Evolution, Empowerment and Emancipation: How Societies Ascend the Utility Ladder of Freedoms

45 Pages Posted: 1 Jan 2014

See all articles by Christian Welzel

Christian Welzel

Leuphana University of Lueneburg; LCSR

Ronald F. Inglehart

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Institute for Social Research (ISR)

Date Written: December 30, 2013

Abstract

This article presents a new theory of development that unifies disparate insights into a single framework, focusing on human empowerment — a process that emancipates people from domination. Human empowerment sets in when mass-scale technological progress widens ordinary people’s ‘action resources.’ As this happens, life turns from a source of threats into a source of opportunities, and societies climb the utility ladder of freedoms: universal freedoms become instrumental to taking advantage of what a more promising life offers. Accordingly, people adopt ‘emancipative values’ that emphasize universal freedoms. As the utility and value of freedoms rise, ‘civic entitlements’ that guarantee these become undeniable at some point. Human empowerment thus proceeds as the sequential growth in the utility, value and guarantee of freedoms (sequence thesis). Because universal freedoms are a reciprocal good that flourishes through mutual recognition, the utility ladder of freedoms is a social ladder: people climb it in alliance with like-minded others who share similar utilities (solidarity thesis). Historically speaking, human empowerment on a mass scale started only recently because civilization matured late where natural conditions bestow an initial utility on freedoms that has been absent elsewhere (initiation thesis). However, globalization is breaking human empowerment free from its confinement to the initially favourable conditions (contagion thesis). Together, these theses form an evolutionary theory of emancipation. After unfolding this theory, the article presents evidence in support of its major propositions.

Keywords: action resources, civic entitlements, civilization process, cool-water condition, democratization, economic development, emancipation theory, emancipative values, human empowerment, social evolution, technological progress, utility ladder of freedoms

JEL Classification: E11

Suggested Citation

Welzel, Christian and Inglehart, Ronald F., Evolution, Empowerment and Emancipation: How Societies Ascend the Utility Ladder of Freedoms (December 30, 2013). Higher School of Economics Research Paper No. WP BRP 29/SOC/2013. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2373157 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2373157

Christian Welzel (Contact Author)

Leuphana University of Lueneburg ( email )

Scharnhorststraße 1
Lüneburg, 21335
Germany

LCSR ( email )

Myasnitskaya street, 20
Moscow, Moscow 119017
Russia

Ronald F. Inglehart

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Institute for Social Research (ISR) ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248
United States

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