‘Authoritarian leaders will have their hands full with generation Z,’ says researcher Martijn Lampert

This is what culture researcher Martijn Lampert, research director and co-founder of the Amsterdam agency Glocalities says. He compares the youth in Asia and Africa with the Western youth of the 1960s who rebelled against strict patriarchal morality. It is sometimes said that liberal values ​​are on the wane in a world where authoritarian leaders are gaining strength. “That is not the case, this study shows. The power of the urge for freedom and emancipation is underestimated.”

Many young people in rich countries also feel abandoned by society, according to the study. They feel alienated from a system that revolves around economic competition and has led to a climate crisis and an increase in mental health problems.

Glocalities conducted research between 2014 and 2022 based on 300,000 interviews in twenty countries. This paints a picture of a slow but steady cultural shift in emerging countries, carried by Generation Z (the young people who are now between the ages of 18 and 24). Belief in patriarchy is declining, says Lampert.

In 2014, for example, 67 percent of young Russians still thought that the father should be the boss in the house, in 2022 this will be 50 percent. In China, support for the patriarchy fell from 45 to 41 percent, in Brazil from 37 to 32 percent. Moreover, young people in emerging countries now more often believe that men should be allowed to show their feminine side. They also say less often that a family is the most important goal in life.

Aging Europe

Half of the world’s population is under 30, something that is often forgotten in an aging Europe. 90 percent of these young people live in emerging countries. They will have a major impact on the world in the coming decades. They will revolt against authoritarian leaders or want to flee their country in search of a better life. “In Africa, the young generation really wants to go to Europe, because they cannot flourish in their own country,” says Lampert.

Despite the desire for freedom, authoritarian leaders around the world seem only to gain strength, from Putin and Xi Jinping to the juntas in Myanmar and Mali. What will a young generation in search of freedom achieve? The Arab Spring was also carried by young people, but brutally crushed by authoritarian leaders such as the Egyptian General Sisi.

“On the surface you see that leaders like Putin and Xi are increasingly manifesting themselves,” says Lampert. “But under the surface you see a young generation that wants freedom. A huge wave is coming, the most educated generation in history, more confident in education and science than its predecessors and digitally connected to the rest of the world. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the “strong men” to suppress this undercurrent. Stepping up repression is not a sign of strength, but of weakness. The gap between the generations is widening.”

More pessimism

Glocalities’ research also shows that pessimism among young people has increased worldwide. In 2014, 40 percent said they sometimes have no confidence in the future, in 2022 this was 47 percent.

The global struggle between democracy and authoritarianism is often presented as a clash between the desire for freedom and the need for control. In rich countries, insecure voters would turn to authoritarian politicians like Trump, Le Pen and Orbán. According to Lampert, another contradiction plays a role, that between alienation and flourishing. “People who thrive feel they can fulfill their purpose in life. People who feel alienated feel that their world is falling apart and their lives remain unfulfilled, no matter how hard they try.”

This alienation is not only among the supporters of far-right politicians, as has often been observed, but also among young people who long for freedom. In emerging countries, their desire is often stifled by an authoritarian society. In democratic countries, alienation has a different cause. Young people struggle with psychological problems, are concerned about the climate and do not feel heard by politics and society.

Other human image

Young people are hedonistic, says Lampert, but they also long for a different view of humanity. “The homo economicus paradigm is bankrupt. What has the rational focus on economic growth led to? We have a high burnout rate, a mental health crisis and a climate crisis. I see that in the data. Young people are looking for a different paradigm. They want meaning, meaning, creativity, the art of living too. That is why you see that more young people want to work part-time. A new image of man is emerging, the homo florens – the flourishing human being – but that has not yet crystallized.”

Lampert believes that more attention should be paid to the psychological dimension of political discontent. The contrast polarization between democracy and authoritarianism is too simple. Alienation occurs not only among Trump supporters, but also among those of left-wing Democratic politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Moreover, there are dropouts on both sides of the political spectrum who have become so alienated from the system that they no longer vote. Lampert: “In a healthy society, liberals and conservatives can go very well together. But if there is too much alienation on both sides, it becomes dangerous because the polarization and the pressure on the system becomes too great.”

Ruut Veenhoven, emeritus professor of sociology at Erasmus University Rotterdam and not involved in the research, sees that the results fit well into a “wider process of social modernization”. The growing dissatisfaction with society and the greater interest in politics are issues “that also played a role in our society in the 1960s and 70s. young radicals.

Veenhoven does comment, however, that Lampert conducted his research via the internet, which means that people who do not have access to it are not discussed. “I estimate that the cultural vanguard has been given more attention in the data from developing countries.”

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