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CHAPTER 1 Changing Values and Skills Among Western Publics: An Overview I. INTRODUCTION 1 HE values of Western publics have been shifting from an overwhelming emphasis on material well-being and physical security toward greater emphasis on the quality of life. The causes and implications of this shift are complex, but the basic principle might be stated very simply: people tend to be more concerned with immediate needs or threats than with things that seem remote or non-threatening. Thus, a desire for beauty may be more or less universal, but hungry people are more likely to seek food than aesthetic satisfaction. Today, an unprecedentedly large portion of Western populations have been raised under conditions of exceptional economic security. Economic and physical security continue to be valued positively, but their relative priority is lower than in the past. We hypothesize that a significant shift is also taking place in the distribution of political skills. An increasingly large proportion of the public is coming to have sufficient interest and understanding of national and international politics to participate in decisionmaking at this level. Mass publics have played a role in national politics for a long time, of course, through the ballot and in other ways. Current changes enable them to play an increasingly active role in formulating policy, and to engage in what might be called "elite-challenging" as opposed to "elite-directed" activities. Elitedirected political participation is largely a matter of elites mobilizing mass support through established organizations such as political parties, labor unions, religious institutions, and so on. The newer "elite-challenging" style of politics gives the public an increasingly important role in making specific decisions, not just a choice between two or more sets of decision-makers. One of the most important elements contributing to this change is the fact that 4 — Introduction potential counter-elites are distributed more widely among the public than ever before. The two processes of change reinforce each other. One aspect of the change in values, we believe, is a decline in the legitimacy of hierarchical authority, patriotism, religion, and so on, which leads to declining confidence in institutions. At the same time, the political expression of new values is facilitated by a shift in the balance of political skills between elites and mass. Certain basic values and skills seem to be changing in a gradual but deeply rooted fashion. Undoubtedly there will be counter-trends that will slow the process of change and even reverse it for given periods of time. But the principal evolutionary drift is the result of structural changes taking place in advanced industrial societies and is unlikely to be changed unless there are major alterations in the very nature of those societies. This book will focus on these two changes, moving both backward and forward from them: backward along the causal chain to seek the sources of these changes; and forward in an attempt to analyze their likely consequences. How we will do this is suggested by Figure 1-1, which provides an overview of the book. The remaining sections of this chapter will briefly discuss each of the variables shown in the diagram and in doing so, lay out the argument more explicitly. Our analysis moves from the system level to the individual level and back again. It starts with events in given societies, turns to their impact on what people think, and finally examines the consequences these intrapersonal events may have on a society. The values and skills of individuals are at the center of the diagram, and they will be the central concern—for relatively little is known about them. Yet we must never lose sight of the setting in which an individual lives. If we devote less attention to the economic, social, and political structures of given countries , it is not because we consider them unimportant: their role is crucial. But a number of excellent studies of these aspects of given societies are already available. The present work is intended to supplement them, providing insight into a relatively unexplored set of influences on Western politics. The central focus is on things that exist within individuals, and these things can best be measured with survey data. But we trace their causes to changes in a society as a whole; and we are interested in their eventual impact on the political system. The linkages between the individual and the system are complex. We cannot take it for granted that if increasing System-Level Changes: Individual-Level Changes...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781400869589
MARC Record
OCLC
933516258
Pages
496
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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