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Updated 2:30 PM September 19, 2005
 

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Research
Study: Democracy must rise from security

Trying to impose democracy on nations suffering from high levels of violence and insecurity is unlikely to succeed, says a U-M political scientist, who cited Iraq as an example.

"As long as physical survival remains uncertain, democracy is not likely to flourish," says Ronald Inglehart, a research professor at the Institute for Social Research (ISR). "On the other hand, when economic development brings a growing sense of security, it tends to give rise to publics who want political liberalization, and who become increasingly articulate in demanding it."

Inglehart, who directs the ISR World Values Surveys (WVS), is co-author of "Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence," with Christian Welzel of the International University Bremen. Just published by Cambridge University Press, the book analyzes more than 20 years of international survey data to show how basic values and beliefs are changing around the world, and how those changes affect political, sexual, economic and religious behavior.

The WVS is funded by a number of scientific organizations around the world, including the National Science Foundation.

Although organizing elections is relatively easy, establishing stable democracies under conditions of severe existential insecurity is extremely difficult, evidence in the book shows. "Stable and effective democracy generally emerges through a process of human development that starts with economic development, and that leads to a culture of tolerance, trust and emphasis on human autonomy. This promotes emancipation on many fronts, from individual autonomy to gender equality and democracy," says Inglehart, a political science professor.

Drawing on survey evidence from 80 societies on all six inhabited continents, the authors demonstrate that economic development leads to rising emphasis on self-expression values and related changes in moral values, bringing major changes in society, culture and politics.

They show, for example, how relief from immediate threats of hunger and physical danger allows people to shift from materialistic, survival values to post-materialist values, giving top priority to self-expression, freedom of choice and quality of life rather than economic and physical security.

They also show how socioeconomic development brings a shift from the xenophobic and authoritarian outlook linked with survival values toward the increasingly tolerant and democratic outlook linked with self-expression values.

In related work, Inglehart and colleagues Mansoor Moaddel, a visiting research professor, and Mark Tessler, vice provost for international affairs and director of the International Institute, compared data from a 2004 representative national survey of 2,325 Iraqi adults with data from scores of other countries covered in the WVS. They found that more than 80 percent of the Iraqi public rejected foreigners as neighbors—more than twice the level of rejection found in any other society. Although xenophobia tends to be more widespread among poorer countries, Iraq shows a much higher level than other countries of comparable income, and much higher rejection of foreigners than other Islamic societies.

Because xenophobia is so intense in Iraq, any government seen as dependent on foreign military support will have little legitimacy, Inglehart warns. But an elected government that is not dependent on foreign powers has a good chance to attain legitimacy if it maintains order.

Despite antagonism toward Western democracies, fully 85 percent of the Iraqi public surveyed said that democracy was the best form of government, with no significant difference between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs.

Inglehart and colleagues also found widespread support for rule by religious authorities. More than half of Iraqi Sunni Arabs said an Islamic government where religious authorities have absolute power would be "very good" or "somewhat good," and more than 70 percent of Shi'ite Arabs in Iraq thought an Islamic theocracy would be good. But democracy received still higher levels of support than theocracy, among all major groups in Iraqi society.

If security in Iraq can be restored, Inglehart believes that democracy can flourish there. "Although 300 terrorist attacks took place on election day in January 2005, fully 58 percent of those eligible to vote did so—a higher turnout than in most U.S. presidential elections," he says.

"In our survey, 85 percent of the Iraqi public said that 'Democracy may have problems, but it's better than any other form of government.' The Iraqi commitment to democracy seems genuine. They were willing to risk their lives for it," he says.

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