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Culture and Democracy*

Building on the Weberian tradition, Francis Fukuyama ( 1995), Lawrence
Harrison ( 1985, 1992, 1997), Samuel Huntington ( 1996), and Robert Putnam
( 1993) argue that cultural traditions are remarkably enduring and shape the
political and economic behavior of their societies today. But modernization
theorists from Karl Marx to Daniel Bell ( 1973, 1976) and the author of this
chapter ( 1977, 1990, 1997) have argued that the rise of industrial society is
linked with coherent cultural shifts away from traditional value systems. This
article presents evidence that both claims are true:

Development is linked with a syndrome of predictable changes away from

absolute social norms, toward increasingly rational, tolerant, trusting, and
postmodern values.
But culture is path dependent. The fact that a society was historically
Protestant or Orthodox or Islamic or Confucian gives rise to cultural zones
with highly distinctive value systems that persist when we control for the
effects of economic development.

Distinctive cultural zones exist and they have major social and political
consequences, helping shape important phenomena from fertility rates to
economic behavior and--as this chapter will demonstrate--democratic
institutions. One major dimension of cross-cultural variation is especially
important to democracy. As we will see, societies vary tremendously in the
-80to which they emphasize "survival values" or "self-expression values." Societies
that emphasize the latter are far likelier to be democracies than societies that
emphasize survival values.
Economic development seems to bring a gradual shift from survival values to
self-expression values, which helps explain why richer societies are more likely
to be democracies. As we will see below, the correlation between survival/selfexpression values and democracy is remarkably strong. Do they go together
because self-expression values (which include interpersonal trust, tolerance, and
participation in decisionmaking) are conducive to democracy? Or do

Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, Lawrence E. Harrison, Samuel P.
Huntington - editors, Basic Books, New York, 2000

democratic institutions cause these values to emerge? It is always difficult to

determine causality, but the evidence suggests that it is more a matter of
culture shaping democracy than the other way around.
Huntington (1993, 1996) argues that the world is divided into eight or nine
major civilizations based on enduring cultural differences that have persisted
for centuries--and that the conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural
fault lines separating these civilizations.
These civilizations were largely shaped by religious traditions that are still
powerful today, despite the forces of modernization. Western Christianity, the
Orthodox world, the Islamic world, and the Confucian, Japanese, Hindu,
Buddhist, African, and Latin American regions constitute the major cultural
zones. With the end of the Cold War, Huntington argues, political conflict will
occur mainly along these cultural divisions, not along ideological or economic
In a related argument, Putnam (1993) claims that the regions of Italy where
democratic institutions function most successfully today are those in which civil
society was relatively well developed centuries before. Harrison (1985, 1992,
1997) argues that development is strongly influenced by a society's basic
cultural values. And Fukuyama (1995) argues that a society's ability to compete
in global markets is conditioned by social trust: "low-trust" societies are at a
disadvantage because they are less effective in developing large, complex social
institutions. All of these analyses reflect the assumption that contemporary
societies are characterized by distinctive cultural traits that have endured over
long periods of time--and that these traits have an important impact on the
political and economic performance of societies.
How accurate is this assumption?
Another major body of literature presents a seemingly incompatible view.
Modernization theorists, including the author of this chapter, have argued that
the world is changing in ways that erode traditional values. Economic
-81development almost inevitably brings the decline of religion, parochialism, and
cultural differences.
Using data from three waves of the World Values Survey (VNS), which now
covers sixty-five societies containing 75 percent of the world's population, this
article presents evidence that both claims are true. Economic development

seems to be linked with a syndrome of predictable changes away from absolute

social norms and toward increasingly rational, tolerant, trusting, and
postmodern values. But culture is path dependent. The fact that a society was
historically Protestant, Orthodox, Islamic, or Confucian gives rise to cultural
zones with highly distinctive value systems that persist when we control for the
effects of economic development.
These cultural differences are closely linked with a number of important social
phenomena, of which we will focus on one: they are strongly linked with the
extent to which a society has democratic institutions, as measured by scores on
the Freedom House ratings of political rights and civil liberties from 1972
through 1997. Before I demonstrate this point, let us examine the evidence that
enduring cross-cultural differences exist, even though economic development
tends to bring systematic cultural changes.
To compare cultures in a parsimonious fashion requires a major data-reduction
effort. Comparing each of the eight or nine civilizations on one variable after
another, among the hundreds of values measured in the World Values Surveys
(and the thousands that conceivably might be measured), would be an endless
process. But any meaningful data-reduction process requires a relatively simple
underlying structure of cross-cultural variation--which we cannot take for
granted. Fortunately, such a structure does seem to exist.
In previous research (Inglehart 1997, chap. 3) the author of this chapter
analyzed aggregated national-level data from the forty-three societies included
in the 1990-1991 World Values Survey, finding large and coherent cross-cultural
differences. The worldviews of the peoples of rich societies differ
systematically from those of low-income societies, across a wide range of
political, social, and religious norms and beliefs. Factor analysis revealed two
main dimensions that tapped scores of variables and explained over half of the
cross-cultural variation. These two dimensions reflect cross-national
polarization between traditional versus secular-rational orientations toward au-82thority and survival versus self-expression values. They make it possible to plot
each society's location on a global cultural map.
This article builds on these findings by constructing comparable measures of
cross-cultural variation that can be used with all three waves of the World

Values Surveys, at both the individual level and the national level. This enables
us to examine changes over time along these dimensions. The earlier analysis
( Inglehart 1997) used factor scores based on twenty-two variables in the
1990-1991 surveys. We selected a subset of ten variables that not only had high
loadings on these dimensions but had been utilized in the same format in all
three waves of the World Values Surveys. This subset was used to minimize
problems of missing data (when one variable is missing, an entire nation is lost
from the analysis).
The factor scores generated by this reduced pool of items are highly correlated
with the factor scores generated by the twenty-two items used earlier ( Inglehart
1997, 334-335, 388). The traditional/secular-rational dimension used here is
almost perfectly correlated with the factor scores from the comparable
dimension based on eleven variables; the same is true of the survival/selfexpression dimension. We are tapping a robust aspect of crosscultural
Each of these two dimensions taps a major axis of cross-cultural variation
involving dozens of basic values and orientations. The traditional/secularrational dimension reflects, first of all, the contrast between societies in which
religion is very important and those in which it is not, but it also taps a rich
variety of other concerns. Emphasis on the importance of family ties and
deference to authority (including a relative acceptance of military rule) are
major themes, together with avoidance of political conflict and an emphasis on
consensus over confrontation. Societies at the traditional pole emphasize
religion, absolute standards, and traditional family values; favor large families;
reject divorce; and take a pro-life stance on abortion, euthanasia, and suicide.
They emphasize social conformity rather than individualistic achievement,
favor consensus rather than open political conflict, support deference to
authority, and have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.
Societies with secular-rational values have the opposite preferences on all these
These orientations have a strong tendency to go together across the more than
sixty societies examined here. This holds true despite the fact that we
deliberately selected items covering a wide range of topics: we could have
selected five items referring to religion and obtained an even more tightly
correlated cluster, but our goal was to measure broad dimensions of
crosscultural variation.

Adherence to these values seems to have important consequences in the

objective world. For example, societies that emphasize traditional values have
much higher fertility rates than those that emphasize rational-legal values.
The survival/self-expression dimension involves the themes that characterize
postindustrial society. One of its central components involves the polarization
between materialist and postmaterialist values. Extensive evidence indicates that
these values tap an intergenerational shift from emphasis on economic and
physical security toward increasing emphasis on self-expression, subjective wellbeing, and quality of life (Inglehart 1977, 1990, 1997). This cultural shift is
found throughout advanced industrial societies; it seems to emerge among
birth cohorts that have grown up under conditions in which survival is taken
for granted. These values are linked with the emergence of growing emphasis
on environmental protection, the women's movement, and rising demands for
participation in decisionmaking in economic and political life. During the past
twenty-five years, these values have become increasingly widespread in almost
all advanced industrial societies for which extensive time-series evidence is
available. But this is only one component of a much broader dimension of
cross-cultural variation.
Societies that emphasize survival values show relatively low levels of subjective
well-being, report relatively poor health, are low on interpersonal trust, are
relatively intolerant toward outgroups, are low on support for gender equality,
emphasize materialist values, have relatively high levels of faith in science and
technology, are relatively low on environmental activism, and are relatively
favorable to authoritarian government. Societies that emphasize self-expression
values tend to have the opposite preferences on all these topics. Whether a
society emphasizes survival values or self-expression values has important
objective consequences. As we will see, societies that emphasize self-expression
values are much more likely to be stable democracies than those that emphasize
survival values.
The idea that political culture is linked with democracy had great impact
following the publication of The Civic Culture ( Almond and Verba 1963) but
went out of fashion during the 1970s for a variety of reasons. The
politicalculture approach raised an important empirical question: Did given

-91have political cultures that were relatively conducive to democracy? Some critics
alleged that this approach was "elitist" in finding that some cultures were more
conducive to democracy than others. Any right-minded theory should hold that
all societies are equally likely to be democratic. The problem is that tailoring a
theory to fit a given ideology may produce a theory that does not fit reality, and
consequently predictions will eventually go wrong; the theory will provide
misleading guidance to those who are trying to cope with democratization in
the real world. By the 1990s, observers from Latin America to Eastern Europe
to East Asia were concluding that cultural factors played an important role in
the problems they were encountering with democratization. Simply adopting a
democratic constitution was not enough. Cultural factors have been omitted
from most empirical analyses of democracy partly because, until now, we have
not had reliable measures of them from more than a handful of countries.
When cultural factors are taken into account, as in the work of the author of
this chapter ( Inglehart 1990, 1997) and Putnam ( 1993), they seem to play an
important role. Economic development leads to two types of changes that are
conducive to democracy:
It tends to transform a society's social structure, bringing urbanization,
mass education, occupational specialization, growing organizational
networks, greater income equality, and a variety of associated developments
that mobilize mass participation in politics. Rising occupational
specialization and rising education lead to a workforce that is independent
minded and has specialized skills that enhance its bargaining power against
Economic development is also conducive to cultural changes that help
stabilize democracy. It tends to develop interpersonal trust and tolerance,
and it leads to the spread of post-materialist values that place high priority
on self-expression and participation in decisionmaking. Insofar as it brings
higher levels of well-being, it endows the regime with legitimacy, which can
help sustain democratic institutions through difficult times. Legitimacy is an
asset to any regime, but it is crucial to democracies. Repressive
authoritarian regimes can hold on to power even when they lack mass
support, but democracies must have mass support or they can be voted out
of existence.
Positive outputs from a political system can generate mass support for political
incumbents. In the short term, this support is calculated on the basis of "what
have you done for me lately?" But if a regime's outputs are seen as

positive over a long time, the regime may develop "diffuse support" ( Easton
1963)--the generalized perception that the political system is inherently good,
quite apart from its current outputs. This type of support can endure even
through difficult times.
-93The World Values Survey data make it possible to test this thesis on a
worldwide scale. As Figure 7.4 demonstrates, a society's position on the
survival/self-expression index is strongly correlated with its level of democracy,
as indicated by its scores on the Freedom House ratings of political rights and
civil liberties from 1972 through 1998. This relationship is powerful. It is clearly
not a methodological artifact or merely a correlation because the two variables
are measured at different levels and come from completely different sources.
Virtually all of the societies that rank high on survival/selfexpression values are
stable democracies; virtually all the societies that rank low have authoritarian
governments. We will not attempt to unravel the complex causal linkages in this
chapter. For the moment, let us simply note that the powerful linkage shown in
Figure 7.4 persists when we control for GNP/capita and spell out the main
possible interpretations.
One interpretation would be that democratic institutions give rise to the selfexpression values that are so closely linked with them. In other words,
democracy makes people healthy, happy, tolerant, and trusting, and it instills
post-materialist values (at least in the younger generation). This interpretation is
extremely appealing. It provides a powerful argument for democracy and
implies that we have a quick fix for most of the world's problems: Adopt
democratic institutions and live happily ever after.
Unfortunately, the experience of the people of the former Soviet Union does
not support this interpretation. Since their dramatic move toward democracy in
1991, they have not become healthier, happier, more trusting, more tolerant, or
more post-materialist. For the most part, they have gone in exactly the opposite
direction. Latin America's history of constitutional instability is another
An alternative interpretation is that economic development gradually leads to
social and cultural changes that make democratic institutions increasingly likely
to survive and flourish. This would help explain why mass democracy did not
emerge until relatively recently in history and why, even now, it is most likely to
be found in economically more developed countries--in particular, those that
emphasize self-expression values rather than survival values.

The latter interpretation has both encouraging and discouraging implications.

The bad news is that democracy is not something that can be easily attained by
simply adopting the right laws. It is most likely to flourish in some social and
cultural contexts than in others, and the current cultural conditions for
democracy seem relatively unfavorable in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia,
and Moldova.
The good news is that the long-term trend of the past several centuries has
been toward economic development, a process that has accelerated and spread
around the world during the past few decades. Furthermore, eco-94nomic development tends to give rise to social and cultural conditions under
which democracy becomes increasingly likely to emerge and survive. If the
outlook is discouraging concerning much of the former Soviet Union, the
evidence in Figure 7.4 suggests that a number of societies may be closer to
democracy than is generally suspected. Mexico, for example, seems ripe for the
transition to democracy, since its position on the post-modern values axis is
roughly comparable to that of Argentina, Spain, or Italy. A number of other
societies are also in this transition zone, including Turkey, the Philippines,
Slovenia, South Korea, Poland, Peru, South Africa, and Croatia.
Although China falls farther back on this dimension, it is experiencing rapid
economic growth, which, as we have seen, seems to bring a shift toward selfexpression values. The ruling Chinese communist elite are clearly committed to
maintaining one-party rule, and as long as they retain control of the military
they should be able to enforce their preferences. But the Chinese show a
predisposition toward democracy that is inconsistent with China's very low
ranking on the Freedom House ratings.
In the long run, modernization tends to help spread democratic institutions.
Authoritarian rulers of some Asian societies have argued that the distinctive
"Asian values" of these societies make them unsuitable for democracy ( Lee
1994). The evidence from the World Values Surveys--not to mention the
evolution of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan to democracy-does not support
this interpretation. It suggests that Confucian societies may be readier for
democracy than is generally believed.
Economic development seems to bring gradual cultural changes that make
mass publics increasingly likely to want democratic institutions and to be more
supportive of them once they are in place. This transformation is not easy or

automatic. Determined elites who control the army and police can resist
pressures for democratization. But development tends to make mass publics
more trusting and tolerant and leads them to place an increasingly high priority
on autonomy and self-expression in all spheres of life, including politics, and it
becomes difficult and costly to repress demands for political liberalization.
With rising levels of economic development, cultural patterns emerge that are
increasingly supportive of democracy, making mass publics more likely to want
democracy and more skillful at getting it.
Although rich societies are much likelier to be democratic than poor ones,
wealth alone does not automatically bring democracy. If that were true, Kuwait
and Libya would be model democracies. But the process of modern-95ization tends to bring cultural changes conducive to democracy. In the long
run, the only way to avoid the growth of mass demands for democratization
would be to reject industrialization. Few ruling elites are willing to do so. Those
societies that do move onto the trajectory of industrial society are likely to face
growing pressures for democratization.The evidence suggests that culture plays
a much more crucial role in democracy than the literature of the past two
decades would indicate. The syndrome of trust, tolerance, well-being, and
participatory values tapped by the survival/self-expression dimension seems
particularly crucial. In the long run, democracy is not attained simply by
making institutional changes or through elite-level maneuvering. Its survival
also depends on the values and beliefs of ordinary citizens.
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