There are authorities on the march

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THE FALLS The Berlin Wall in 1989 held out the promise that growing wealth would bring freedom and tolerance, and that would create more wealth. Unfortunately, that hope is disappointed. Our analysis this week, based on the definitive global survey of social attitudes, shows just how naive he was.

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Wealth certainly increased. In the three decades to 2019, global output more than quadrupled. About 70% of the 2bn people living in extreme poverty fled. But freedom and individual tolerance evolved differently. Many people around the world still swear allegiance to traditional, sometimes intolerant, beliefs. And although they are much richer these days, they often insult other people and us.

The World Values ​​Survey takes place every five years. The latest results, which go up to 2022, found almost 130,000 people in 90 countries. Some places, such as Russia and Georgia, are not becoming more tolerant as they grow, but are more tightly bound to traditional religious values ​​instead. At the same time, young people in Islamic and Orthodox countries are hardly more isolated or secular than their elders. In contrast, the youth in northern Europe and America are racing ahead. Countries where burning the Koran is accepted and those where it is a crime look at each other with increasing misunderstanding.

On the face of it, all this supports the campaign by the Chinese Communist Party to reject universal values ​​such as racist non-imperialism. He argues that white Western elites are imposing their own version of freedom and democracy on people who want security and stability instead.

In fact, the study suggests something more subtle. Contrary to China’s argument, universal values ​​are more valuable than ever. Start with the tranquility. China is right that people want security. The study shows that a sense of threat makes people seek refuge in families and ethnic or national groups, while tradition and organized religion offer solace.

This is one way to see America’s misguided attempts to establish democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the failure of the Arab spring. In the midst of abuse and chaos, some sought the safety of their tribe or section. Hoping that order would be restored, some welcomed the return of dictators.

The subtlety that China’s argument misses is that cynical politicians sometimes try to engineer insecurity because they know that frightened people want strong governance. That’s what Bashar al-Assad did in Syria when he released murderous jihadists from his country’s prisons at the start of the Arab spring. He bet that the threat of Sunni violence would cause Syrians from other groups to rally around him.

Something similar happened in Russia. After economic collapse and major reforms in the 1990s, Russians prospered in the 2000s. Between 1999 and 2013, GDP each increased 12-fold in dollar terms. But that did not dispel their accumulated fear. President Vladimir Putin regularly played on their ethno-nationalist insecurities, especially when later growth failed. That culminated in his disastrous invasion of Ukraine.

Even in established democracies, polarizing politicians like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, former presidents of America and Brazil, saw that they could take advantage of the concerns of left-leaning voters to mobilize support. So they began to warn that their political opponents wanted to destroy the way of life of their supporters and that they threatened the survival of their countries. That, in turn, has spread panic and hostility on the other side.

Even allowing for this, the Chinese claim that universal values ​​are an imposition is upside down. From Chile to Japan, the World Values ​​Survey provides examples where growing security actually seems to lead to tolerance and a greater sense of individuality. There is no indication that Western countries are unique in that regard. The real question is how to help people feel more secure.

China’s response is based on creating an order for a loyal, protective majority that stays out of politics and avoids going against the rulers. However, within that model there is a deep insecurity. It is a majority system where lines shift, sometimes irregularly or without warning – especially when power passes unexpectedly from one party leader to another.

A better answer comes from success built on the rule of law. Rich countries have more resources to spend on dealing with disasters, such as pandemics. Likewise, with the confidence of their savings and social safety net, citizens of rich countries know they are less vulnerable to chance events that destroy lives elsewhere.

Universal and valuable

However, the most profound solution to insecurity is the ways in which countries deal with change, whether from global warming, artificial intelligence or the growing tension between China and America. The countries that manage change much better will make society feel confident about the future. And that’s where universal values ​​come into their own. Tolerance, freedom of expression and individual inquiry help to bring about change through consensus created by reasoned debate and reform. There is no better way to make progress.

Universal values ​​are much more than Western piety. They are a tool that strengthens societies against insecurity. What the World Values ​​Survey shows is that they are also hard won.

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