Futuribles Journal n° 277

Géopolitique - Société, modes de vie

L'éventail des normes sociales

During the second half of the 20th century, Étienne Schweisguth reminds us, all the social norms limiting individual freedom were challenged to some extent. In fact the surveys of values across Europe (European Values Survey, "EVS") carried out in the early 1990s showed a general movement away from so-called traditional values in all areas (morals, lifestyles, family values, etc.).
The results of the "EVS 1999" survey partly confirm this trend, especially with regard to morals. For instance, objections to homosexuality, euthanasia, divorce or abortion have continued to decline in Europe.
Nevertheless, the picture revealed by the survey seems less clearcut than at the beginning of the decade, and other trends are appearing alongside a continuing shift towards greater freedom. Examples include the greater importance given to marital fidelity and good citizenship, or to a lesser extent and in certain countries, such as France and Denmark, the wish for greater respect for public order and for those in authority. In these matters, generational change has not brought greater liberalism but rather a return to more traditional values.
In fact, according to Étienne Schweisguth, in order to avoid drawing hasty conclusions about social norms it is becoming necessary to study changes in values area by area. In his view, liberal attitudes are increasing as regards individual freedoms (personal lifestyle decisions) provided that this does not undermine the proper functioning of society (i.e. does not reduce the freedom of other people).
Taking this as his starting-point, Schweisguth suggests three (not mutually exclusive) scenarios for the way civic values in Europe may evolve: in the first, standards of civic behaviour would continue to decline despite the desire for the exact opposite; in the second, Europeans would be two-faced, condemning transgressions by other people while relaxing standards for themselves; in the third, the new emphasis on good citizenship would become stronger in the long run.

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