Culture and Geopolitics. Are we diverging?

by | Oct 30, 2023 | 0 comments

Culture and Geopolitics. Are we diverging?

Huib Wursten (



Two recent newspaper articles were sounding alarm about global developments:

  • The Economist of August 3rd, 2023, had an intriguing heading: Western values are steadily diverging from the rest of the world’s. The subtitle read: People’s principles were expected to align as countries got richer. What happened?
  • In the New York Times, Leonhardt (Leonhardt, 2023) summarized all the signs that the world may have fallen into a new period of disarray:

“Russia has started the largest war in Europe since World War II; China has become more bellicose toward Taiwan., India has embraced a virulent nationalism. Israel has formed the most extreme government in its history. Hamas launched thousands of missiles in Israel and publicly kidnapped and killed civilians.”

A multipolar world

Both articles point out that the world is transitioning to a new order. An order that is described with the word multipolar. The United States is no longer the only dominant power. Political leaders in many countries feel free to assert their interests. Leonhardt quotes Zheng Yongnian, a Chinese political scientist with ties to the country’s leaders: “Countries are brimming with ambition, like tigers eyeing their prey, keen to find every opportunity among the ruins of the old order.”

Next to the obvious competition between the US and China, looking at the increasing influence of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa) who call themselves nonaligned is relevant. Recently, they decided to accept six other countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Power vacuum

Michael Kimmage and Hanna Notte in Foreign Affairs formulate the current problem. The great powers are distracted. Russia is distracted by Ukraine, Europe is politically-militarily fragmented, the US is paralyzed by domestic political polarization, and China prefers to manifest itself economically rather than militarily”. The great powers do not act like great powers. As a result, there is “A proliferation of power vacuums.”  In Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East, and the South Caucasus, old conflicts that have long been dormant are coming back to life. Medium powers and local actors are manifesting themselves more and more fanatically. Major powers watch helplessly.”

The problem with a new world order is that there is no order because there are no referees.

Keywords: Culture, Mental Images, Worldviews, Human Rights, Western thinking, Multi-Alignment

Recognition as an all-human need

The motivation to be heard, seen, and accepted as a full partner is an all-human need. In this context, the perception of being bullied by one powerful stakeholder is a legitimate drive to assert oneself.

Culture plays no role on this level in the sense that murdering innocent citizens is not part of a universal morality. Dutch ethologist Frans de Waal showed in his research that all higher primates share two pillars of morality: empathy (the ability to place yourself in somebody else’s shoes) and reciprocity (do not do to others what you do not want others to do with you)

Terrorism, murdering innocent citizens, is no moral or cultural dilemma. What happened in Vietnam (Mỹ Lai), in the USA (September 11), in France (Bataclan), and in Israel (Hamas) only deserve full condemnation.

This paper focuses on the influence of value diversity, abbreviated by the word “Culture” with a capital C.

This paper will promote the idea that only focusing on the negative consequences of a multipolar world is dangerous.

Dangerous because an urgent message for people concerned about humanity’s future is “We are in it together.”  A perfect storm of serious problems must be solved to safeguard our children’s future. The combination of global warming, CO2, and migration creates a “burning platform”. It is urgent, “we cannot wait!”

It is also dangerous because a narrative emphasizing polarization in geopolitical developments undermines the will to develop joint efforts. Even the United Nations now talks about how conflict and violence ‘are currently on the rise’. The U.N. points out the rising involvement of non-state actors like political militias and international terrorism.

It has, however, possible to create a more positive narrative, provided that:

  1. the real existing global need of all stakeholders to be heard and have influence is taken seriously.
  2. differences in interests and values get a new framing that creates room for accepting diversity.
  3. there is a willingness to the sanitization of language. It is time to rethink the use of language to fuel conflict and demonize groups. Normalizing animosity.

A more positive narrative can describe global development as a gradual, incremental process and consider a broader interpretation of “identity and diversity” into account.

A previous analysis (Wursten, 2023a) argued that identity tends to be used narrowly in the diversity discussion, relating it to gender, ethnicity, skin color, and sexual preference. Increasingly, this approach is criticized:

“Identity is too broad a container to predict one’s politics or the validity of a particular position”, Maurice Mitchell writes in “Building Resilient Organizations”.

Other elements should play a role: “class/economic” position, ideology, belief, schools of thought, personality, and culture.

All these elements influence how the world is perceived. The notion is rising that it is more than just a matter of how informed people are. It is even sheer arrogance to think that “others” are just missing some information.

In two different papers published in 2023, “To Build Bridges, You Need to Know Where the Shorelines Are” and “Mental Images and the DEI “(Wursten 2023 a and b), it was shown that in the diversity discussion, people tend to talk too loosely about differences and about building bridges without a real understanding of what the real differences are about. The pragmatic reality is that bridges can only be built “if the shorelines are identified”.

A core element in defining the shorelines is to see that Culture has a gravitational influence on people’s behavior!


The Hofstede dimensions of culture (Hofstede2001, Hofstede et al. 2010) represent a well-validated operationalization of differences between the cultures of present-day nations as manifested in dominant value systems.

The definition of culture: it is about the collective “programming” of the mind that distinguishes one group or category of people from another.

This definition stresses that culture is (1) a collective, not an individual attribute; (2) not directly visible but manifested in behaviors; and (3) common to some, but not all, people. We are talking about the preferences of most people most of the time.

The dimensions are not a random collection of factors that emerge from a particular situation. Instead, items reflect the basic dimensions of culture from value systems.

In repeated research, validated over more than 50 years, Hofstede identified fundamental issues every society must cope with. What we call cultural difference is determined by how the dominant majority in a country addresses those issues.

The first four dimensions in Hofstede’s model (power distance, individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity, and uncertainty avoidance) reflect those issues.

Each country has a ‘score’ on each dimension. These scores, in turn, provide a ‘picture of a country’s culture. Hofstede’s approach is clear, simple, and statistically valid.

For a short overview of the dimensions, see Wursten H.

Because of his repeated research with matched samples, most countries’ scores are now charted.

The awareness is, however, rising that the scores on the four dimensions influence each other. Together, they lead to a “Gestalt “; the whole is more than the sum of the parts. In other words, the whole has ” properties” that cannot be reduced to properties of the parts; in the case of culture, the Gestalt takes the shape of a mental picture of what the world looks like, a worldview. Seven of these worldviews can be identified. For an overview of these worldviews, see: Wursten H.

Downward causation

The single dimensions get their real significance from the worldview. In systems theory, Donald T. Campbell (1974) formulated the principle of downward causation: processes at the lower level of a hierarchy are restrained by and act in conformity to the laws of the higher level.

Applying this to the Hofstede dimensions: The way the single dimensions work out is determined by the worldview of “Gestalt”.

Example: Individualism

Four of the seven Mental Images share Individualism. What should be clear is that individualism works out in different ways in the four “worldviews”.

  1. Contest versus Network: Equality versus Equity

In Contest Cultures, the emphasis is on Equality: each individual or group is given the same resources or opportunities. In Network cultures, the emphasis is on Equity: the recognition that each person has different circumstances and there is a need to allocate the resources and opportunities required to reach an equal outcome.

  1. Mental Images and Capitalism

Capitalism in the Contest is based on the energy of constant free competition between individuals and organizations. The key is a “level playing field”. As few rules as possible because rules are stifling the competition. The rules are necessary to guarantee this “level playing field” Checks and balances that nobody can win forever.

In the other three Individualistic Mental images, capitalism takes a market-oriented approach with safeguards for protecting the weak and social security systems to prevent social misery. While having different approaches, the Network countries and the Well-Oiled System countries, for instance, are known as the “Rhineland economic approach”. Together, they tend to aim at stakeholder satisfaction instead of shareholder satisfaction.

  1. Separation of state and religion.

Two approaches can be distinguished:

France (Solar System, large power distance) aims to protect the state from powerful religious institutions like the Catholic Church. The state must be neutral in its rituals and symbols.

As part of the Contest (low PDI),  the USA aims to protect religions from the state’s power.

    4. The guarantee of the right to have rights.

In countries with a large power distance, the acceptance of hierarchy creates potential friction concerning the rights of individual citizens. The

 high score on Individualism is why the concept of separation of powers is seen as crucial. It was Montesquieu who made sure that in the

  In the Solar System, the right to have rights was Secured by making judges independent.

The shorelines

The seven worldviews have a gravitational influence on behavior. So, most of the “shorelines” that need to be clear in building bridges are related to the seven worldviews the nation-states belong to.

Next to culture, the shorelines are defined by Personality types (the big 5). Below in this article, we will show that research discovered that a political preference for progressive liberal ideas or conservative ideas is related to personality types.

To effectively cope with the big challenges of today, these differences in societal and political attitudes should be taken seriously. Instead of polarizing, the only way out is to look for inclusive solutions. To build bridges.

With this in mind, having a more nuanced and positive narrative about global trends is possible. It can be described as a gradual process of initial ideologies (like Human Rights) adapting to the demands caused by the 16 elements of diversity.

What is the shape of change we are seeing?

Are we seeing diverging trends? Or is what we see as a necessary correction of abstract ideals by real-life consequential analysis?


It is useful to apply the conceptual framework of Hegel to describe the direction of global changes.

Frequently, Hegel is confused with another philosopher of his time, Fichte., who described the change in the formula thesis-antithesis-synthesis.

Hegel’s terms, however, were Abstract-Negative-Concrete.

The formula, abstract-negative-concrete, shows that in any initial principle, there are flaws or incompleteness. —it is too abstract and lacks the experience of how it works out. For Hegel, the concrete must always pass through a reality check.

According to Hegel, “truth emerges from error” during historical development. In this paper, the three-step sequence will be labeled as incrementalism.

Applying this to global developments provides a narrative that prevents polarization.   Instead of saying there is a rejection of Western ideas, it is possible that initial ideas ascribed as Western, like Democracy and Human rights, adapt to the demands of the “shorelines. “

With this framework, we will analyze some of the alarming statements mentioned at the beginning of the article.

In the limited space of this paper, the following key issues will be analyzed.

-What exactly are Western countries?

-What exactly are Western values?

-Are we diverging?


Western countries.  What exactly are “Western countries”?

“Western” generally refers to the intellectual, philosophical, cultural, and societal perspectives that have emerged from some European countries and countries that European colonists like North America, Australia, and New Zealand dominated. These values encompass a wide range of ideas, beliefs, values, and approaches to various aspects of life, including politics, economics, science, religion, ethics, and more.
Is there a specific cultural factor behind these perspectives?

The framework of Geert Hofstede is useful for this analysis.
Individual rights, freedoms, and autonomy are central to what defines “Western” thinking. It is about personal agency and the pursuit of individual happiness and self-expression.

An analysis of the Hofstede scores shows that the value dimension explaining these attitudes is Individualism. The table of countries provided by the Hofstede website shows that it applies to less than 20 countries. This is what the countries we call “Western” have in common.

An earlier paper (Wursten.H.2022) explored the history of Individualism. Six defining steps were mentioned.

The first three, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Reformation, are shown to emphasize the individual as a critical autonomous actor. Who, as a result, was encouraged to investigate the world independently and look critically at what worldly and religious authorities were saying.

The fourth step is described as the big turning point that came about during the time of disruptive ideas—roughly between 1850 and 1930. People like Freud showed that the unconscious enormously impacted conscious and rational behavior. Einstein made concepts of reality even more questionable by the relativity theory. As a result, people turned their interest from objective realism to the way individuals are subjectively experiencing reality.

The 5th step in the development of Individualism is the ‘legalization’ of independent thinking and the legitimate right for all to demand equal treatment. as formulated in the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Repressed individuals then realized that their condition was associated with the specific minority group they belonged to. For example, women, people of color, and LGBTQ. Communities, etc. As “identity groups,” they started to claim their right to be seen and recognized. The 6th step is, therefore, the focus on “diversity” and “inclusion” of all repressed minority groups and their right to express themselves.

A condition to guarantee these rights is democracy, the rule of law, and the separation of powers formulated by Montesquieu.

-What exactly are Western values?

The key characteristics of Western thinking include:

  • Humanism: Humanistic values, emphasizing every individual’s inherent worth and dignity, are emphasized in Western thinking. This has influenced ethics, human rights, and social justice movements. In this sense, human rights are a touchstone for `Western thinking.
  • Secularism: Western societies have seen a shift away from religious dominance in governance and public life. Secularism emphasizes the separation of church and state, allowing for diverse religious beliefs and non-belief.
  • Rationalism: Western thinking has often strongly emphasized reason, logic, and empirical evidence as the foundations for understanding the world and making decisions. This has contributed to developing of science, mathematics, and philosophy fields.
  • Scientific Method: The Western scientific method has been instrumental in advancing knowledge and technological progress through systematic observation, experimentation, and hypothesis testing.
  • Democracy: Western political thought has played a significant role in the development and promotion of democratic ideals, including the principles of equality, representation, and participation in governance.
  • Rule of Law, including human rights: Western legal systems often emphasize the “narrow” rule of law. They ensure that laws applyto everybody and that independent judges, as a third power, secure “the rights to have rights,” as Hannah Arendt calls it.
  • Capitalism: Western economies have often embraced market-driven capitalism, emphasizing individual entrepreneurship, competition, and private property as key drivers of economic growth.

Human Rights and Global Development

Coming back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is possible to have an alternative outlook on global developments. What can be observed is that the idea of Universal Human rights is a common starting point as 193 countries signed this document. The original idea should not be seen as finished. The ideas are constantly evolving. Inside and outside `Western cultures.

In this context, there’s some good news. Based on an extensive survey, Timothy Garton Ash (Ash 2023) concludes that Europe and the US win the soft power beauty contest hands down. Asked where you would like to live if not in your own country, clear majorities in Brazil, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey indicated Europe or the United States. Only in South Africa did the proportion of respondents choosing China exceed 10% – and almost nobody wants to live in Russia. But the West’s attractions extend beyond that. With the exception of Russia, people in most of these countries choose “the United States and its partners” over “China and its partners” on both human rights and internet regulation.

Rights should not be treated as absolutes.

Jamal Greene(Green, 2021), a constitutional law professor at Columbia Law School, argues that our conception of rights as absolutes drives us into all-or-nothing conflicts in which one side necessarily wins and the other loses. In a pluralist society where rights often conflict, this conception fails to create room for compromise and is to blame for polarization”.

Rights should not be treated as absolute. Instead, rights may be restricted in the name of competing interests.  Often described as a “proportionality review,” this approach could acknowledge competing values and balance them appropriately. Or, better yet, call on political institutions to strike one. Greene prefers political to judicial resolutions of rights claims and compromises to ringing endorsements or resounding rejections.

Diversity and proportionality

There should be a commitment to calibrate human rights with the demands of the 7 Worldviews and personality types.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a starting point. This provides an ethical framework signed by almost all countries in the world. The idea of Human rights is not static but constantly evolving due to multicultural reality checks. Inside and outside `Western cultures.

Hegelian incrementalism is helpful because it provides a narrative that prevents polarization.

Human Rights and the broad concept of diversity

Some attempts can be observed to balance human rights and the broad sense of diversity.

The central problem is distinguishing between alternative Human Rights systems and an incremental approach.

  1. Gandhi said he learned from his mother that obligations precede rights. Rights without obligations are not worth fighting for. Leaders from China and some Eastern European countries share this attitude. The emphasis is on collective values and duties. The criticism of these cultures is that human rights are too focused on the rights of the Individual. Also, in the United States, an influential author like Mark Lila is promoting the idea that:” post-identity liberalism would also emphasize that democracy is not only about rights; it also confers duties on its citizens, such as the duties to keep informed and vote.” 
  2. Under the umbrella of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC; formerly the Organization of Islamic Conference), Muslim states revisited these concepts in the 1980s to draft their own instrument. The culmination of such efforts was the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which presented a set of rights informed by conservative Islamic values and “Sharia,” or Islamic law. Within the instrument, the OIC laid out many of the rights in the UDHR. However, it neglected gender and non-Muslim rights. The organization co-opted the language of Sharia in the document to empower states and ensure national sovereignty. After its adoption, human rights activists in the West and some in the Muslim world claimed that the Cairo Declaration conflicted with the UDHR. In the early 2010s, the OIC began revising the instrument and introduced the OIC Declaration on Human Rights (ODHR) almost a decade later. The document was scheduled to be approved at the organization’s Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) meeting in April 2020. However, this was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ODHR reflects principles rooted in international human rights law; it still needs to balance issues related to family values, freedom of speech, and political participation.
  3. China is working on an alternative to the UN Universal Rights based on “the right of Development of States.” Centrally guided progress is given priority over the individual rights of citizens. All cultures are different and equal, according to Xi.
  4. A Japanese approach is what they call Cohesive Universalism.
    The source is the former Japanese President Abe. He explained that the Western concept of human rights could be described as “Inclusive Universalism”, expecting diplomats to promote the rights to everybody and everywhere and to extend it also to authoritarian regimes and dictatorial states.
    Cohesive Universalism is the method of emphasizing solidarity within the fold of countries that respect human rights in order to accentuate the difference with countries that lag in this respect. (Nishikawa 2013)

The difference between incremental approaches to Human Rights and alternatives is essential. Professor Barbara Oomen (Oomen2021) warns in an interview for the Dutch paper NRC about possible negative consequences: “We are worried about the development of parallel Human Rights systems. Universal Human Rights are meant as a bridge for all countries to keep talking to each other. If everybody is building their own bridge, the conversation stops quickly.

Human Rights, Incrementalism and Religion

The role of religion

 Many disputes are taking place nowadays regarding religion as a source of conflict.  Some people are convinced that religious groups are creating opposing value systems, leading to intolerance and terrorism. A famous Physicist, Steven Weinberg, said: “With or without religion, good people can behave well, and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil, that takes religion.”

However, if polls can be believed, religion is not playing a big role in people’s lives in many countries.  A 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center showed that despite all kinds of conflicts, only half of Turks, 34% of Israelis, and 19 % of Russians say that religion is very important in their lives.  In Japan, this figure is just 11%.

First: What is the role of religious institutions?

In short, the following roles can be identified:

Moral Guidance: Religious institutions often provide moral guidelines and teachings to their followers. These teachings cover various aspects of life, including interpersonal relationships, honesty, kindness, and social justice. Moral codes are typically derived from religious texts, traditions, and interpretations of religious leaders.

Community Standards: Religious institutions establish and reinforce moral standards within their communities. These standards can include rules about behavior, dress codes, and expectations regarding honesty, fidelity, and charity. Deviation from these standards can lead to social consequences within the religious community.

Moral Accountability: Religious institutions often emphasize the concept of moral accountability, suggesting that individuals are accountable not only to society but also to a higher power or divine being. The belief in divine judgment can influence moral behavior, as individuals may seek to align their actions with the teachings of their faith to attain a favorable afterlife or spiritual fulfillment.

Promotion of Morality in Society: Some religious institutions engage in social and political activism to promote moral values in the wider society. They may advocate for policies and practices that align with their moral teachings, such as supporting initiatives related to poverty alleviation, healthcare, education, and human rights.

Second: the influence of Individualism on religion

In Individualistic cultures, there is a basic problem concerning moral behavior. Under the influence of “rationalism and the scientific method, the dominant groups in these countries defend the idea that there are no valid methodologies to decide whether one value system is better or truer. It is all relative and depends on where you are coming from in your reasoning: revelations in holy books, the teachings of enlightened people, trying to find explanations in human nature, etc. That, however, could lead to absolute relativism and bring society to the brink of anarchy.                                                                                                                       More and more people see the Dutch philosopher Spinoza as the most influential thinker of the Radical Enlightenment.  Like Descartes, Spinoza promoted Monism in which Matter and Spirit are two sides of the same substance, Nature.  Nature encompasses everything.  All transcendence or supernatural was rejected radically by Spinoza.  Therefore, belief systems like Christianity and connected political institutions lost legitimacy because they are based on supernatural revelations and miracles.  The logical result is that the State and Religion should have a different arrangement.  Spinoza promoted a new secular arrangement where the state and church are separated.  In this arrangement, freedom of opinion prevails above religious freedom.  In this new setup, morality is no longer based on the Bible.  Spinoza formulated a distinction between belief and knowledge.  Spinoza states that “true” belief is thus only good insofar as it is the way to true knowledge, awakening us to those things that are truly worth loving.  This comes after he demonstrates the differences between opinion [waan], belief [geloof], and knowledge [weeten].

The solution for the “morality problem” in individualistic cultures is to adopt “Human Rights” as the point of reference. Everyone has equal rights and obligations regardless of race, gender, place of birth, sexual preference, etc. This is reflected in the “narrow” definition of the rule of law in Western countries where, next to a chosen parliament and a democratic system, Human rights are key.

Third: The Influence of Personality on Moral and Religious Points of view

Research into the five main Personality types found that “liberal thinking and Conservative thinking are related to Personality.

Since 1980, research has been published about the defining characteristics of personality.

The Five-Factor Model of personality is a universally valid taxonomy of traits, applicable regardless of society, ethnicity, gender, age, or education. Furthermore, the factors are stable over most of the adult lifespan; self-reports generally agree with observer ratings that the five factors and the more specific traits that define them are strongly heritable (McCrae & Costa, 2003).

  1. Openness to experience: Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity, and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. People who score high on this trait tend to be more liberal or left-leaning in their political views. They are more likely to support progressive policies, such as gay marriage, drug legalization, and environmental protection
  2. Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). Tendency to be organized and dependable, show self–discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior. People who score high on this trait tend to be more conservative or right-leaning in their political views. They are more likely to value tradition, order, and stability and to be skeptical of change
  3. Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). The consequences are less clear. Still, some studies have found that extroverts are more likely to be politically active and identify as liberals.
  4. Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached). People who score high on this trait tend to be more empathetic and compassionate and are more likely to support policies that help others, such as social welfare programs. They are also more likely to be politically liberal.
  5. Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). Neuroticism refers, for example, to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control and is sometimes referred to by its low pole, “emotional stability”. People who score high on this trait tend to be more anxious and insecure and are more likely to support authoritarian policies and be politically conservative.

The relationship between Personality and political attitudes is not always accepted and recognized. Lilla (2021) blames the liberals in the USA fornot recognizing how their obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored.”.

Fourth: “Nation Culture versus Religions: Which Has a Stronger Effect on Societal Values?”

It is important in this context to answer the question if religions and their associated values are homogeneous, thereby creating a coherent value system that excludes other value systems and, as such, creates a separate identity.  Alternatively, those values are created by the nation’s dominant culture where people are born.

Geert Hofstede and his colleague Michael Minkov analyzed this in a paper: “Nations Versus Religions: Which Has a Stronger Effect on Societal Values?”(Hofstede, Minkov 2012)

In their analysis, National culture defines the social forces within a community involving its conventions for behavior. Religion defines how community members interpret their role in the universe, and this teaching is based on the local culture, so different religions rise out of different cultures. Similarly, when members of one religion convert members of a foreign culture, the resulting religion in that area is affected by the host culture.

They uncovered two tendencies:

  1. Regarding values, nations have a “gravitational” effect, not only on the populations of their regions but also on the nominally different religious groups inside a nation.
  2. Global religions do not have such a gravitational effect on their subsidiaries in diverse nations:

This gravitational effect of national values has two aspects: “Homogenizing” and “Discriminant.”


“the values of nominally different religious groups that live within a single nation tend to be fairly similar, resulting in relatively short distances between such groups as well as homogeneous national clusters.”


“the nominally different religious groups that live within a single nation tend to be distinguishable from the religious groups of other nations. Religious groups from a single nation tend to cluster separately from those of other nations rather than intermix with them.”

The study shows that global religions do not have such a gravitational effect on their subsidiaries in diverse nations:

National culture defines the social forces within a community involving its conventions for behavior. Religion defines how community members interpret their role in the universe; this teaching is based on the local culture, so different religions rise out of different cultures. Similarly, when members of one religion convert members of a foreign culture, the resulting religion in that area is affected by the host culture.

 Fifth: Religious positioning as a shibboleth

In 2013, Putin implemented antigay laws that were justified as a defense of conservative values against an assault of “genderless and fruitless so-called tolerance,” which “equals good and evil.” Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary (Orbán, 2018), openly defended his determination to replace the multiculturalism at the heart of democracy with Christian culture and to reject “adaptable family models” for “the Christian family model.”

To achieve such control in a country, they promote a one-party government overseen by a strongman, insisting that his opponents are immoral.

Next to his findings on Individualism versus Collectivism, Hofstede’s research can explain the emphasis on religion and “morality” in Eastern European countries by the consequences of his value dimension, Uncertainty Avoidance.

Hofstede explains that in these cultures, rules for behavior are important to avoid ambiguity. The result is the need for a rigid social code. As a consequence, there is resistance to accepting the rights of individuals in terms of sexual preference or alternative lifestyles.  They call this decadency, and they see themselves as bulwarks of traditional Christian values.

A second, more practical reason for the tendency of politicians to speak on behalf of religion is that a state that claims to represent the laws of heaven gives unlimited power on earth.  A long, repressive regime can best be based on heavenly powers.  It is easy to persecute and suppress people with God on your side.

 Sixth: Is building bridges possible between “liberals and Conservatives?

Given that a cultural worldview strongly influences the content of religious arguments, it certainly is possible to give an example of how bridge-building is possible. Two examples:

  1. Christian parties agreed with the euthanasia law and abortion laws in the Netherlands.

Background: Historically, Dutch society has been characterized by a strong emphasis on personal freedom, autonomy, and individual rights. These values have contributed to the acceptance of laws that allow euthanasia and abortion, as they are seen as matters of personal choice and individual agency over one’s own body and life.

The Christian parties in the Netherlands, like the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), have had to balance their religious beliefs and the prevailing societal values. Consequently, some Christian parties in the Netherlands took more progressive stances on social issues than their counterparts in other countries. This is explained and legitimated by recognizing Dutch society’s diverse beliefs and values and a willingness to reflect that diversity within their political platforms.

  1. Balancing Human Rights and the right “not to express an opinion which one does not hold”,

 The Guardian of Wed 10 Oct 2018 had the following heading:The UK Supreme Court backs bakery that refused to make gay marriage cake. The case was about a Belfast bakery run by evangelical Christians who refused to make a cake emblazoned with the message “support gay marriage”, The five justices on the Supreme Court – found that the bakery did not refuse to fulfill the order of the customer because of his sexual orientation. Therefore, there was no discrimination on those grounds. Freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, includes the right “not to express an opinion which one does not hold” “This court has held that nobody should be forced to have or express a political opinion in which he does not believe,” the judges said. The bakers could not refuse to supply their goods to the customer because he was a gay man or supported gay marriage, but that is quite different from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed.”

If we talk about incremental changes, this ruling can be seen more or less as a comment on the ruling in a similar case in the USA. The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple for religious reasons. (The Guardian 2020) The US ruling pointed at the rights of the Baker under the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of expression. The majority of conservative judges ruled that: “The laws and the constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, “but religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and, in some instances, protected forms of expression.” The two liberal judges dissented. They would have upheld the finding that Phillips violated the Colorado anti-discrimination law that bars businesses from refusing service based on race, sex, marital status, or sexual orientation.

Conclusion: In defense of incrementalism

To cope with the enormous global challenges, the new narrative should be that we are in it together.

To develop sustainable solutions, we need to build bridges between diverse ideas. To build bridges, there should be more awareness of where the shorelines are. Cultural and personality characteristics gravitationally influence what is considered right and wrong. To go ahead, the consequences of these differences should be known and accepted.

It must be recognized that the global scene has changed since the Declaration’s adoption in 1948. States are no longer the only political actors.  They must now deal with supranational, transnational, and local actors who generate, reconstruct, or challenge existing normative assumptions.

Seventy years ago, UNESCO rightly stated: “Such a Declaration (of human rights) depends, however, not only on the authority by which rights are safeguarded and advanced but also on the common understanding which makes the proclamation feasible and the faith practicable.” Over the past seventy years, cultural diversity, the influence of non-state actors and legal plurality have received increasing attention. This evolution must be taken seriously so that the philosophy of the UDHR can be transmitted to local communities and be effective in their contexts and cultures.

Human rights are leading in developing policies for the future. However, absolutism is not effective. The challenge is identifying and enforcing specific categorical rules to govern certain situations, while the proportionality approach applies a more generic, all-things-considered balancing test.


Ash (Ash et al. 2023) concluded from their global survey that China and Russia do not compete with the West regarding their attractiveness as a place to live or the values people want to live by. But, people also tend to prefer their countries to cooperate more closely with a US-led bloc on security but prefer economic cooperation with China. Overall, people outside the West do not want full political alignment with China, Europe, or the US. A multipolar world enables neither multilateralism nor non-alignment, as understood in the Cold War, but rather what the Indian leader Narendra Modi has called multi-alignment. A great power among other great powers, you pursue your own national interests wherever they lead you.


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