It occurs to me that stability in how countries poll in world values surveys is an argument against the idea that the world is inevitably going to become liberal.There are changes in wording in most of the survey questions by wave (that is, years in which surveys were conducted), but there is quite a bit of consistent overlap in a section over how justifiable certain "hot button" social behaviors are. The number of countries participating picks up enough in the 1990-1991 wave (before that, the pickings are pretty sparse) to make comparisons to the most recent 2005-2008 wave. This 1990-1991 wave corresponds fairly closely with the "end of history" predicted by Francis Fukuyama, when all countries were predicted to be moving inexorably towards liberal democracy.
The following tables show the mean responses of survey participants by country in the 90-91 wave, the 05-08 wave, and the shift in mean score over that decade and a half time period, by social issue. All questions ask respondents how often they feel the behavior in question is justifiable, with potential answers on a 10-point scale ranging from "never justifiable" (1) to "always justifiable" (10). So the higher the score, the more liberal a country's population is. If a country's values have liberalized (which, in the context of this post, refers to the freedom of the individual to choose to behave however he pleases) over time, the result is a positive number in the last column. Conversely, if the country has become less liberalized, the number will be negative.
There are data for 26 countries in both waves, though Slovenia is not included in any of the proceeding tables*. The WVS is mostly populated by affluent, first-world countries, especially in the earlier waves, so the only Islamic representative is Turkey:
|Claiming government benefits||90-91||05-08||Change|
One standard deviation is 2.7 points, so the average Mexican resident is two-thirds of one SD further to the left (that is, at about the 72nd percentile of the US distribution) than the average American is. Yet another argument free market libertarians should employ when clamoring for open borders!
It's in the European welfare states like Finland and France--where liberalism has been normative for the longest--where the most backsliding has taken place. In most countries though, there has been a moderate shift towards liberalism.
|Someone accepting a bribe||90-91||05-08||Change|
One SD is 1.6 points. Public positions on bribery have held fairly steady since the collapse of communism, although to the extent that they've moved at all, it's been in a liberal direction everywhere except some of Europe's more corrupt countries, our neighbor to the south, and surprisingly, the Netherlands.
One SD is 3.5 points. It's not just in the US where the legalization of same-sex marriage appears to be an inevitability. There has been a veritable worldwide shifting in moral perceptions of homosexuality in less than one generation, with the only countries holding the line against a rain of fire and brimstone being the Catholic stronghold of Italy and Muslim Turkey (well, perceptions among the Dutch have remained constant, but are coming from a position that was already very tolerant towards homosexuality). Turkey, along with China, is far less tolerant of homosexuality than the rest of the countries represented are.
One SD is 2.8 points. The world's oldest profession is seeing many of its modern objectors falling away, as positions on prostitution have become more liberalized in nearly every country surveyed, with Finland the one glaring exception. Again we see that positions in China and Turkey have moved very little over the time period.
One SD is 3.1 points. As liberalism traipses across the globe, it gets tripped up on the issue of abortion. While many social conservatives in the US despair of what they perceive to be an abandonment of values at home, the moral trajectory of abortion is far less clear than it is of homosexuality.
China, where penalties can still result when an abortion is not undergone by Han who violate the one-child policy, has seen a significant shift towards a more pro-life position as the aberration that is the country's procreation-limiting policy has presumably become more widely understood by the Chinese populous.
Turkey, which has yet to show any liberalizing in sentiment, continues not to show any here.
It's tempting to think that birth dearths in countries where public sentiment has moved away from abortion rights like Russia, Romania, South Korea, and Italy is a result of said decline in fecundity, but there are other nations like Norway, France, and Spain that are well below replacement level fertility yet have nonetheless become more inclined towards abortion over the same period of time.
One SD is 3.1 points. Most countries have been moving in a liberal direction with two notable--and now familiar--exceptions; Turkey and China. Of course, with one-sixth of the world's population, when China moves one direction, even if the rest of the world is moving in the opposite direction, it's tough to sell the change as inexorable on the world stage. What about India and Brazil, two other non-Western and non-East Asian countries with large populations? On abortion, they both have treaded water. On all the other social issues considered thus far, they've shifted in a liberal direction (as have Argentina and Chile, the other two Latin American countries represented in the WVS).
One SD is 3.3 points. On what social conservatives deem "sanctity of life" issues in the US, China has markedly shifted away from a liberal position. Turkey again shows no evidence of liberalization. South Africa, the only sub-Saharan African country represented, has, excepting abortion, become more liberal on all the issues considered thus far. When it comes to euthanasia, however, South Africans, along with the Turks, have not undergone any change in public sentiment.
One standard deviation is 2.9 points. There hasn't been an enormous amount of change in perceptions of suicide anywhere in the last 15 years, although the ratchet is turning towards liberalism in most countries, with China and Turkey again being notable exceptions.
Most of the data comes from the Westernized world, and there's little to dispute that in the West, the move towards liberalism has been a steady one since the lifting of the iron curtain, in the former Soviet Union as well as free Europe and the US. Only on abortion has Russian opinion moved away from liberalism. In Latin America, India, and to a lesser extent, South Africa, it has been the same story--excepting abortion, all have become more liberal.
China and Turkey, however, have conspicuously not. Turkey is more liberal (or in media parlance, more "moderate") than North Africa, which is in turn more liberal than Egypt and most of the Middle East. I'm certainly not qualified to say whether or not Turkey proxies well for the rest of the Muslim world in terms of liberalization of social mores, and Turkey has notoriously crept away from secularism over the last couple of decades, but it at least suggests that Randall's suspicion that the move towards liberalism is evitable may be accurate. And this century is going to be a Sinitic story much more than the last one was. If the Muslim world, where fertility is still high, and China, where wealth and worldwide influence are on the rise, are not liberalizing, liberalism's future is not too bright.
Parenthetically, this is hardly a novel concept. Pat Buchanan dealt with it in his invaluable The Death of the West, and Steve Sailer added to it in his review of Buchanan's book.
WVS variables used: V201, V202, V203, V204, V205, V206, V207
* There were obviously some errors in coding the Slovenian responses for the 05-08 wave, as I first became aware of a couple of years ago. The data corruption extends beyond the one item I initially noticed it on, as the responses for all of the justification questions are extreme outliers, with virtually every behavior being almost always justifiable if the WVS data are to be trusted (which I'm confident in saying should not be done).