Stripped of illusions? Exploring system justification processes in capitalist and post-Communist societies


  • This project was supported by the funds of the Polish National Science Center, awarded with the decision number DEC-2011/01/B/HS6/04637. The authors would like to thank Zephyr Guan, Erin P. Hennes, György Hunyady, Francesca Manzi, Hannah Nam, Lindsay Rankin, Michèle Robert, Joanna Sterling, Chadly Stern, David Winter and an anonymous reviewer for extremely helpful comments on previous versions of the article. In addition, we gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Marta Marchlewska, Karolina Oleksiak, Benjamin Ruisch and Marta Witkowska with respect to manuscript preparation.
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Sociologists and political scientists have often observed that citizens of Central and Eastern Europe express high levels of disillusionment with their social, economic and political systems, in comparison with citizens of Western capitalist societies. In this review, we analyze system legitimation and delegitimation in post-Communist societies from a social psychological perspective. We draw on system justification theory, which seeks to understand how, when and why people do (and do not) defend, bolster and justify existing social systems. We review some of the major tenets and findings of the theory and compare research on system-justifying beliefs and ideologies in traditionally Capitalist and post-Communist countries to determine: (1) whether there are robust differences in the degree of system justification in post-Communist and Capitalist societies, and (2) the extent to which hypotheses derived from system justification theory receive support in the post-Communist context. To this end, we summarize research findings from over 20 countries and cite previously unpublished data from a public opinion survey conducted in Poland. Our analysis confirms that there are lower levels of system justification in post-Communist countries. At the same time, we find that system justification possesses similar social and psychological antecedents, manifestations and consequences in the two types of societies. We offer potential explanations for these somewhat complicated patterns of results and conclude by addressing implications for theory and research on system justification and system change (or transition).