Futuribles Journal n° 428

Institutions - Société, modes de vie

The Evolution of Values: On Ronald Inglehart’s “Cultural Evolution: People’s Motivations are Changing, and Reshaping the World”

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This is a review of the latest of Ronald Inglehart’s books to be translated into French and a look at how his theory on the rise of post-materialism has evolved over the past 50 years. According to that theory, first developed in the early 1970s, generational renewal was going to lead almost mechanically to an advancement of post-materialist values (quality of life, personal fulfilment, democratic participation) to the detriment of the materialist values (order, security, economic growth) that previous generations were allegedly far more attached to. This theory is tested here against a very large number of surveys conducted worldwide which show, among other things, that the rise of post-materialist values has stalled as economic growth has slowed, that an overwhelming majority of individuals now subscribe to mixed values, and that these findings reveal the need to conceive the defining lines of these works of Inglehart’s differently.

However, above and beyond these critical thoughts on post-materialist theory, several major trends in socio-cultural evolution are presented here: for example, a rise in secular values but also in strong religious belief; a relaxation of morals and even more clearly a “feminization of society”; a rising sense of happiness and of adherence to democracy… None of this, however, excludes either the rise of populist or fascist movements or a rebellion on the part of the humblest strata of society against the richest 1%. Pierre Bréchon, as an expert in values studies, adds his voice to that of Ronald Inglehart to point out the strengths and limitations of surveys of this kind.

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