¶ … values that drive human societies change over time, and in many instances the political environment will reflect those changes. By the early 1970s, scholars were recognizing that there were significant shifts in the values of the world's most advanced industrial societies (Inglehart, 1971). The basic values of generations, he notes, change based on the "changing conditions influencing their basic socialization." The way that these changes are reflected in politics will often come in the form of conflict. This need not to open, violent conflict, but a conflict between ideas. Younger generations view the world as theirs to inherit, and want to begin setting the tone for the world they want to see as soon as possible. Peak generations see themselves as running the world in their image, an opportunity for which they have waited, while older generations wish to maintain relevance, and in many cases still retain significant formal power. Thus, there is typically conflict between at least three generations in a society. The nature and tone of the idea conflict will typically result in the way that value changes manifest in different societies.
Inglehart termed his idea the silent revolution, where in industrial society conflict that brought about value change was typically nonviolent, and represented itself more in the clash of ideas. The way that the conflict between ideas emerged would lead to a better and stronger values over time as well, as ideas needed to be better in order to last. Inglehart and Flanagan (1979) expanded on this idea of the silent revolution in a later study about Japan. They note that traditional political loyalties, based on the way that society had traditionally been organized, began to shift in a recognizable way by the late 1970s. Flanagan in particular argued that while older generations had been oriented towards acquisitive orientation, younger generations were more interested in "a set of post-bourgeois values relating to the need for belonging and to aesthetic and intellectual needs." Society can be driven in this value direction easily. If older generations were acquisitive in their orientation, this was because there were things that they lacked. The middle class in particular, while comfortable, still went through periods where there was high level of poverty, food shortages and for most of the developed world security shortages. Generations that arose after the Second World War did not lack for food, security, health care and economic opportunity. They naturally took a less acquisitive orientation because they had fewer material needs, and their ability to acquire their material desires was unlikely to be constrained. They focused on higher order needs. This affected the value systems of the society as a whole and it is only natural that in a democracy these value changes would be reflected in the political systems.
Lafferty and Knutsen (1985) provided a valuable look at the practical application of the silent revolution theory of value change in their study of Norway, which by the id-1980s was awash with oil money. Testing Inglehart's work empirically, the authors found that "there exists a postmaterialist profile for democratic values that is much more distinct than the literature has allowed for up to now." The authors found that while the presumed materialist/postmaterialist split exists in Norway, it represents value change but not necessarily is a driver of political change. The left-right political spectrum aligns with materialist/postmaterialist split but it is not the only factor that does. To that end, the authors identified that control over and distribution of production is the main driver of this split at the political level -- the level of materialism between those on the left and those on the right is not significant enough to be a driver in the change of values of politically.
This development challenged the role and relationship between the silent revolution value change that represented a shift between materialism and postmaterialism and politics. Even society's values change with respect to some aspects of life, these are not necessarily the key value drivers of the society. Economic well-being, in particular, is an everpresent ideological competitor to materialism -- even those with limited material ambitions want to work and to produce...
So even in Norway, which at the time would have been a fairly wealthy country with its oil developments, the value change away from strict materialism was not sufficient to be a major driver of the definition of political positions.
Inglehart (1985) offered his own critiques and commentary on the Lafferty and Knutsen findings, along with some of the other articles seeking to refine his silent revolution theory. He notes that where political views were once tied to class or religion, the materialism/postmaterialism split reflects a new way to define the political spectrum. Lafferty and Knutsen had noted a number of linkages that seem to put the materialism/postmaterialism split firmly along the left-right political continuum, and he posits whether this has implications in terms of postmaterialism simply being a political fashion of a particular generation, something that does not have the power to define politics. Inglehart notes that there are a number of postmaterialists on the right and materialists on the left, that the clean line marking materialism as being a right wing trait and postmaterialism as a left wing trait is not as clean as Knutsen and Lafferty made it out to be. Inglehart also notes, however, the political polarization is a direct reflection of social class conflict. This implies that the power in postmaterialism as a means of shifting values and shifting political paradigms lies in its broader appeal beyond the normal left-right spectrum. His critique focuses on the idea that postmodernism does not fit neatly into the left side of the political spectrum, and this is exactly why it reflects value change in society, because its base is widespread.
Inglehart (1987) further expands on this in a later article that further articulates his concept. Support for new political parties "reflects the tension between materialist and postmaterialist goals and values" and that this is a dilemma for traditional political parties, which are accustomed to winning votes through social-class voting. An example of a traditional party struggling with this inherent conflict is a left wing party that struggles to balance a strong environmentalist agenda with a desire to win support from labor union, even where those unions work in industries that are major polluters -- the NDP in Ontario confuses voters by promoting a green agenda while simultaneously pledging support for the automotive unions that back it -- cars aren't green. When political parties try to blend the materialist/postmaterialist alignment with traditional social-class voting, they end up confused and less successful. There needs to be a higher level of understanding among traditional parties of how the materialist/postmaterialist alignment affects the values of their previous core audience, and respond to that.
Further lending support to the idea that materialism/postmaterialism is an important way to characterize value change, Boltken and Jagodzinski (1985) note that postmaterialist attitudes are not just the result of socioeconomic stability. This is important because Inglehart had originally proposed in 1971 that it was postwar affluence and peace that began to orient society towards postmaterialistic values, almost as if the postmaterialistic view was a luxury. Broader consideration of this outside of industrialized countries highlights that the luxury view is perhaps ethnocentric, and there are many societies (i.e. Tibet, Native American) that have postmaterialistic values but without the wealth. Boltken and Jagodzinski showed that this situation applies in industrialized nations as well -- postmaterialistic views are not the purview of the rich, but rather a broad-based evolution in the values of these societies, shared by all. This again highlights the critique of Inglehart's supposition that traditional political parties struggle to understand the postmaterialistic value change. They fail to understand it if they conceptualize it along left-right lines, because that it not how postmaterialism manifests in societies.
Clarke and Dutt (1991) examine the linkages between political policy, economic conditions and the value change to postmaterialism. Their study is in response to Euro-Barometer surveys that highlight a strong growth rate in postmaterialistic views in Europe in the 1980s. This growth would have been predicted by Inglehart on the basis of the prevailing demographic shift in European societies -- with the passage of time a greater percentage of the people in these societies are from post-war generations and therefore would be expected to hold postmaterialistic views. Clarke and Dutt note that the European measure is sensitive to short-term changes in unemployment, where postmaterialism is stronger during times with lower unemployment. They also draw the link between unemployment and political policy, which in times of high unemployment is more likely to reflect a need to orient fiscal and monetary policy towards restoring economic equilibrium. The implications of this are significant -- postmaterialism does have some links if not to long-run economic conditions then at least to short-run economic conditions. This affects the perception of the value change, in that it might not be as robust…
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