Why has it proved so hard to export democracy and the rule of law to non-Western societies? How did socialism become so popular among young Westerners enjoying the benefits of capitalism? Why are the foes of free trade winning elections, and the foes of free speech dominating academia and the mainstream press?
Friedrich Hayek warned that sustaining political and economic freedom in a large society would always be a struggle because it required citizens to override the “egalitarian-tribal sentiments” that evolved in an ancient world of small clans. Joseph Henrich’s The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous, the 2022 Hayek Prize winner, is a multi-disciplinary tour de force that confirms Hayek’s insight and chronicles the slow cultural evolution that produced people termed WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic.
By analyzing historical trends and economic data, Henrich shows how the power of traditional institutions based on kinship was weakened in Europe by medieval institutions. The old virtues of clan loyalty and deference to authority gave way to new ethical norms and attitudes about individual rights, private property, and equal treatment for kin and non-kin—a psychological shift demonstrated in recent behavioral-science experiments worldwide.
Dr. Joseph Henrich is Harvard Professor and Chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology. His research deploys evolutionary theory to understand how human psychology gives rise to cultural evolution and how this has shaped our species’ genetic evolution. Using insights generated from this approach, Professor Henrich has explored a variety of topics, including economic decision-making, social norms, fairness, religion, marriage, prestige, cooperation and innovation. He’s conducted long-term anthropological fieldwork in Peru, Chile and in the South Pacific, as well as having spearheaded several large comparative projects. His other works include The Secret of Our Success.