11 may 2024

The 2023 Ronald F. Inglehart Best Book Award on Political Culture and Values - Lecture by the winner Prof. Pippa Norris

The Ronald F. Inglehart Best Book Award on Political Culture and Values is awarded for a book which makes a substantial and original contribution to theory and/or empirical studies in comparative cross-cultural research. The winner of the 2023 award, Prof. Pippa Norris for her book "In Praise of Skepticism: Trust by Verify" will give a lecture on "The Cultural Roots of Democratic Backsliding" on June 17.

The winner of the 2023 Ronald F. Inglehart Best Book Award on Political Culture and Values Prof. Pippa Norris (Harvard University, USA) will give a lecture on "The Cultural Roots of Democratic Backsliding". Lecture will follow the award ceremony and take place on June 17 at 12.00 EST/ 16.00 UTC. Register to attend!

The Cultural Roots of Democratic Backsliding

Despite intense concern about the risks to liberal democracy, no consensus has yet emerged about the severity of democratic backsliding around the globe. Accounts commonly blame strongman leaders and their acolytes. Others emphasize deteriorating economic conditions and social inequality. Alternative explanations fault either extreme party polarization or media misinformation. But there is no agreement about the most important general drivers of these developments which fits diverse cases.

To take a fresh look at these issues, this book builds on and updates congruence theory. This classic thesis was popularized in the mid-twentieth century through the work of seminal scholars like Lipset, Almond and Verba, and Eckstein.  The theory suggests that formal regime institutions, especially in democratic states, are more likely to endure where they reflect the norms and values of its citizens. Democratic and authoritarian regimes are predicted to persist where formal state institutions fit the predominant cultural values, norms and beliefs in mass society. Alignment is thought to strengthen feelings of legitimacy about governance authorities among citizens, ensuring compliance by citizens, and to encourages a broad consensus about the appropriate political norms of behavior among elites. By contrast, regimes are expected to prove less stable in non-congruent cases, and thus vulnerable to backsliding, where cultural values and norms are inconsistent with the formal institutional rules, so that the authorities lack popular legitimacy. 

In cases of progressive democratization, authoritarian regimes are expected to be more vulnerable to challenge from below, and even breakdown, where ordinary citizens mobilize to demand democracy, freedom, and human rights, in cases such as mass protests organized in Iran, Hong Kong, and Mexico. But outright repression can counter threats and deter reforms.

Cases of democratic backsliding involve reverse types of non-congruent cases, including states with formal democratic constitutions where the informal norms of governance have gradually eroded among elites and citizens, facilitating strongman leaders and elites to engage in executive aggrandizement.  

But this is essentially a static theory; what is the dynamic sequence which triggers incongruence?  

This book presents a revised version of congruency theory by suggesting that a two-step process is at work. 

In the first, building upon my previous work, the study argues that deep-rooted and profound value changes associated with societal modernization have transformed cultures on issues from religiosity to sexuality, marriage and the family, more fluid gender roles, ethnic diversity, cosmopolitan borders and open societies. These shifts have provoked a strong backlash among those holding traditional moral beliefs towards faith, family, and nation. The cumulative effects of cultural shifts and demographic turnover have gradually undermined the majority status of traditional social conservatives within the population and, to a lesser extent, the electorate. 

In the second step, the book theorizes that authoritarian populist forces manipulate resentment towards these developments to mobilize votes and gain power. Where leaders of these forces succeed in winning successive terms in office, in both democratic and authoritarian states, strongman leaders exploit opportunities to dismantle checks and balances on executive aggrandizement.  

This book’s central thesis is potentially more powerful and comprehensive than many rival explanations, by proposing a general account predicting changes in both democratic and authoritarian states worldwide. Disputes continue, however, about the role of culture and institutions in processes of regime change. Do notions of popular legitimacy apply in authoritarian states? What is the direction of causality linking culture and institutions? And what societal conditions strengthen any relationship? The new book, forthcoming with Oxford University Press, wrestles with these thorny and complex questions.

Pippa Norris, Harvard University, USA

Pippa Norris is the Paul McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, an Affiliated Professor at Harvard’s Government Department, and founding Director of the Electoral Integrity Project. Her research compares public opinion and elections, democratic institutions and cultures, gender politics, and political communications in many countries worldwide. PI and co-PI for recent research projects includes for TrustGov, TRUEDEM, the ECPR-IPSA World Survey of Political Science, the Global Party Survey, and the World Values Survey. Major honors include, amongst others, from APSA (the Warren E. Miller Award, the Murray Edelman Lifetime Distinguished Career Award, the Samuel Eldersveld award, the Charles Merriam award), as well as fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the PSA’s Isaiah Berlin Lifetime Achievement Award, the IPSA Karl Deutsch award, the Johan Skytte prize in political science, and the ARC’s Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship, as well as several book awards.


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