Culture matters

In 2006 Lawrence Harrison published a very important book, The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change A Culture and Save It From Itself.

Harrison defines culture as ”the body of values, beliefs, and attitudes that members of a society shares; values, beliefs, and attitudes shaped chiefly by environment, religion, and the vagaries of history that are passed on from generation to generation chiefly through child rearing practices, religious practice, the education system, the media, and peer relationships.”


Harrison builds a typology of progress. At the heart of his typology are two questions:

Does the culture encourage the belief that people can influence their destiny?

Does the culture promote the Golden Rule saying: Do not do unto others what you would not have others do unto you.

Harrison writes:

“If people believe they can influence their destinies, they are likely to focus on the future; see the world in positive-sum terms, attach a high priority to education; believe in the work ethic; save; become entrepreneurial; and so forth. If the Golden Rule has any meaning for them, they are likely to live by a reasonably rigorous ethical code; honor the lesser virtues; abide by the laws; identify with the broader society; form social capital; and so forth.”

Progress-prone cultures comprises a set of values that are substantially shared by the most successful societies on earth.

World champions in progress are the Scandinavian countries. In a recent oped in the Danish newspaper Politiken Lawrence Harrison spells out the reasons behind the Scandinavian success.

The Lutheran culture in the Nordic countries promotes democracy, social justice and creativity.


Harrison points to three key factors in the tradition of Lutheran protestantism:


First, there’s a focus on literacy, so that people learn to read the Bible and establish a personal relationship with God.

Second, the Protestant ethic promotes hard work and economic growth.

And third, Lutheran protestanism identifies with the nation and supports social cohesion and a national culture.

According to international value surveys Denmark is world champion in trust. The Danes are more inclined to trust each other. 67 percent of the population say that they trust their fellow citizens. The last one on the list is Brazil, where just 3 percent of the population believe that you can trust other people.

Trust promotes cooperation and lowers the cost of business transactions, and supports the development of a democratic culture.

Also, the Scandinavian countries have small populations, they are rather homogeneous when it comes to language, customs, and traditions. i.e. they have a homogeneous culture, and homogeneity is a valuable asset because it promotes trust and identification with other members of society. And that makes it easier to promote and sustain development and interest in the well being of your fellow citizens, says Harrison.

Harrison is critical of multiculturalism. He writes:

”Multiculturalism is standing on a weak foundation, i.e. cultural relativism – the concept that no culture is better or worse than others, just different. But the evidence against multiculturalism is overwhelming… Not all cultures are equal when it comes to progress, and no one can compete with the Nordic countries in this field.”


And on integration he says:

“Regarding immigrants the Nordic countries ought to promote their integration into the national culture in stead of choosing a mythological, utopian multiculturalism. And they ought to preserve the Nordic virtues that have brougt the region this far in order to prevent the virtues from languishing due to neglect and ignorance.”


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