Near the village of Salen, on the border, the statue of a Swedish soldier stands sentinel against Nazi occupied Norway. Behind him are the ruined fortifications where the resolute Swedish Army faced down the Wehrmacht, preserving the country’s neutrality.
It’s a cherished history—this heroic resistance—but it is a fiction. In reality, Sweden was a compliant partner of Hitler, at least until Germany started to lose, supplying iron ore for the Nazi war machine, allowing free transit through Swedish territory, and limiting Jewish immigration. So there was never a serious prospect of German invasion.
Sweden had been unprepared for World War Two. Like President Obama in our time, Swedish PM Per Albin Hansson was more concerned with engineering the socialist state—the folkhemmet, or people’s home—than with international affairs. He was shocked that working class people like Hitler and Mussolini had started the war, as this contradicted his progressive vision of the world.
As a nation physically untouched by the conflict, its industries intact, Sweden profited during World War Two and in its aftermath when the continent was awash in Marshall Plan dollars and reconstruction was urgent in the face of Soviet imperialism. Sweden became an industrial powerhouse and the profits went to extending the socialist state.
Did the Swedes feel guilty, then, that they hadn’t even offered token resistance while their neighbors battled the Nazis? Perhaps; at first. But the Swedes have an ingrained presumption of being more balanced and rational than other peoples. They call this level-headedness lagom. It was this that saw them through the war unscathed, they thought. They also believed that their nation still held an eminent position on the world stage; after all, they had ruled over Finland, the Baltics, Poland and parts of both Germany and Russia in the past.
So, although America had delivered them from Nazi hegemony, the Swedes were no more beholden than the French. After the war, Sweden tried to draw Norway and Denmark into a neutral bloc to rebuff, what it saw as, NATO’s warmongering. The Social Democrats believed, naively, that Stalin would respect their neutrality. Predictably, their Scandinavian neighbors, having suffered through the Nazi tyranny, spurned their overtures.
Sweden went it alone, brandishing its neutrality as high-minded principle, while knowing that, if the Soviet tanks rolled, America would have to defend Scandinavia anyway. The election of Dag Hammarskjold as Secretary General of the United Nations confirmed that the world still relied on the lagom of the Swede. Its modern welfare state provided another illustration of the country’s nobility and good sense—a model for the world to emulate.
During the Cold War, Swedish politicians and intellectuals carried on like other Western socialists of the time, pandering after murderous regimes while moralizing about the decadence of the West. They branded any who failed to denounce US policy “reactionary”, and those who criticized the Soviet Union were accused of McCarthyism.
Influential Swedish writer and political activist Artur Lundkvist said of Fidel, “It is a great luck for Cuba to have so youthful, adaptable, honest and humanly inclined leader.” Khrushchev awarded Lundkvist the Lenin Peace Prize in 1958. Social Democrat minister Birgitta Dahl, chair of the Swedish Committee for Vietnam, denounced reports of Khmer Rouge massacres as “lies and speculations” and praised Pol Pot. In 1968 PM Olof Palm marched against US involvement in Vietnam alongside Nguyen Tho Chan, the North Vietnamese Ambassador to the Soviet Union; in 1972 Palm compared the US bombing of Hanoi with Guernica and Treblinka. Swedish leaders lauded “freedom fighters” like Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh; they visited the Soviet Union and pronounced it “progressive” while it murdered tens of millions of its own citizens. The Social Democrats kept the West’s enemies supplied with useful idiots throughout the cold war.
The nanny state had been an ongoing project of the Social Democrats since the 1920s, when their rule over Sweden began. In 1925 Radiotjanst gave the government monopoly over the airwaves and the ability to mold public opinion. In time almost all influential persons belonged to the Party: judges, bishops, industrial magnates and union bosses, newspapermen. With the Social Democrats and their allies controlling the media, the courts, industry and the church, Sweden was effectually a one party state.
Their goal was to have the State assume responsibility for the economic and social security of each individual since trygghet (security) was “too big a problem for the individual to solve with only his own power,” according to PM Tage Erlander. To this end, it was time to throw off the traditional views and methods that had held the country back from its illustrious future and embrace the “modern”. Socialism was modern, welfare was modern, divorce was modern, pornography was modern, immigration was modern, but religion was not. And so it went.
In the 40s and 50s the core of Stockholm was replaced by Soviet-style concrete tenements. It was efficient and egalitarian—modern.
Darwinism was modern. In 1922 Sweden had established the first state run eugenics institution in the world, the Institute for Racial Biology in Uppsala, which became the inspiration for Germany. In 1934, by a unanimous vote of the Swedish parliament, a program of sterilization was launched, intended to rid society of genetically inferior beings. Even after the war ended and the crimes of Hitler had been exposed, Sweden continued its eugenics initiative, sterilizing more than sixty thousand individuals until the program was finally cancelled in 1976. Here the arrogance of the socialist elite is displayed: they felt they had the god-like mandate to engineer human life to suit the rational, ordered society they had conceived.
Feminism was modern too. Female suffrage passed in 1921. Abortion was legalized in 1938 and liberalized in the 1960s. As one would expect in an atheist country, abortion is a common form of contraception for young women and is not considered controversial. The welfare state has largely emancipated women from their children in order that they might take their rightful place in the state’s labor force, unfettered.
In a society mandating rigid equivalence of the genders (there is a Ministry of Gender Equality), there is little room for courtly manners: men do not open doors, give up their seats or pick up the tab; gestures like those would be interpreted as acts of oppression. Hinting at the interchangeability of the genders in Swedish society, in Fishing in Utopia, author Andrew Brown notes that “A 2009 survey by the University of Oxford revealed that [Swedish men] help out more with household chores than men of any other nation.” The disappearance of typically masculine roles and the feminization of behaviors have pacified Swedish men.
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