Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Can Cultural Values Explain Authoritarianism?

 An article on this topic has now been published on The Savvy Street.  The article draws on material published in recent posts on this blog.

Comments on the article are most welcome. 

The conclusions are reproduced below.


In this article I have adopted an international perspective to consider the extent to which cultural values explain authoritarianism. The analysis has been conducted in terms of ideological maps which position governments by reference to the levels of personal freedom and economic freedom in the countries they control.

The article introduces the concept of international ideological mapping by first considering how individuals might assess their own ideological positions. I argue that the positioning of a person on a political compass, incorporating both economic and personal freedom, is more informative about attitudes to liberty than attempts to position them on a single dimension.   

The Human Freedom Index provides data on economic freedom and personal freedom for a large number of countries. That data can be viewed as an ideological map of the world because it reflects the prevailing ideologies of governments throughout the world.

Ideological maps show high correlation between economic freedom and personal freedom. The liberal democracies have relatively high levels of both economic and personal freedom. Authoritarian governments have relatively low levels of both personal and economic freedom.

I argue that the question of whether cultural values can explain authoritarianism is worth exploring because survey data shows that people in some countries with relatively low levels of economic and personal freedom (e.g. China and Russia) claim to have more confidence in their respective governments than do people in some countries with relatively high levels of personal and economic freedom (e.g. the U.S. and Australia).

Data from the World Values Survey was used to test the extent to which levels of personal and economic freedom could be explained by cultural values. Christian Welzel’s index of emancipative values was used to explain levels of personal freedom. and an index of facilitating values was constructed to explain levels of economic freedom.

The existence of emancipative values and values facilitating economic freedom does help to explain why some countries have higher personal and economic freedom than others. In general, the high freedom levels of the high-income liberal democracies are fairly well explained in terms of facilitating and emancipative values.

However, the ideologies of many other governments cannot be adequately explained in terms of the values held by the people they govern. The freedom ratings of most of the countries with low personal and economic freedom are substantially lower than predicted by emancipative and facilitating values. Suppression of liberty in those countries is a product of the ideologies of the governments rather than the cultural values of the peoples.

The analysis also shows that a substantial number of countries with relatively high personal and economic freedom are performing better in that regard than can readily be explained on the basis of prevailing values. One possible explanation is that market-friendly economic reforms tend to separate economic power from political power, enabling greater political freedom to emerge before it is fully supported by emancipative values.

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