Dr. Ronald F. Inglehart political scientist and director of the World Values Survey for Gulan: democracy is genuinely under threat
Ronald F. Inglehart is a political scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. He is a director of the World Values Survey, a global network of social scientists who have carried out representative national surveys of the public of over 80 societies on all six inhabited continents, containing 90 percent of the world's population. The first wave of surveys for this project was carried out in 1981 and the latest wave was completed in 2014. Since 2010 Inglehart has also been co-director of the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research at the National Research University - Higher School of Economics in Moscow and St Petersburg. This laboratory has carried out surveys in Russia and eight ex-Soviet countries and is training PhD-level students in quantitative cross-national research methods. In the seventies, Inglehart began developing an influential theory of Generational Replacement causing intergenerational value change from materialist to post-materialist values that helped shape the Eurobarometer Surveys, the World Values Surveys, and other cross-national survey projects. Building on this work, he subsequently developed a revised version of Modernization theory, Evolutionary Modernization Theory, which argues that economic development, welfare state institutions and the long peace between major powers since 1945, are reshaping human motivations in ways that have important implications concerning gender roles, sexual norms, the role of religion, economic behavior and the spread of democracy. In an interview he answered our questions like the following:Gulan: Recently you have written an article entitled "The age of uncertainty, can democracy save itself", so first of all we would like to know your opinion about your overall evaluation of what is called democratic recession around the world?
- Professor Dr. Ronald Inglehart: I think it's going through a very difficult time, and it has gone through difficult time before, the last time was during fascism in 1930s and 1940s, and it looked like democracy was dying out back then, therefore, it has been challenged by difficult circumstances, so I think it is in danger, but it will probably survive. And the prospects really depend on how people react to the situation, of course, one of the problem is the rising of inequality in the advanced industrial societies, I think that is the real problem, and it seems that all the gains are going to the top, and unless we do something as we did in 1930s and 1940s, like, development, welfare state, social program, and redistribution that corrected the situation, so I think we need to do something like this right now. And if we leave things as they are now, democracy would be badly damaged, for example someone like Donald Trump who is authoritarian and autocratic is trying to oppress freedom of the press and silence independent judiciary, and I think he is a real danger to democracy, therefore, I think one of the steps that need to be taken in the coming year is to throw him out of the office. Nevertheless, nothing is guaranteed and I think democracy is genuinely under threat.
Gulan: So has Mr. Donald Trump done any lasting and irreparable damage to democracy?
- Professor Dr. Ronald Inglehart: Of course he is causing damages, I think a large minority of population believes him, even he has repeatedly made lies, and when the press exposes him, he says that it’s the fake news and they are against him, and they are spreading lies, I think this works to a certain extent. But fortunately his popularity has never gone over 50 percent, and he was not elected by the majority of the population, and he lost the election by almost 3 million votes, and I think his current popularity is declining too, and he probably will lose this battle. But of course he is depicting the free press- which is absolutely a crucial element that makes democracy works, which monitors thing and spreads the fact and informs the people-. On the other hand the press in United Sates and in many other countries has responded strongly, they have continued criticizing him, pointing out to his lies and the majority of American public disapproves him.
Gulan:But as we have understood from your response, this trend- democratic decline- is not irreversible, and democracy can be saved and real steps can be taken to the turn the situation around?
- Professor Dr. Ronald Inglehart: Yes I think so, because democracy has some advantages, it is a good way to run a country, but democracy doesn't always function equally well under all circumstances. And I think the tremendous inequality that emerged where only 1 percent is getting the great majority of the economic gains this is basically undermining democracy, nevertheless democracy has the advantage that ultimately the leaders are chosen by the people, and if they choose leaders that actually best for them, I think they will be able to do so.
Gulan: So do you believe that right now there is a real crisis of trust between the people and their representatives?
- Professor Dr. Ronald Inglehart: Yes I think so, and unfortunately a large portion of population has not been doing well in recent years. And this is an opportunity for demagogues to make promises that generally they don't keep, and one of the classic strategy of demagogues to blame all the problems on the foreigners. And this is one of the things that is going on right now, immigration are being blamed. but I think that is not the root cause, the root cause is something in the deeper nature of the advanced and industrial societies, knowledge societies are the societies that the winner takes all, where Amazon, or Facebook, or Google or other big organizations has tremendous opportunity, where- generally speaking- you have only one winner, and very few other winners, for example, the Amazon conducting nearly half of the internet resale trade in the United States, this is an incredible concentration of wealth, and all other small organizations in resale trade are going to be out of business or are shutting down. And this is a problem that can be corrected, and I think this is a matter of recognizing the problem and adopting solutions and I think the big hope for democracy is is that eventually people be able to catch on, they can be deluded by demagogues, but in the long run they usually choose leaders that will be able to find solutions that may work and correct the problems. I cannot guarantee anything but I believe that democracy has the advantage that people are able to throw out leaders who are incompetent or stupid; I think that will probably happen.
Gulan: With regard to alternative to democracy some point out to China, which has impressive economic performance while it has authoritarian regime, what do you make about that?
- Professor Dr. Ronald Inglehart: I think China has been extremely impressive, Chine is the most powerful alternative to democracy currently, and I am genuinely impressed with China, which has been successful despite being an authoritarian, unlike Russia, which is another major alternative, but it has performed very poorly, economically speaking, Russia has been a stagnant and unable to compete. But China was an authoritarian country under Mao Zedong , and it was a poor and backward country and not competing economically, but after the death of Mao Deng Deng Xiaoping was remarkably creative and imaginative leader who instituted a new regime in China which had some of the advantages of democracy, for example instead of having a dictator for a life China developed a system where people who were very competent and held massive power lead in a collegial way there was no one infallible leader, it was a leadership by a group of people who selected by Deng Xiaoping and who had limited terms-he instituted limited terms in office and- and did not have power for life. And he devised a retirement system; leaders were rotated out of the office about 10 years. This has been abolished by Xi Jinping right now he is taking the typical dictators route, and he is ruthlessly massing powers in his hand, so I think the China's economy will slow down and Chine will lose its momentum.
Gulan: And what about the relations between democracy and economic development, it looks like achieving economic development is not solely confined to democracies?
- Professor Dr. Ronald Inglehart: I agree democracy does not automatically produce economic development, that depends on competent leaders and the institutions, and rule of law, but by and large of you do analysis to all democracies and autocracies around the world, democracy has a pretty good record, but I don’t think they are automatically prosperous, because this requires additional thing like rule of law and so on. On the other hand I believe the extreme inequality is not compatible with democracy, but I think that democracy has the flexibility that people can choose leaders when they have incompetent ones, basically this is one of the biggest advantages of democracy, although this does not guarantee that they will choose wise leaders, and they don’t always choose wise leaders, but at least they have the option of to get rid of the bad ones and choosing the good ones.
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November 27, 2022