VTB Starts Funding Comparative Social Research at HSE

This year VTB is launching the Endowment for Comparative Social Research at HSE. The endowment will make it possible to invest 10-20 million roubles in research each year. The exact amount will depend on trust management of the endowment assets, implemented by VTB Capital Investment Management.

Observing the Effects of Everyday Corruption – A Conversation with Professor William Reisinger

On Tuesday, May 23, William Reisinger, Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa, will deliver a seminar at the HSE School of Political Science entitled ‘The Impact of Petty Corruption on Political Support in Post-Soviet Societies’. Ahead of his seminar, Professor Reisinger spoke with the HSE News Service about the topic of his research, how his impressions of Russia and the post-Soviet world have changed since he began visiting the region, and the changing interest in Russia that he has observed among Western students over the past several decades.

International Law Expert Explores Solutions to Sovereignty Conflicts

On May 17, Dr Jorge Emilio Nunez, a Senior Lecturer at Manchester Law School (UK), delivered a lecture at HSE on the themes from his latest book, ‘Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics’ (Routledge 2017). While addressing members of the HSE community, he explored a solution of egalitarian shared sovereignty, evaluating what sorts of institutions and arrangements could, and would, best realize shared sovereignty, and how it might be applied to territory, population, government and law.