Is Russia’s National Character Authoritarian?


The revival of authoritarianism in Russia cannot be explained in terms of differences in deep attitudes toward free markets or democracy, notes Nobel laureate Robert J. Shiller.

It’s wrong to write Russia off as fundamentally different from the West, he contends, drawing on the results of a recent survey which drew on a study conducted in 1990 by the political scientists James Gibson, Raymond Duch, and Kent Tedin (GDT), which assessed basic values.

Surprisingly, most of the results concerning democratic values do not support the idea that Russians prefer strong authoritarian government, Shiller writes for Project Syndicate:

For example, GDT asked in 1990 if respondents agreed with the statement “The press should be protected by the law from persecution by the government.” Only 2% disagreed in 1990; in 2015, Russians were substantially more likely to disagree (20% did), suggesting a decline in democratic values. But the real surprise is our 2015 results in New York for the same question: 27% disagreed. New Yorkers appear less supportive of a free press than Muscovites today!

The biggest difference of all between Moscow and New York came from the GDT statement “It is better to live in a society with strict order than to allow people so much freedom that they can bring destruction to the society.” In 1990, 67% of the Muscovites agreed, and 76% agreed in 2015, while in New York in 2015 only 36% agreed. Maybe this is important, but it is an outlier – the most extreme difference between Moscow and New York in our entire survey.

“Overall, while there are differences, the results do not lend strong support to the idea that recent events have a simple explanation in terms of differences in deep attitudes toward free markets or authoritarianism,” he concludes, adding his hope “that national character will not prevent Russia from becoming a truly democratic society someday.”


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