Centrists Are the Most Hostile to Democracy, Not Extremists @NYTOpinion

Interesting and somewhat counter-intuitive set of data (have just highlighted the first data set – Centrists most sceptical of democracy, other sets are: Least Likely to
Support Free and Fair Elections, Least Likely to Support Liberal Institutions, Most Supportive of Authoritarianism (Except for the Far Right), Percentage of Americans who support strongman leaders):

The warning signs are flashing red: Democracy is under threat. Across Europe and North America, candidates are more authoritarian, party systems are more volatile, and citizens are more hostile to the norms and institutions of liberal democracy.

These trends have prompted a major debate between those who view political discontent as economic, cultural or generational in origin. But all of these explanations share one basic assumption: The threat is coming from the political extremes.

On the right, ethno-nationalists and libertarians are accused of supporting fascist politics; on the left, campus radicals and the so-called antifa movement are accused of betraying liberal principles. Across the board, the assumption is that radical views go hand in hand with support for authoritarianism, while moderation suggests a more committed approach to the democratic process.

Is it true?

Maybe not. My research suggests that across Europe and North America, centrists are the least supportive of democracy, the least committed to its institutions and the most supportive of authoritarianism.

I examined the data from the most recent World Values Survey (2010 to 2014) and European Values Survey (2008), two of the most comprehensive studies of public opinion carried out in over 100 countries. The survey asks respondents to place themselves on a spectrum from far left to center to far right. I then plotted the proportion of each group’s support for key democratic institutions. (A copy of my working paper, with a more detailed analysis of the survey data, can be found here.)

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What Does It Mean?

Across Europe and North America, support for democracy is in decline. To explain this trend, conventional wisdom points to the political extremes. Both the far left and the far right are, according to this view, willing to ride roughshod over democratic institutions to achieve radical change. Moderates, by contrast, are assumed to defend liberal democracy, its principles and institutions.

The numbers indicate that this isn’t the case. As Western democracies descend into dysfunction, no group is immune to the allure of authoritarianism — least of all centrists, who seem to prefer strong and efficient government over messy democratic politics.

Strongmen in the developing world have historically found support in the center: From Brazil and Argentina to Singapore and Indonesia, middle-class moderates have encouraged authoritarian transitions to bring stability and deliver growth. Could the same thing happen in mature democracies like Britain, France and the United States?

via Opinion | Centrists Are the Most Hostile to Democracy, Not Extremists – The New York Times

Douglas Todd: Some immigrants’s values contrast with ‘Canadian’ values

The fallacy in Todd’s article and related analysis is his assumption that values are static, not dynamic. Values can and do change  over time and over generations.

The Canadian benchmark in the World Values Survey includes the 20 percent of the population which is foreign-born as well as the 17 percent who are second generation immigrants. In other words, the Canadian baseline is not “old-stock” white Canadians but a mix of “old” and “new” stock.

So what he presents as a duality is actually a more complex mix that emerges through the Hegelian integration dynamic between immigrants (first and second generation) and the increasingly diverse “host” society.

Todd’s analysis also assumes that first generation immigrants have completely identical values than the population of their country of origin, which may or may not be true given that Canada tends to select more highly educated immigrants.

That is not to say that there are no value differences among groups on any range of issues, but just caution against overly simplistic depictions and assumptions:

In his unscientific yet credible book, McGoogan considers how the nine million Canadians who claim Scottish or Irish heritage have strengthened certain values in Canada — such as “independence” (exemplified by rebel Michael Collins), pluralism (exemplified by gay writer Oscar Wilde and mixed-race B.C. governor Sir James Douglas) and “democracy” (exemplified by egalitarian poet Robbie Burns and prime minister Sir John A. McDonald).

“Did the ancestors of more than one-quarter of our population arrive (in Canada) without cultural baggage? No history, no values, no visions?” McGoogan asks. “Surely the idea is ridiculous.”

Indeed, it’s absurd many Canadians assume people arrive from Ireland, Egypt or China without both individual and ethno-cultural traits.

So it’s especially worthwhile to learn about values widely held in Canada’s biggest immigrant-source countries.

The top sources of immigrants to Canada include China, India, South Korea, Iran and the Arabic-speaking countries of the Middle East, all of which have had their values measured by the WVS.

How do the values emphasized in these countries play out in Canada’s major cities, where the potential for inter-cultural exchange is high in schools, businesses and neighbourhoods?

We’ll start with Montreal, where one of five residents is foreign born, many from Arabic-speaking countries.

A particularly valuable question the WVS asks parents is: “What qualities would you most like to see in your children?”

As The Vancouver Sun and Province’s online interactive chart shows, it turns out more than 65 per cent of parents from Arabic-speaking countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, strongly stress “obedience.”

However, only 30 per cent of Canadian parents name “obedience” as an important quality, suggesting the contrast could make for intriguing interactions in Montreal schools.

What do we discover when we turn to Metro Vancouver and Toronto, where foreign-born people make up almost half the population and two of the largest immigrant-source countries are China and India?

It turns out only 16 per cent of parents in China strongly emphasize obedience. But the stress on obedience rises to 56 per cent among mothers and fathers in India.

What about “hard work?” It can determine success in the competitive fields of education and business, not to mention in whether a potential friend goes skiing?

The WVS found 90 per cent of parents in China say hard work is a crucial value. That emphasis declines slightly among the parents of India. Meanwhile, the proportion of all Canadian parents who want their children to work hard is only 54 per cent.

However, Canadian parents are not too different from the parents of China and India in regards to “unselfishness.” While 47 per cent of Canadian parents emphasize unselfishness, so do 35 per cent of Chinese and Indian parents. That’s unlike South Korean parents, only 12 per cent of whom stress the virtue of self-sacrifice.

The lesson of the WVS is that values are all over the map, literally.

And it’s especially true when it comes to religion.

More than nine of 10 parents in the Muslim-majority countries of Egypt and Iraq, for instance, strongly emphasize “religious faith.”

But fewer than one in 10 parents in Germany and China — and just three in 10 in Canada ­— care if their children believe in God.

The World Values Survey, like all polls, is imperfect, missing subtleties and regional variations. But it’s a reminder the sooner we take ethnocultural differences seriously, the sooner we become knowledgeable about why people are the way they are.

The implications can be significant. We may start to recognize, for instance, why people with roots in China tend to vote for certain Canadian political parties, while those linked to India are inclined to vote for others.

And — unless we’re utter moral relativists — the sooner we understand ethnocultural differences, the sooner we might take seriously the values we ourselves are ready to stand for, reject or tolerate.

Source: Douglas Todd: Some immigrants’s values contrast with ‘Canadian’ values | Vancouver Sun