Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Although the first known democracy was established 2,500 years ago in Athens, dictatorial forms of governance have been dominant throughout history. Wars and revolutions have largely been unsuccessful in making changes beyond replacing one dictator for another. Despite progress in globalization and technology, authoritarian leaders have been able to mobilize even in democratic countries. Why do we observe such continuity in the leader-follower relationship, as well as in rich-poor divisions, ethnic inequalities, and the influence of religion? In this outstanding book, Moghadam aims to provide analytical responses to this question using examples from historical events along with theories and empirical findings from different schools of psychology, but with more focus on cognitive and social psychology. He introduces the term ‘political plasticity’, which is about how fast, how much, and in what direction political behavior can – and cannot – change in different domains, and then explains how ‘hardwiring inside individuals’ (psychological mechanisms) and ‘hardwiring outside individuals’ (the built environment, formal institutions, and cultural carriers) limit political plasticity. The author argues that we can succeed in changing collective (political) behaviors and actualizing democracy only when we can recognize domains with low and high political plasticity and make better plans by taking inside and outside hardwiring into consideration. However, only one example is mentioned as a domain with high plasticity, the example of women in education, which raises the question of what other domains can be added to the model. Overall, the book provides a highly insightful and readable source on psychological mechanisms behind some of the most challenging and complex issues of our time. The next step will be research that can formalize hypotheses based on the ideas in this book.