IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Evolution, empowerment and emancipation: How societies ascend the utility ladder of freedoms


  • Christian Welzel

    () (Center for the Study of Democracy, Leuphana University, Scharnhorststr.)

  • Ronald Inglehart

    () (Higher School of Economics)


This article presents a new theory of development that unifies disparate insights into a single framework, focusing on human empowerment—a process that emancipates people from domination. Human empowerment sets in when mass-scale technological progress widens ordinary people’s ‘action resources.’ As this happens, life turns from a source of threats into a source of opportunities, and societies climb the utility ladder of freedoms: universal freedoms become instrumental to taking advantage of what a more promising life offers. Accordingly, people adopt ‘emancipative values’ that emphasize universal freedoms. As the utility and value of freedoms rise, ‘civic entitlements’ that guarantee these become undeniable at some point. Human empowerment thus proceeds as the sequential growth in the utility, value and guarantee of freedoms (sequence thesis). Because universal freedoms are a reciprocal good that flourishes through mutual recognition, the utility ladder of freedoms is a social ladder: people climb it in alliance with like-minded others who share similar utilities (solidarity thesis). Historically speaking, human empowerment on a mass scale started only recently because civilization matured late where natural conditions bestow an initial utility on freedoms that has been absent elsewhere (initiation thesis). However, globalization is breaking human empowerment free from its confinement to the initially favourable conditions (contagion thesis). Together, these theses form an evolutionary theory of emancipation. After unfolding this theory, the article presents evidence in support of its major propositions.

Suggested Citation

  • Christian Welzel & Ronald Inglehart, 2013. "Evolution, empowerment and emancipation: How societies ascend the utility ladder of freedoms," HSE Working papers WP BRP 29/SOC/2013, National Research University Higher School of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:hig:wpaper:29/soc/2013

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bockstette, Valerie & Chanda, Areendam & Putterman, Louis, 2002. "States and Markets: The Advantage of an Early Start," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 7(4), pages 347-369, December.
    2. Jess Benhabib & Alejandro Corvalen & Mark M. Spiegel, 2011. "Reestablishing the income-democracy nexus," Working Paper Series 2011-09, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
    3. John Luke Gallup & Jeffrey D. Sachs, 2000. "Agriculture, Climate, and Technology: Why are the Tropics Falling Behind?," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 82(3), pages 731-737.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. repec:wsi:jdexxx:v:22:y:2017:i:02:n:s1084946717500108 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    action resources - civic entitlements - civilization process - cool-water condition - democratization - economic development - emancipation theory - emancipative values - human empowerment - social evolution - technological progress - utility ladder of freedoms;

    JEL classification:

    • E11 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General Aggregative Models - - - Marxian; Sraffian; Kaleckian

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:hig:wpaper:29/soc/2013. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Shamil Abdulaev) or (Victoria Elkina). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.