In this episode nr. 71, Professor Eric Uslaner, in his latest book, “National Identity and Partisan Polarization” delves into the complex topic of trust and its implications for societies and politics. He highlights some key insights and concerns regarding trust, corruption, nationalism, and their interconnections. Throughout the interview, we explore the moral basis of trust, it lies in the belief that people of different backgrounds can trust each other based on shared interests, regardless of ethnic, religious, or ideological differences. This belief instils the notion of equality and is typically learned from parents at an early stage of life. Trusting individuals are more likely to engage in charitable giving, volunteerism, and compromise in both personal and political spheres. However, the current climate of political polarization runs counter to the concept of generalized trust. The level of trust in a society is strongly influenced by the degree of economic equality.
Corruption tends to thrive in societies with low levels of trust and high levels of inequality. In highly corrupt environments, resources for public goods such as education and healthcare are diminished. Moreover, individuals in such societies often prioritize their own well-being and may support corrupt leaders from their own group. Punishing corrupt individuals alone is insufficient, as new corrupt actors will likely take their place. The guest emphasizes that reducing corruption requires widespread public education.
The rise of nationalism globally signifies a decline or stagnation in trust. Nationalism reflects particularized trust, where individuals trust only those who are similar to them. It often entails perceiving those different from oneself as threats to the desired social order. Countering the rise of nationalism is challenging and requires long-term efforts, including education and generational change. Political trust presents a similar challenge, as opposing sides tend to view each other as enemies.
Our guest expresses concerns about the growing nationalism trend worldwide. Notably, Sweden, a country known for its tolerance, experienced the rise of nationalist parties advocating for stricter immigration policies and emphasizing divisions between natives and foreigners. The United States has also seen immigration become a major political concern. Troublingly, in some cases, immigration opposition gained more support for certain political parties than they lost on other issues such as abortion. The rise of nationalism presents complex challenges without immediate solutions.
Throughout this thought-provoking conversation, we explore the multifaceted nature of trust, its relationship with corruption and nationalism, and the difficulties associated with addressing these issues. The guest’s insights shed light on the dynamics shaping trust in societies today.