Ronald Inglehart: “I had a heroic picture of the Russians in my mind. They had been heroic, they fought more Germans then we did”
Ronald F. Inglehart, professor of political science emeritus at the University of Michigan and Scientific Supervisor of the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research at the Higher School of Economics (Moscow and St Petersburg). His most important books are:
The Silent Revolution, Princeton University Press, 1977.
Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society, Princeton University Press, 1990.
Value Change in Global Perspective, University of Michigan Press, 1995 (co-authored with Paul R. Abramson).
Modernization and Postmodernization, Princeton University Press, 1997.
Rising Tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change around the World, Cambridge University Press, 2003 (co-authored with Pippa Norris).
Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, Cambridge University Press, 2004 (co-authored with Pippa Norris).
Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005 (co-authored with Christian Welzel).
Cultural Evolution: People's Motivations are Changing, and Reshaping the World, Cambridge University Press, 2018.
Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit and the Authoritarian Populists. Cambridge University Press, 2019 (co-authored with Pippa Norris).
Professor Inglehart gave that interview to Serguey Ehrlich on April 12, 2019.
Dear professor Inglehart, our journal The Historical Expertise focuses on memory studies. The main subject of your research is changing values of changing generations. For readers of our journal it would be interesting to combine both subjects and to hear about memory of your generation.
It’s an intriguing idea.
You were ten years old when the Second World War ended. What do you remember about that time?
I remember it vividly! On the day the end of war my older brother and I were selling an extra edition of The Milwaukee Journal: “The war ended – Truman tells Nation!” It was a huge event of my childhood. I even remember the day when the war has started. My birthday is on September 5 and on September 1, 1939 the newsboy who delivered The Milwaukee Journal brought the paper to our house saying “Germany has invaded Poland!” and my mother said: “It looks like war.” I was four years old and my reaction was: “Will I still have my birthday?” I was enormously fascinated by the Second World War. My brother and I followed the news on radio every evening and collected tin cans, old newspapers, fat and anything that could be used in the war effort. We had a big map to follow the front lines across the World and we would see when the front was near Moscow, Stalingrad, Leningrad, in North Africa and Normandy. The day when the invasion of Normandy is still vivid in my mind. The Second World War was a huge event, which influenced my interest in politics and becoming a political scientist, because it was a cataclysmic event, a struggle between good and evil.
Did your father participate in the war?
No, he was thirty three years old when the war started and he had three children so he was not drafted, but both my uncles were fighting in Europe. One of them was in the air force. It was a terrible experience. He made sixteen raids, flying from England to bomb Germany and then return. The Germans knew they were coming and did their best to shoot them down, resulting in about fifteen percent casualties during every single raid. After sixteenth raids all of my uncle’s friends were dead. He was only one alive. It was a harrowing event for him - he was a still teenager - and that scarred him for life. My uncles were big figures for me during and after the war.
Did you remember the war experience during the family meetings?
Sometimes we did but we tried not to disturb my uncle reminding him of terrifying moments of his life, because after the war he was in a psychiatric hospital for several months. My other uncle was in the medical corps and he told a comic story how he alone captured thirty German soldiers as prisoners of war. He marched them back to camp with nothing but his hypodermic needle. They realized that war was lost and thought it was safest to surrender to a medic, who was unlikely to shoot them.
How did you perceive Russians during the war? Were they for Americans real friends or only temporary allies?
I believed that Russians were our friends, that they were brave people who fight huge numbers of Germans, and were on our side. We listened to a lot of Russians songs and I still remember some of them. For example (starting to sing a popular Russian song «Полюшко-поле»): “Heroes are riding across the prairie!”
When situation was changed? When did your propaganda announce that Russians are not your allies anymore but contrary are your enemies?
Actually, it was a difficult transition. I had a heroic picture of the Russians in my mind. They had been heroic, they fought more Germans then we did. I remember the stages of worsening of our relations. The first was a coup in Czechoslovakia in 1948 when communists overturned a democratic government. The blockade of West Berlin in 1948-1949 was another point. It was a sign that Russians wanted to undermine our mutual agreement of dividing Germany. After that started a Cold War. It took several years to convince me that Russians are our enemies. It was a very dangerous period because people were afraid that there would be a disastrous Third World War. It looked convincing because the Soviet Union took over the Baltic states, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and other East European countries and then China fell to the communists. It looked like Communism was sweeping the World. It was a dangerous time. I remember we have been taught at school in a Chicago suburb what we should do when a nuclear bomb falls. Actually it was over-precautious because at that time the Russians did not have bombers that could reach Chicago and return home. It was not realistic but we were scared. In that time I was convinced that Russians were dangerous and that Stalin was a monster who killed more Russians then Hitler did. We believed that Russia was the most dangerous country in the World and was spreading its influence very fast.
In Russia we believe that the late stage of Stalin’s repression, which was called “Fighting the rootless cosmopolitans”, had a lot of similarities with American campaign against “communist’s agents” which was called “McCarthyism”. In that time you were a high-schooler and university student. Did you feel any ideological restrictions in that time or you believed that the US is the most free country in the World?
McCarthyism was successful for several years because a lot of Americans including myself were scared of the sudden and recent spread of Communism. At first I took it seriously but McCarthy eventually discredited himself and by the time he was censured by the Senate in 1954 I viewed him as a laughable fanatic. He was obviously a sick person but initially, most Americans felt sufficiently threatened by the massive spread of communism from 1945 to 1949 to be receptive to demagogic messages like McCarthy’s.
In the sixties, when you were a young professor, started huge students protests against the Vietnam war and racial segregation. Did you have a solidarity with protesters? Did you participate in protests or you did not share values of the next American generation?
Regarding the civil rights movement, I was convinced that African Americans should have the same rights as other Americans. I am from the Northern region of the US where the situation differed from that of the South. In Wisconsin and Michigan, African Americans had been admitted to the state universities since the 19th century and were free to stay at hotels and ride on buses along with everyone else. This was not true in the South, where black people were segregated and severely discriminated against. Many people in the North were sympathetic towards the civil rights movement, which mainly involved changes in the South. In regard to the protests against the Vietnam war, I was a few years older than my students, and I vividly remembered the Second World War, so I had strong patriotic feelings. I believed that America could not be on the wrong side and we should support our troops. So initially I did not support the student anti-war protests. But my support of the Government gradually eroded. I realized that the war in Vietnam cost many lives and was going nowhere.
Had you any discussions with your students at that time?
Yes, lots of discussions! It was a hot topic. There was time when I had just begun to teach and I dealt with lots of students and many of them were protesters against the Vietnam war. They studied China communism, Mao and so on and they believed that the Chinese and Vietnamese communists were the good guys. Some of them claimed that Lyndon Johnson was worse than Hitler. I knew a little more about Hitler than they did and to me that claim was ridiculous. Johnson made many errors, but he did not kill thirty million people. I was born in 1934, they were born around 1944 and had no memory of the Second World War, so my reactions differed from their ones.
In that time your views contrasted with your students views.
Initially, yes, but today I am a little to the left of most of my students. I think we need radical changes to cope with massively increasing economic inequality. Currently my candidate would be Bernie Sanders.
So called ‘litmus test’ for Russian intellectuals is attitudes towards Stalin. I heard that for American academics the similar role play attitudes towards Reagan. What do you think about his politics?
I think Stalin presents a clearer test. In my opinion, Stalin was a sadistic monster. Reagan was an ineffective president who undermined labor unions, ended regulations and decreased taxes for rich people, but he was not a sadistic monster. Attitudes toward Reagan are a sort of litmus test, but a weaker one than attitudes toward Stalin.
One of my colleagues a historian Nikita Gusev suggested to ask, if you know any historians who apply your sociological ideas in their research? In your opinion, which of your conceptions could be useful in historical studies?
I think my work provides valuable raw material for historians. Historical research tends to focus on cognitive aspects of memory, on intellectual recollection. My work emphasizes an emotional side of memory - the extent to which people grow up taking survival for granted. People have conscious memories of specific events in the Second World War, and we have discussed some of them. At the same time, the war had a huge and long-lasting emotional impact. I measure this influences people’s values, and I discovered that changes of values bring social changes. It is a real driving force of history. My book “Cultural Evolution” traces those changes in many ways. Basically it points to interpreting history as a process where there is a big time-lag between the onset of conditions conducive to a major value changes and the societal-level changes.
When I started my research in the 1970s, I noticed that there is a big difference between generations who had experienced the Second World War, the Great Depression and other tragic events of our history and from the generations born after 1945. Their emotional memories differed very much and they had distinct values priorities. The older generations mostly shared materialist values and younger generations had more inclination to the post-material values. The younger ones grew up during the post-war “economic marvel’ and they were taking physical and economic survival for granted. Their aspirations moved to the human rights, anti-military activities, inequality, environment protection, tolerance to foreigners, tolerance to gay and lesbians and so on. Their slogan: “Do not trust anyone over thirty” is clearly reflected the values gap between generations. I have mentioned a time-lag between values and social changes. It is a reason why values of young protesters of 1960s become very widespread in society only about thirty-forty years later.
Attitude towards homosexuals is a good indicator of those changes. In the1960s in the US and many Western countries homosexuality was not only inappropriate, it was criminal but gradually the situation has changed and in 2001 the Netherland was the first country where the same sex marriage was legalized. The changing of the law was not a reason of that, but changing values had impact on the law. In the same time the position of women in our society was radically changed. When I graduated in political sciences there were no woman there, but now they are the majority of students in most universities.
I am researching the dynamic of values among different age cohorts and it is a row material for historians as well. The replacement of generations is a driving force of historical changes. When we have a society, where physical and economic safety is taken for granted we can expect an intergenerational transition to post-materialist values including human rights and religious, ethnic and sexual tolerance. So I anticipate that China is moving in that direction following the way of the Western countries. For now, China’s rise to prosperity legitimates the rule by the Communist Party. Democracy will not come automatically on the day income per capita exceeds twenty thousand dollars. There is a time-lag, but in my opinion the transition to democracy becomes increasingly probable. Industrialization, urbanization, professional specialization and so on create a public that increasingly wants democratic institutions. The GDP itself is not the cause of future cultural changes. If a country has oil but most of its population continues to live in a traditional economy it does not bring transition to post-materialist values.
As the states of the Persian gulf.
Yes. It works only when the population is developing under a pressure of Modernisation. I think China is a different case than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Now the Chinese middle class is not demanding democracy because people remember very well massive starvations of Mao era, so their values are predominantly materialistic. Taking the survival for granted is an obligatory condition of liberalization. Now we can see a very high inequality in Chinese society. I think noticeable values changes will start when the current youngest generation comes to power. The history is not predetermined but it is a high probability that China will be liberalized.
My university classmate an anthropologist Mark Tkaciuk would like to ask why do you use the term ‘solidarity’ as the principal characteristic of authoritarian societies? ‘Solidarity’ has a positive meaning because it based on altruism and even self-sacrifice. In the Soviet society it played a noticeable role only during the Second World War. I am sure at that time it was natural for American society as well. Our Soviet experience shows that is better to use the word ‘mobilization’ as a feature of authoritarian regimes. What is your opinion about that?
I think “solidarity” must be a Russian translation of what I actually said. I would say “conformity” rather than “solidarity”. “Conformity” is a characteristic of authoritarianism and I think it reflects a very human reaction, that was developed through thousand years of the history when ninety-nine per cent of human beings were permanently affected by massive starvation. In that desperate situation the survival of your own tribe often demanded an extermination of other tribes, for getting more land and hence more food. Xenophobia had a rational basis. It literally means, who would survive: “us” or “them”. In those harsh conditions the community’s survival was depended of a strong leader, who was able to organize effective fight with foreigners. In that sense, xenophobia is a kind of solidarity, which unites one group around an authoritarian leader in the opposition to “others”. In prehistorical time, xenophobia was a harsh necessity but during Modernity it was an unnecessary and very dangerous political instrument, which many times triggered wars, including two world ones, and other kinds of mass violation. Economic crises often engender the growth of a “xenophobic solidarity”, which leads to the authoritarian way of rule. As you remember, at the 1928 election the Nazis got very few votes, but four years later, during the Great Depression they had got more and more votes and subsequently won elections of 1933. I do not know if I can discuss Putin in this interview…
Yes, you can. I know it is surprising for foreigners but we can criticize Putin if we do not discuss his offshore accounts.
The desperate economic situation after the collapse of the Soviet Union induced a demand for a strong authoritarian leader, which is able to show to the international community that Russia is still a Great Power. It was very important to eliminate the threats of disintegration in the beginning of the 2000s, but I don’t think that the Russian people need a dictator for life. The victory of Donald Trump reflected similar reasons. More and more people feel insecure, it stimulates the xenophobic and authoritarian tendencies in American society. We can say that a perverse xenophobic group-solidarity is an important feature of authoritarian regimes in their relations with foreign countries and “inner foreigners”.
Your famous concept of “post-materialist values” is based on massive worldwide surveys. It reflects fundamental transformations which follow the transition from industrial society to informational one (you call it ‘knowledge society’). Memory studies trace one of aspects of those changes: the focus of collective memory and identity gradually moves from a container of the nation-state to a global scale. Are you agree that the global framework is the best way for realization of “post-materialist values” and rising of those values inevitably triggers transition to new types of communities, which are more global than the nation-state or you share common point that the nation-state is forever because it is a “least evil”?
Clearly, as a long-term trend we are moving towards globalization. The powerful historical forces are going in that direction. The surveys in different countries showing that. I think the world is becoming more open which is very good. And today people are much more tolerant than fifty years ago which is also good. But, the rise of xenophobic authoritarian movements indicates that very rapid cultural changes are disorienting and threatening to many people.
We can see that countries that used to be very tolerant as Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands and others, now have the rising xenophobic parties. One reason is rapid cultural change and it is reinforced by massive immigration to Western countries. Many of these immigrants are not from neighboring countries, they come far away and bring very different cultural patterns. Sweden thirty years ago was a mono-ethnic and very tolerant country, but now 18 percent of its population are foreigners and many of them are Muslims; all this is exacerbated by rising economic inequality.
People who were born in the US in the 1950s grew up taking it for granted that their country was a predominantly white society - there were only a handful of Mexicans or Asians - and that homosexuality was criminal. Today the situation has radically changed. In the US there are more Spanish speaking people than in Spain. In 1950s the idea that an African American would be elected as a president seemed ridiculous. But recently the country have elected Barack Obama as President, and then re-elected him four years later. Now people openly identify themselves as gay and lesbians. Those changes are frightening to many older people.
I think immigration is good. My wife is an immigrant. If you go back in time, all of us are immigrants. Today people like Sergey Brin are stimulating the country’s prosperity. But like virtually anything else, changes can go too fast and increase the risk of such phenomena as Trump or the xenophobic parties that are spreading in many European countries.
So, you think that the nation-state is there for a long time, don’t you?
The functions of the nation-state have been gradually diminishing in the last decades economically and other fields, but it won’t disappear in one day. I think the nation state will continue to be important until the end of XXI century.
I think the current rising of an antidemocratic ethnic nationalism during the transition from Industrial to Informational society has a lot of similarities with the Witches hunt during the transition from Agrarian to Industrial society in XVI and XVII centuries. In both cases we can see a simple reaction without any creativity. A religious reaction could not stop Modernity but it resulted many thousands of victims. The nation-state reaction in our transitional time is able to exterminate many millions of people during a fever of the ethnic hate. In your opinion, what can academics do to prevent such a dangerous trend?
It is not easy because deep emotions are involved. Fear is a powerful emotion that is difficult to oppose, especially if the government using it for its own goals. Trump is triggering an angry reaction of Americans when he repeatedly declares that Mexicans are drug dealers and rapists despite the fact that it does not correspond to reality. Part of our academic job is to spread the truth about the social problems including, data showing the crime rate among Mexicans is slightly lower than average in the US. We should tell the truth even if it contradicts the government’s propaganda. In the long-run we should help eliminate the roots of fear. The root problem is not immigration itself but rapidly growing economic inequality. In those circumstances, the solution is not building a huge and expensive Wall, but creating jobs. Providing secure, well-paid jobs for people will counter-act the powerful current trend toward economic inequality. We need to develop jobs that the market is not creating in health care, education, child care, environment protection, research and development and many other useful things. Such measures would be the best way to overcome those fears, which are fraught with paroxysms of blood-spraying savagery. I do not think the situation is hopeless but academics should make every effort to help guide their societies in coping with the very real problems that confront them.
Thanks a lot for your interview