I have written earlier here and here about the book I am writing on about the Swedish self- image that partly will be a reply to the influential concept of ”state individualism” in the 2006 book ”Är svensken människa?” by historians Henrik Berggren and Lars Trägårdh.
Historian Lars Trägårdh has become a source for the new moderate government polices to ensure continuity with the welfare state of earlier leftist years. The Guardian let him explain his views when Cameron was here and as well as the moderate daily Svenska Dagbladet and the very useful web discussion forum Newsmill let him speak for an influential audience recently.
Below is an expanded draft plan of the book that will amount to a critique of Berggren’s and Trädgårdh’s optimism of their coined concept of ”state individualism”, see the links above for presentations.
Draft of writings on Sweden – an outline:
Sweden the last century is a microcosm of the affluent West, modernity and individualism. The last decades have been tougher but still the Swedes make it well in most global market indexes, except for primary education.
This study will tell both the success story of the welfare state and its downfall. The two theses I will pursue are that the Swedish welfare state has given rise to an unfettered individualism supported by the welfare state. This statist individualism is cherished by all political parties and has deep national roots. Secondly, radical policies to correct and nurture the Swedes’ behaviour and minds in good directions are sprung from belief in expertise, science and government. The isolation of Sweden outside continental Europe has been crucial for nurturing exceptionalism during the Swedish Empire 16-18th centuries and in its unique leap from a poor rural economy with peasant democracy to a modern welfare state in very short time in the last century.
This study will try to link the welfare state with the unique domineering politically correct policies in 21st century Sweden, where the most embarrassing is not doing and thinking what is correct, from sorting out the garbage to memorizing with ethnic groups could get offended by speaking one’s mind. The Swedes must collectively be made to make the right choices by political campaign, ideologist state apparatuses and benevolent media when buying alcohol, deciding on child care, caring for oneself when unemployed, sick or old and finding a place to live in. The centre-right parties in 1990s and since 2006 have reformed some welfare state mechanisms with great excitement together with the centre-left parties with less excitement. But all parties want to use the enormous state apparatus and its experts to control choices, processes and outcomes.
I will argue that this belief in the good state and its well meaning civil servants was accelerated by leftist policies since 1968. With a vocal intellectual bureaucracy under PM Olof Palme elected 1969 the Swedish welfare state changed from a modest reformist state handing out pensions to an aggressive Moloch that interfered with not only your wallet, taking two thirds to itself, but also your values and self-respect. What distinguish Sweden during 1960s – 1980s from other nations were the ability, need and desire to employ loyal teachers, doctors, lecturers, bureaucrats and PR agencies in municipalities, ministries, government monopoly media etc.
The results are still with us whenever we enter public spaces or deal with the government. We are the children, the government is the adults. The legendary social democratic PM Per Albin Hansson created used national romantic term “Folkhem” (People’s Home”) in 1928 to describe his social utopia. In this national home, everybody should be treated equal. No bullies, no favourites, no downtrodden children. The nostalgia and force of the term Folkhem is still in repressive use after its heydays 1930-1970.
Earlier research and commentary
Earlier research and journalistic commentary has been done successfully by foreigners like R Huntford, M Zaremba, M Rojas, M Alapoeus, A Brown, N Sanandaji, M Karaveli but also by self-critical Swedish scholars and authors like V Moberg, S Rydenfelt, S Burenstam Linder, T Segerstedt, H Zetterberg, J Norberg, B Sundberg Weitman, A Edwardsson, M Henrykson, S Fölster, P Engellau, B Rothstein, A Lindbeck, PT Ohlsson, J. W.F. Sundberg, C Arvidsson, L Trägårdh, Å Daun and KO Arnstberg along with proceedings from Axess seminars on Swedish history and modernity. My contribution will be to condense these findings and draw conclusions that will bring contemporary perspectives. Little has been published in English with a comprehensive narrative of the particularly Swedish road to modernity and individualism. My approach will be to tell the history of Sweden trying to explain how the distinct features of Swedish nationality made the late 20th century welfare state to implode yet without any sound and fury.
The findings so far seem to be that the Swedes wilfully accept living in a state with little respect for rule of law, with little knowledge of individual rights against authorities, paying over 60 % of wages in taxes, fees, VAT and payrolls and succumbing to a nationally correct culture and media. Swedes are simply not interested in much else than consumption, security and efficient government. Humanity, integrity, religiosity, moral values and individual responsibility and courage are not popular issues and make them nervous. I may accept that being somewhat bland, anxious and with few human traits common to other cultures and peoples is the pale Swedish prerogative but then we should not be proud of being sheepish. Swedish politicians and representatives usually take a very high moral ground with little base. Our history of forced sterilizations in 20th century is enough to prove out incapacity to both being the epitome of modern welfare state and an example of scientific rationalisation, eugenics, social conformism and mental hygiene going mad.
The current situation
What has accelerated the inner contradictions of the Swedish welfare state is the inability to speak openly about any of these matters in media and research. Slowly the intellectual debate will change but new areas since 1980s have replaced the older socialist paradigm, e.g. government versions of feminism, multiculturalism, child care, security paranoia etc. With state controlled media, education and weak parliamentary system with little civil society backing, the executive branch of government runs the country like a corporation. No matter if the CEO is socialist or not, the state machinery runs effectively in praise of the meek citizens.
Table of contents
Prel title: Swede land
Part 1 History: hubris, humility and hubris again
History 1000 – 1930
Hubris 1930 – 1970
Humility 1970 – 2000
Hubris again 2000 – 2012
Part 2 Anxiety, conformism and policies
Part 3 Alternatives, ideologies and national mentality
70 pages incl references
Total 330 pages
Part 2 will cover the current debates in these policy areas after year 2000; with some exceptions (the mad 1970s in foreign policy and primary education will not be forgotten). Part 3 will conclude with references to current political philosophy and ideological debate in Sweden. Liberalism and conservatism has been revived since 1980s by liberal minded publishing houses (MTG, Axess) and think tanks (Timbro, Ratio, SNS) and will be considered along with useful studies by young writers like Hadley-Kamptz, Bard & Söderkvist, Norberg, Olsson et al. Little discussion on the particular issues, more on the national character of political culture and thought in Sweden. Debates in UK and USA on communitarianism, civic humanism and contemporary liberalism may be included.