The most detailed longitudinal research on these changes comes from the World Values Survey, which asks representative samples of people in dozens of countries about their values and beliefs. The WVS has now collected and published data in six “waves” since the early 1980s; the most recent survey included sixty countries. Nearly all of the countries are now far wealthier than they were in the 1980s, and many made a transition from communism to capitalism and from dictatorship to democracy in the interim. How did these momentous changes affect their values?
Each country has followed a unique trajectory, but if we zoom out far enough some general trends emerge from the WVS data. Countries seem to move in two directions, along two axes: first, as they industrialize, they move away from “traditional values” in which religion, ritual, and deference to authorities are important, and toward “secular rational” values that are more open to change, progress, and social engineering based on rational considerations. Second, as they grow wealthier and more citizens move into the service sector, nations move away from “survival values” emphasizing the economic and physical security found in one’s family, tribe, and other parochial groups, toward “self-expression” or “emancipative values” that emphasize individual rights and protections — not just for oneself, but as a matter of principle, for everyone. Here is a summary of those changes from the introduction to Christian Welzel’s enlightening book Freedom Rising:
…fading existential pressures [i.e., threats and challenges to survival] open people’s minds, making them prioritize freedom over security, autonomy over authority, diversity over uniformity, and creativity over discipline. By the same token, persistent existential pressures keep people’s minds closed, in which case they emphasize the opposite priorities…the existentially relieved state of mind is the source of tolerance and solidarity beyond one’s in-group; the existentially stressed state of mind is the source of discrimination and hostility against out-groups.
Democratic capitalism — in societies with good rule of law and non-corrupt institutions — has generated steady increases in living standards and existential security for many decades now. As societies become more prosperous and safe, they generally become more open and tolerant. Combined with vastly greater access to the food, movies, and consumer products of other cultures brought to us by globalization and the internet, this openness leads almost inevitably to the rise of a cosmopolitan attitude, usually most visible in the young urban elite. Local ties weaken, parochialism becomes a dirty word, and people begin to think of their fellow human beings as fellow “citizens of the world” (to quote candidate Barack Obama in Berlin in 2008). The word “cosmopolitan” comes from Greek roots meaning, literally, “citizen of the world.” Cosmopolitans embrace diversity and welcome immigration, often turning those topics into litmus tests for moral respectability.
For example, in 2007, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a speech that included the phrase, “British jobs for British workers.” The phrase provoked anger and scorn from many of Brown’s colleagues in the Labour party. In an essay in Prospect, David Goodhart described the scene at a British center-left social event a few days after Brown’s remark:
The people around me entered a bidding war to express their outrage at Brown’s slogan which was finally triumphantly closed by one who declared, to general approval, that it was “racism, pure and simple.” I remember thinking afterwards how odd the conversation would have sounded to most other people in this country. Gordon Brown’s phrase may have been clumsy and cynical but he didn’t actually say British jobs for white British workers. In most other places in the world today, and indeed probably in Britain itself until about 25 years ago, such a statement about a job preference for national citizens would have seemed so banal as to be hardly worth uttering. Now the language of liberal universalism has ruled it beyond the pale.
The shift that Goodhart notes among the Left-leaning British elite is related to the shift toward “emancipative” values described by Welzel. Parochialism is bad and universalism is good. Goodhart quotes George Monbiot, a leading figure of the British Left:
Internationalism…tells us that someone living in Kinshasa is of no less worth than someone living in Kensington…. Patriotism, if it means anything, tells us we should favour the interests of British people [before the Congolese]. How do you reconcile this choice with liberalism? How…do you distinguish it from racism?
Monbiot’s claim that patriotism is indistinguishable from racism illustrates the universalism that has characterized elements of the globalist Left in many Western nations for several decades. John Lennon wrote the globalist anthem in 1971. After asking us to imagine that there’s no heaven, and before asking us to imagine no possessions, Lennon asks us to:
Imagine there’s no countries; it isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.
This is a vision of heaven for multicultural globalists. But it’s naiveté, sacrilege, and treason for nationalists.