Ronald F. Inglehart. An Obituary
On May 8, 2021, at the age of 86 after a long-term struggle with illness, Ronald Inglehart, the co-founder of the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, has passed away.
Fifty years ago, in 1971, Inglehart's article The Silent Revolution in Europe published in the American Political Science Review (followed by a book with an almost identical title) heralded the foundation for his version of the theory of modernization. In 1981, 40 years ago, he founded the World Values Survey, which brings together social value researchers around the world. In 2010, together with professor Eduard Ponarin and thanks to a mega-grant from the Russian government, Ronald Inglehart established the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR) at the HSE University, Russia. The key goal of the LCSR is the evolution of quantitative comparative studies and instrumental analytical methods of large data sets in Russia and the post-Soviet space as well as social policy consulting. Recently, the Laboratory was named after its co-founder, Ronald Franklin Inglehart, in 2018 recognized as the most cited political scientist in the US. Ron was ill for a long time, but his drive to work kept him alive: his latest book, Religion's Sudden Decline, was published by Oxford University Press in late 2020. He left behind a widow and five children.
Inglehart contributed immensely to social science. He was the first scholar to recognize the inadequacy of the traditional model of democracy. His voice opposing the interpretation of mass actions against the elite as anti-democratic was, perhaps, the most powerful in the field of political culture research. In his landmark work The Silent Revolution (Princeton University Press, 1977), Inglehart put forward an empirically based theory of motivations promoting mass anti-elite movements: the theory was focused on the idea of the development of postmaterialist values. He defined the growth of existential security and cognitive mobilization from generation to generation as the social forces fueling the growth of these new values. In his “revised theory of modernization”, Inglehart expanded the concept of “post-materialist values” to the broader concept of “values of self-expression.” While the first phase of modernization — the transition from agrarian to industrial society — tends to strengthen “secular-rational values”, “self-expression values” arise in the second phase of modernization, the transition from industrial to post-industrial society. Through this theory, Inglehart enriched political and social theory with ideas and concepts that greatly expanded our understanding of social, cultural and political change.
In addition to this intellectual influence, Inglehart's other fruitful contributions were to provide an empirical basis for the study of cultural differences and cultural change. At the beginning of his career in comparative cultural studies, systematic data were available for only a handful of countries. Inspired by the desire to overcome and improve this situation, Inglehart participated in the development of Eurobarometer surveys, participated in the European Values Study and founded the World Values Survey — the most comprehensive, widely cited and recognized database for studying political culture and social change. Thus, Inglehart not only invented some of the most influential concepts but also created the infrastructure for an important field of comparative research. The development of these databases has allowed several generations of social scientists to conduct research in areas that no one has previously explored. Ronald Inglehart's intellectual and organizational contributions to comparative research are unmatched.
Ron was not only our colleague. He was also the most empathetic fellow and friend who always acted for the common good. He inspired us intellectually, charged us with his inexhaustible energy and was just a wonderful person. We will miss him greatly.