Did dairying climates pave the way for the evolution of modern democracy?

New research published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology argues that climate played a key role in the cultural evolution of democracy. The study provides evidence that cold and wet climates that allow for cattle husbandry are linked to modern-day freedoms.

“Our team felt that the present-day distribution of fundamental freedoms all over the world is ascribed too much to individual country leaders, to economic prosperity, and to good governance. We therefore wanted to shed some more light on the historical path that led to these and other proximate origins,” said study author Evert Van de Vliert, a professor emeritus of organizational and applied social psychology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

“In a three-day meeting from 17 to 19 May 2016 at Leuphana University we adopted the points of departure that (a) degrees of encultured freedoms are historical solutions to problems, (b) universal problems are climatic survival in a particular place and genetic survival over time, and (c) likely ultimate origins of fundamental freedoms must therefore be sought in the interaction of climates (of primary importance) and genes (of secondary importance).”

An analysis of 108 Old World countries found that cold/wet climates suitable for dairy farming were associated with lactose tolerance in the year 1500, which was in turn associated with higher child survival rates, greater per capita income, and fewer children per family in the year 1800. This enhanced production power was in turn associated with political freedom and civil liberties in the year 2000.

The researchers believe that lactose tolerance led to longer life expectancy and postponed parenthood, which shifted life strategies toward long-term goals and provided people with more time to undertake activities of their choice.

“Who we are and what we think and do has deeper historical roots and routes than we are ready to admit. However, this does not mean that we are unfree. On the contrary, our ancestors have continuously, intelligently, and ingeniously adapted their habits to their habitats, a process that is still going on today,” Van de Vliert told PsyPost.

“A reason for caution is that we had to rely on data restricted to the last five centuries. Among other things, the study suggests that ecological stresses motivate peoples to freely give up freedom, raising the further question where global warming is going to have this impact,” he added.

The study, “Got Milk? How Freedoms Evolved From Dairying Climates“, was authored by Evert Van de Vliert, Christian Welzel, Andrey Shcherbak, Ronald Fischer, and Amy C. Alexander.