A Home for the People

The members of the English-speaking world suffer from many defects. In particular, they seem to be painfully unaware of what goes on in Continental Europe and Scandinavia (not to mention the rest of the world). Worst of all are the Americans, whose ignorance of matters international seems to know no bounds. The frequency with which they confuse Sweden and Switzerland leads one to question if they’ve ever seen a world map before.

I can stand being mistaken for a Swiss; Switzerland, after all, is a very beautiful country, and the Swiss are a very pleasant people. But what I won't tolerate is the use of the Scandinavian countries—particularly my motherland, Sweden—as a political tool to further the agenda of the American far-left. With the rising popularity of the self-identified democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, this "trend," if you will, has really taken off.

Now, I really wouldn't mind any of this if what Sanders and his supporters actually wanted was to follow the Nordic model. But this doesn't appear to be the case. Out of ignorance or dishonesty, they talk of the Swedish model as if it had something fundamental in common with their own ideology, democratic socialism. But this is not the case.

The ruling ideology of Sweden for the past 100 years or so has been a social democracy. I can understand how someone "out of the loop," as it were, could make the assumption that this is somehow related to, or a form of, democratic socialism—after all, the words are awfully similar. But the ideologies have fundamentally different aims and are motivated by different visions of society.

Central to the social democratic vision is the concept of Folkhemmet, a term coined by the conservative political scientist and member of parliament Rudolf Kjellén in the early 20th century. Kjellén, who was inspired by Otto von Bismarck's social reform programs, conceived of the Folkhem as a corporatist model based on class cooperation and national unity—not dissimilar to the idea of Volksgemeinschaft, which became popular in Germany during the first World War and was later absorbed into the Nazi ideology. (This is not a coincidence: Kjellén's work was very influential in Germany.)

The term was incorporated into the social democratic platform by the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Per Albin Hansson, in 1928. Hansson described Folkhemmet as a home to and for the entire people, characterized by consensus and equality. But while the rhetoric had changed, the defining elements of the Folkhem idea remained largely intact: it was still aimed at bridging class interests and cultivating national unity. The Swedish historian Sten O Karlsson points out in his book, "Det intelligenta samhället," that Hansson changed when he assumed the office of Prime Minister in 1932 and adopted a more organic view of society. Prime Minister Hansson believed that one of the great tasks of Democracy was to "kill the class spirit," and let the "spirit of citizenship" take its place. In fact, some of the more radical members of the Social Democratic Party—such as Arthur Engberg—disliked Hansson's anti-Marxism and accused him of holding right-wing sympathies.

While not all leaders that came after Hansson shared his lack of enthusiasm for the Socialist ideology, his legacy had already shaped (and would continue to shape) the culture and politics of Sweden in irreversible ways.

Social democracy may be accused of many things, but trying to usher in socialism is not one of them. Whereas democratic socialism merely opposes the idea of armed revolution, social democracy rejects the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat wholesale. It does not encourage, as the Internationale does, an "awakening" of the proletariat, calling for them to unite across borders against their capitalist oppressors. Instead, it calls for us to transcend class identity and unite, as a nation. Rather than disruption, it seeks settlement. It wants, in other words, to build a home for the entire people.

Pictured above: folkhemmet, in all its splendor.