This book presents an attractive “Evolutionary Modernization Theory,” presented in modules based on surveys over many years covering most of humanity. The overall thesis states that “high levels of economic and physical security encourage a shift from Materialist to Postmaterialist values. This makes people more favorable to a variety of social changes, ranging from greater emphasis on environmental protection to democratization. It is also bringing growing acceptance of gender equality and homosexuality.
Religion” (p. 77). However “value changes involve very long time-lags between the onset of the conditions leading to them, and the societal changes they produce” p. 79).
Many related issues are considered, such as different pathways of cultural change depending on historic traditions, changing but persistent importance of religion, and the process of culture “changing slowly in high-income societies, mainly through intergenerational population replacement” (p. 77). Striking is
the finding that “the strongest predictor of a society’s level of support for new values will not be its current levels of per capita GDP, life expectancy and infant mortality, but levels that prevailed several decades ago [...] [leading to] a tipping point at which new norms become perceived as dominant” (p. 85).
All this makes fascinating reading and provides important inputs into an as-yet underdeveloped plausible theory of macro-history. Therefore, I think this book should be read by all concerned with the current evolution of culture.
However, the book has a number of weaknesses. Minor ones include outdated genetic conjectures; ignoring the Chinese One Child policy; overrating the late 1960s and 1970s student protests; and surface treatment of “subjective existential security,” defining “as measured by per capita GDP, life expectancy and infant mortality” (p. 88), ignoring depth-psychological aspects and playing down existential fear of death.
More serious is neglect of the interaction between culture and technology. The author recognizes that “Effective birth control technology, labor-saving devices, improved childcare facilities and very low infant mortality make it possible for women to have full-time careers and children” (p. 78). But a single sentence does not do justice to the crucial role of technology in enabling value changes. Thus, family planning chemicals and Viagra are the basis of modern sexual mores and reproduction rates, but they are ignored in the book.
Most disturbing of all is misunderstanding of the basic problem of expanded democracy (discussed in pp. 117ff). Increasing political skills of citizen are categorically different from understanding of policy issues, which is lacking. As demonstrated by many surveys (not mentioned in the book), schooling and also most of university studies do not provide understanding of increasingly complex issues, such as robotics and gene editing. Therefore, unless and until a radical transformation of public understanding of policy issues comes about, knowledge elites have to be in charge of critical choices, not the desires and feelings of citizen as a whole.
Misunderstanding of this issue in the book leaves me with a bad taste – all the more so as fateful issues become more complex and the vast majority of politicians are as ignorant about them as citizen.
The two final chapters, devoted to “The Silent Revolution in Reverse: The Rise of Trump and the Authoritarian Populist Parties” and “The Coming of Artificial Intelligence Society” do not help. But I leave discussion to a review of a 2019 book by the author and Pippa Norris, which I hope deals with current and emerging issues more professionally.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
- Paperback: 291 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (4 April 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1108464777
- ISBN-13: 978-1108464772
- Product Dimensions: 15.1 x 1.6 x 22.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 200 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 156,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)