Director of the World Values Survey and Academic Supervisor of the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR) Ronald Inglehart addressed the HSE April Conference by video conference from the USA with a lecture on 'Modernization and the Decline of Violence: The Mass Basis of "Democratic Peace"'.
The number of people willing to give their lives for their country in war has declined the world over. According to Ronald Inglehart, this trend is characteristic of almost all developed societies, except the Nordic countries – in Sweden, for instance, military service is still popular. 'But the reason for the Nordic exception is that the whole meaning of fighting for your country has been transformed. The Swedish military are perceived as peacekeepers, as people with a special mission', explains Inglehart. As for Russia, the study reveals that the number of people willing to fight for their country declined by 15% between the early 90's and 2012.
This global trend may be explained by a value shift observed in many societies with the development of democratic institutions over the past few decades. Societies tend to attach more value to each individual and his or her life. Ronald Inglehart notes that people today are increasingly engaged in protest movements, and the public has become more important. 'In the past, the peasants were an oppressed class. Today the situation is quite different. Peasants are now farmers and a political force'.
Speaking about the value of individual life, Inglehart refers to how the American public reacted to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. 'The war in Iraq lost the support of the majority after 3,000 American lives were lost. But in fact, it was equivalent to less than three hours of deaths in WWII', he said, emphasizing that sensitivity to casualties has risen over the years. Demographic change is yet another factor: 'When you have 9 or 10 sons, losing one is a tragedy, but you still have 8 or 9 left, and it is something you can accept. But when you have one son and he is killed in a war, you have no more sons'.
Now that people have learned to survive other than by agricultural production, war has become obsolete. In the past, the threat of starvation would cause people to fight for land, a finite resource. 'Today, in countries like the U.S. starvation has receded into the background. In fact the biggest problem is not starvation, but obesity', says Inglehart. Studies show, he argues, that with higher living standards and income levels people are less tolerant of war, which is increasingly unprofitable today, as countries' growth and development no longer depend on geographic expansion.
Inglehart mentioned Germany and Japan which have become leaders in economic growth without territorial expansion. 'Since 1945, we have enjoyed the longest period in recorded history without war between major powers. But how durable is it?', he asks , noting that peace is increasingly attractive, since people have become aware that the costs of war far outweigh its benefits.
Inglehart pointed to an earlier myth that nuclear weapons would drive the world to the brink of another global war. 'But in fact, the world has come closer together', he says. Today, he argues, the cultural changes driven by modernization cause people to disapprove of imperialism and imperial beliefs/policies?.
People have lower tolerance for war and its casualties and more tolerance for those who belong to other nations and religions. These phenomena are interrelated, Inglehart argues. Today, people in developed countries who are less concerned about survival and feel secure tend to be more tolerant towards strangers. With higher incomes, there is more tolerance and less xenophobia, says Inglehart. With rising levels of existential security, people no longer see strangers as dangerous, but instead find it stimulating to learn about a different, exotic culture and to taste a foreign way of life. Inglehart explains the high levels of xenophobia in Iraq and Afghanistan by the lack of security in those countries.
Today, democracies do not fight each other. But is war indeed possible between democracies? 'I can’t guarantee anything, but war between developed countries has become very improbable', says Inglehart.
He acknowledges a common observation that there has been a certain retreat from democracy. 'But democracy is an iterative process; it goes up and down, in surges and declines. Just think of the surges we have seen in the past few decades. Decline is part of a broader long-term trend', he argues. Inglehart believes that people are becoming more informed and want democracy, which makes democratic development inevitable.