Monday, April 28, 2014

Swedish PM doesn't like the nation

Fredrik Reinfeldt is the supposedly "conservative" PM of Sweden. But just like David Cameron in the UK, it's not obvious that he is very conservative at all.

Last week he stridently rejected the idea of nationalism and national identity, setting this against the idea of individual rights and individual differences:
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on Wednesday urged young voters to head to the European parliamentary polls on May 25th "to cure the European disease of nationalism".

"European cooperation has created a foundation where individual rights are paramount, and has created the possibility to move freely," Reinfeldt told students at LuleƄ Technical University, adding that his party encouraged diversity.

The prime minister said that while the union was not perfect, it was better than the alternative.

"Let go of the age-old and revolting thought that what sticks out is dangerous," he cautioned. "Safeguard the idea that we are individuals, who are different and can live together with tolerance and mutual respect."

That's a false way of posing things. Reinfeldt is setting the idea of the individual against the idea of belonging to a nation, as if the two things were at odds.

In fact, a strong sense of belonging to a national community will generally enrich the life of the individual and add to his sense of identity, his commitment to the society he lives in, his connection to a particular culture and the meaning of his work and his efforts to raise a family.

Nor does a national community erase individual differences. If you were to take, for instance, 100 ethnic Japanese you would find a diversity in character, personality and sensibility that would more than satisfy the human urge toward difference.

It's true that jingoism - the stirring up of national feeling to support an aggressive foreign policy - is a negative thing, but it should be remembered that nationalism can also be drawn on to resist aggressors. Was it not, for instance, a love of country that helped to motivate young Australian men to defend their nation in WWII?

It seems to me that the individual loses power when he is reduced to the status of an individual consumer or careerist in a modern, internationalist, liberal state. He is no longer part of a larger community existing through time. He is no longer a participant in a unique culture, nor does he share in the achievements of a national community. He no longer has the inspiration in his life of heroes whom he is related to in a particular way; nor does he feel a sense of ownership over the particular landscape of his national homeland.

If he feels himself to be just one atomised individual in a mass society, then how can he not feel smaller than the man who feels himself to be a part of a great tradition?


  1. Funny Swedes want to build "individualism" through state-imposed extreme conformity:

  2. The concept of 'nationalism' seems to be seen as a really bad thing in the Germanic and Nordic countries, to a much greater extent than in the English-speaking world.

  3. A thought provoking post, Mark. But quite honestly, for most of the neo-liberals who call themselves conservatives (including most of Australia's coalition pollies) Mr Reinfeldt's position is vanilla conformity.
    Pesky national identities and cultural differences get in the way of international business. Like tariffs, unions and regulation, they must be done away with. One world market uber alles.


  4. As an Australian you cannot understand the historical place nationalism holds in European society. It's easy for you, in Australia, which is comfortably isolated from the rest of the world and which has no comparable history of ideological conflict to complain about the decline of nationalism. The meaning of nationalism is simply an entirely different matter for a European as compared to an Australian which cannot be compared on an abstract philosophical level, as your highly flawed and quaint comparison with Australian national patriotism in WW2 demonstrates.

    1. Anon,

      Mostly no. It's true that here in Melbourne we were once a long way from the rest of the world, with long horizons, and that this gave a particular flavour to our sense of national existence.

      But Australia was very much involved in the European conflicts of the twentieth century; they had a deep impact on our country. WWI in particular has seared itself into the Australian consciousness even amongst the youngest generation.

      Anon, when I speak of nationalism I am not referring to an ideology but to a love of country; and to an aspect of identity and belonging. As such it can be used positively in times of conflict (defence of homeland/fight against evil) or negatively (to encourage people to fight for false purposes). But it is not in itself an ideology.

      The three ideologies which have plagued Europe (and the West) over the past century have been Marxism; Nazism and Liberalism. Two were defeated; one remained to do damage.

      If Mr Reinfeldt were concerned about the ideological conflicts in Europe he would act against that one remaining ideology, liberalism. Instead he seeks to deepen its damaging effects on his own homeland.