Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence

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Cambridge University Press, Aug 8, 2005 - Political Science
This book demonstrates that people's basic values and beliefs are changing, in ways that affect their political, sexual, economic, and religious behaviour. These changes are roughly predictable: to a large extent, they can be interpreted on the basis of a revised version of modernisation theory presented here. Drawing on a massive body of evidence from societies containing 85 percent of the world's population, the authors demonstrate that modernisation is a process of human development, in which economic development gives rise to cultural changes that make individual autonomy, gender equality, and democracy increasingly likely. The authors present a model of social change that predicts how the value systems play a crucial role in the emergence and flourishing of democratic institutions - and that modernisation brings coherent cultural changes that are conducive to democratisation.

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By W. D ONEIL "Will O'Neil" (Falls Church, VA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The
Human Development Sequence (Paperback)
This is a major study by any standard. It presents both a grand synthesis and a great depth of hard data to back it up, and I can see nothing that would cast it in serious doubt. Inglehart and Welzel make a very strong case that for the most part socioeconomic conditions drive popular values and that these values in turn drive the institutions of government. If you take a subsistence agricultural society and industrialize it then, after a time, its people will turn away from a sense of impotence in the face of divine forces toward a confidence in society's potential to master nature and itself. If their government already had elements of democracy then they will probably embrace more democratization, based in mass parties and movements. But if they lack a democratic tradition they may well turn to the apparent strength and security of mass totalitarian government.
Moreover, if this industrial society becomes rich enough and sophisticated enough to move into an era of postindustrialism - an era in which industry produces more and more wealth with less and less direct labor and more and more people find secure and well-paid work in directing and facilitating industry through skilled mental labor - further values changes will come, but in a different direction. These postindustrial humans will grow suspicious and even hostile toward authority and relatively more concerned about freedom for themselves and others than further enrichment. This, in turn, will bring overthrow of any totalitarian institutions and both a broadening and deepening of democracy and popular commitment to democracy. But it will be democracy of autonomous individuals rather than disciplined masses.
While socioeconomic changes are strongly correlated with movements of values in particular directions, the starting point - the basic values of the particular culture - continues to matter for as long as anyone has so far measured. Values associated with religion in particular tend to persist, even if formal mass religious institutions fade. Hopes and fears of spreading "westernization" or "Americanization" are unfounded. Democracy and freedom are not western or American exports - they arise anew wherever socioeconomic conditions and values favor them, always rooted in the local society.
But there is no "end of history" here. The process can work equally well in reverse and serious regression in socioeconomic conditions can bring dark consequences for values and political institutions.
All this is not simply theory, buttressed perhaps by a sprinkling of selective historical analysis. These processes have been observed and statistically measured in a great many societies, worldwide, over the past 15 years and more. There is good evidence that the flow of cause is from economics to social values to politics, and not much if at all in the other direction. And while we lack much information for periods before 1980, what we do know suggests that these processes have operated in pretty much the same way for many decades, and even longer. In short, this seems to be something that is deeply embedded in the nature of human society.
I have a much longer and more detailed review (much more than will fit here) on my Web site at

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About the author (2005)

Ronald Inglehart is a professor of political science and program director at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. He helped found the Euro-Barometer surveys and directs the World Values Surveys. His most recent books are Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic and Political Change in 43 Societies (Princeton University Press, 1997), (with Pippa Norris) Rising Tide: Gender Equality in Global Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2003), and (with Pippa Norris) Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (Cambridge University Press, 2004). Author of almost 200 publications, he has been a visiting professor or scholar in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, and Nigeria and has served as a consultant to the US State Department and the European Union.

Christian Welzel is Associate Professor of Political Science at International University Bremen where he has been teaching since 2002. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Potsdam. He is a two time recipient of a grant from the Institute for Social Research and has published numerous articles in or contributions to the European Journal of Political Research, Comparative Politics, Comparative Sociology, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Political Culture and Democracy (Westview Press, 2002), among others. He has also published extensively in the German language.

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