"Revolutionary potential" is the scepticism of a part of society towards the possibility of solving social problems through reform and discussion and the growing appetite for radical solutions. It helps to measure the frustration in a society where there is a clash of ideas about how it should be governed, and at the same time there is a loss of faith that the other side is genuinely interested in discussing one's problems and concerns.
World Values Survey Q42: On this card are three basic kinds of attitudes concerning the society we live in. Please choose the one which best describes your own opinion.
|1990 (WVS)||1998 (WVS)||2022 (WVS)*||August 2022*|
|The entire way our society is organised must be radically changed by revolutionary action||37,1||2,8***||23,4||25,7**|
|Our society must be gradually improved by reforms||45,5||62,7||52,4||52,9|
|Our present society must be valiantly defended against all subversive forces||17,0||27,5||21,0||13,7|
The architect of the concept of the World Values Survey, and thus of the question that measures "revolutionary potential", is the American political scientist Ronald F. Inglehart.
He understood revolution to be a massive change in the way society functions, and at the same time, one that would not occur in a short time through the normal processes within a given system. This means both bloody street revolutions, where one group of disaffected people take it up with another, and also "quiet" revolutions, where major transformations of the world take place for technological reasons or because of changes in values. Examples are the Industrial Revolution (18th century) or the "Silent Revolution" of the second half of the 20th century described by Inglehart, brought about by a shift in values.
People who take survival and a degree of material abundance and comfort for granted are much more tolerant of new ideas and otherness, as they perceive the world and their life in it as significantly less risky. The lower tolerance in the past was not just a matter of being uneducated or somehow morally backward, but of a world where the stranger actually poses a greater risk and the weakening of cohesion by new ideas can actually threaten the survival of the community (Inglehart 2018, p. 124-138, p.174).
In this context, there is a counter-pressure to strong liberalising tendencies that are much more open to new ideas and encourage different forms of individual identity and self-determination (opening up the concept of marriage to other groups, reducing restrictions on migration from culturally distant countries, etc.). The backlash is growing both because of the clash of generations, with younger generations growing up in a world where they see their survival and a certain degree of comfort as guaranteed, and at the same time a certain segment of the population is increasingly convinced that the world is in turn becoming more risky and less comprehensible. This group tends to do the opposite - it demands less openness and innovation, which it sees as dangerous experiments with social stability, and tolerance for new ideas and identities is declining. On the contrary, there is a preference for a stronger adherence to what is perceived as reliable and what has got us through risks and crises in the past.
Simply put, from an evolutionary perspective, it is important for a society to have both groups - both open innovators and more cautious stabilisers who can communicate and cooperate with each other within a healthy degree of social cohesion. The social situation is of course more complicated, but this simplification serves to illustrate the important social dynamics of innovation and stabilisation.
The problem arises when social tensions rise to the point where public discourse, or discourse among elites (in the sociological sense) representing different segments of the population, begins to break down. This traditionally does not favour a reformist approach and there is a growing appetite for radical solutions. The situation will worsen if the different segments and their representatives (usually political parties in the European environment) are not made up of both groups - stabilisers and innovators - but begin to purify each other. This creates 'pure parties', which has two dangerous effects: monolithic groupthink and the loss of the ability to understand the perspective of the other side, which is natural in mixed groups because it contains at least someone from the 'other side'.
This gives the impression that our opponent does not simply have a different opinion, but is automatically suspected of having bad intentions, not knowing what he is doing, or having psychological problems (the so-called "bad, mad or sad" trio), which allows us to disqualify him and label his reasons as a priori illegitimate. In such a case, the discussion automatically ends, tribal differences are reinforced and efforts within groups to understand the reasons of the other side are suppressed, because "there is nothing to understand and XY is not to be discussed" - fill in the term Jew, fascist, snowflake or traitor at will. This does not mean that there are not groups or individuals in society with whom it is simply impossible to make a compromise, but in the Slovak environment these are low units of % of people with congentital personality disorder or absolute fanatics (often people with so-called "identity fusion").
This cycle can eventually spiral into a spiral that adds pressure and frustration to society until that pressure has to be released somewhere.
This pressure is indicated precisely by the question of 'revolutionary potential', which manifests itself as scepticism about the possibility of solving society's problems through reform and debate, and a growing appetite for radical solutions.
This sentiment is also behind the growth of fears about the future or the rise of populist parties that promise to address this uncertainty.
The likelihood that social pressure will translate into real violence depends on several indicators:
the existence of organised armed groups with the capacity (not necessarily the interest) to provoke violence;
the existence of domestic elites or foreign actors to support revolutionary change;
the level of education of the population - the more educated the population, the less likely it is that social pressure will be released through violence;
the extent to which the population is willing to actively participate (or at least in a supportive role) in revolutionary activities. The so-called "3.5% rule" simplistically summarises the findings of scholars studying revolutions that if approximately 3.5% of the population engages in pressure for change - whether violent or nonviolent - the likelihood of the revolution's success rises significantly. At the same time, the rest of the population is at least tolerant of revolutionary goals and will not oppose them. Otherwise, in the violent case we are talking about a revolution or civil war, and in the non-violent case about a failed state, where the state has no control over some of its institutions, part of the population (e.g. through civil disobedience) or part of its territory.
Research on revolutions further suggests (although the data are less robust) that demographic and economic pressures also increase the likelihood of revolution. Disillusionment with the growing number of unemployed youth is growing into an anti-government stance that increases revolutionary potential. When rapidly rising inflation comes into play, the risk rises significantly. But this is not a Slovak and, overall, not a European problem - given the ageing of the population and the declining reproductive level of society, this dynamic should not arise even in times of high inflation.
* January and February 2022 collection was part of the 7th wave of the World Value Survey (representative survey, 1,200 respondents); August collection was part of the omnibus collected by FOCUS (representative survey, 1,000 respondents). The DEKK Institute's intention was to examine shifts in some indicators following the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation troops, which had a significant impact on the social atmosphere. August was chosen as the invasion was fresh in the memory, but emotions were not as turbulent and the situation as opaque as in the first weeks.
** DEKK Institute, meanwhile, uses measurements from the World Value Survey. The difference from the summer of 2022 is 7%, not insignificant. We will repeat the measurement again in the summer of 2023, which will help answer the question of whether the increase in question is more of an emotional surge reflecting the events of the spring and summer of 2022 (a combination of crises ranging from the invasion of Ukraine to energy shortage concerns in the winter of 2022/2023 to the rise in the cost of living), or a new longer-term sentiment.
*** The survey was conducted between 23 November and 15 December 1998, two months after the formation of the pro-reform coalition that emerged from the 25-26 September 1998 parliamentary elections.
Chenoweth, E., Questions, Answers, and Some Cautionary Updates Regarding the 3.5% Rule, 2020, Carr Center Discussion Paper, https://carrcenter.hks.harvard.edu/files/cchr/files/CCDP_005.pdf
Inglehart, R.F., Cultural Evolution: People’s Motivations are Changing, and Reshaping the World, Cambridge University Press, 2018.
Inglehart, R.F., The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles Among Western Publics, Princeton Legacy Library, 1977.
Munro, D.G., Zeisberger, C., Demographics: The Ratio of Revolution, March 2011, INSEAD Working Paper, https://sites.insead.edu/facultyresearch/research/doc.cfm?did=47411
Ustyuzhanin, V., Korotayev, A., Education and Revolutions: Why do Revolutionary Uprisings Take Violent or Nonviolent Forms?, Journal of Cross-Cultural Research (CCR), 2023, https://doi.org/10.1177/10693971231162231
World Value Survey, Wave 2, 1990
World Value Survey, Wave 3, 1998
World Value Survey, Wave 7, 2022