Posted by: Chris | February 10, 2011

An Interesting Hypothesis in Comparative Politics

Strangely presented by the states in question themselves.  The five Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland) have presented a joint paper arguing that their system of government is both not especially socialistic, at least in a more communitarian sense, and is quite differentiable from the other welfare-state schemes from the continent.  Instead, they claim that the Nordic system uses the state to empower, rather than limit, individual autonomy by taking over the host of traditional responsibilities and customs that have supposedly fettered its citizens.  The Nordic countries claim that their system has produced a wholly atomized society, which:

liberate the individual citizen from all forms of subordination and dependency within the family and in civil society: the poor from charity, the workers from their employers, wives from their husbands, children from parents – and vice versa when the parents become elderly…legislation has made the Nordic countries into the least family-dependent and most individualized societies on the face of the earth.

I am still uncertain about the accuracy of this hypothesis, not to mention the desirability of this scenerio, but I found it all quite thought-provoking nonetheless.  I am sure one of my co-bloggers, who was briefly quite involved in the Danish state-individual relationship for unrealized vocational ends, could shed some more light with specific examples.

Also, the paper, in the course of explicating its stance, cites another article that proposed an awfully familiar-sounding system for political classification:

Finally, “The Nordic Way” cites a paper that compares Sweden to Germany and the United States, when considering the triangle formed by reverence for the Family, the State and the Individual. Americans favour a Family-Individual axis, this suggests, suspecting the state as a threat to liberty. Germans revere an axis connecting the family and the state, with a smaller role for individual autonomy. In the Nordic countries, they argue, the state and the individual form the dominant alliance.



  1. Just like letting them hunt narwhals in the Faroes. Or something the OECD may have written about somewhere. Is that the insight you were looking for?

    I have no idea whether what they say about their countries is accurate, but I like what the Nords are doing at a theoretical level. “Mixed-economies” are simply different in kind from socialism. They are, the Nords put their finger on it, more individualistic than socialist states. They also share most of the characteristic tendencies of liberalism in addition to individualism (qua individual dignity and well-being as the criterion of political success): a Quixotic resistance to morality (in favor of “neutral” principles) in the political sphere, anxiety about untrammeled state power (hence the Nords’ obsession with transparency, and – something I do remember! – how comparatively uncorrupt they are), and a commitment to consensus.

    In short, whereas socialism is undergirded by all kinds of discreditable (in the current ideological environment; obviously they weren’t always discreditable) justifications – ranging from bankrupt metaphors of the corporate (or organic) state, to over-exuberant scientism, to an antagonistic attitude towards those in different economic, social or political situations – the Nordic model (if, indeed, it is the Nordic model) is a thoroughly respectable interpretation of liberalism.

    That said their project is not exclusively aimed at conceptual housekeeping. They are trying to co-opt (or, depending on your point of view, regain) the rhetoric of freedom from the jealous guardians of a negative conception thereof.

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