Europe is slowly committing suicide, but Sweden is plainly determined to do itself in faster than the rest. Earlier this month, on a visit to Lagos, Nigeria, Sweden's Minister of Finance, a fellow named Anders Borg, made one of those staggering comments, drenched with contempt for one's own nation and culture, of the sort in which Swedish officials excel. Paying tribute to the beauty of Nigerian women's colorful attire, Borg couldn't just leave it at that; he felt compelled to use the occasion to complain that his own countrywomen too often wear dull, black outfits. Speaking with a reporter for Expressen, he expressed the hope and expectation that in ten years' time his own country, and Europe generally, will look far more like Africa. It'll be more multicultural, he explained, and thus better.
But is Nigeria more multicultural than Sweden? Yes, if you're referring to the fact that it has over 250 native ethnic and linguistic groups with a wide range of cultures, from Fula to Hausa to Yoruba. But if you're talking about multiculturalism as an ideology that compels public servants to view the establishment of greater and greater ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity as an undivided virtue, regardless of all objective evidence to the contrary, Nigeria has nothing on Sweden. While only a tiny minority of Nigeria's population is of foreign origin, over 25% of Sweden's inhabitants have a foreign background. And people like Borg are determined to drive that number steadily higher, by hook or by crook -- on the insane grounds that a nation like Sweden should look to a nation like Nigeria as a model for its own future development.
Indeed, it's a measure of the utter irrationality of the modern religion known as multiculturalism that a Western politician like Borg is able to lavish such praise on an overpopulated, underdeveloped African country whose very name is synonymous with cheesy Internet scams; a country that has a life expectancy of 47 years, a 32% illiteracy rate, a political culture rife with corruption, and a deplorable human-rights record; a country where twelve of the 36 states are governed according to sharia law, where over a hundred people perished in Muslim riots over the 2002 Miss World pageant, and where jihadist violence has taken hundreds of lives in recent years.
What the hell is up with Sweden? It's a question people have been asking for decades, and in a new book, The Swedish Story, Swedish blogger Jon Sjunnesson sets out to answer it. And he does an effective job of it: even for those of us who have paid no small amount of attention to Sweden over the years, Sjunnesson's book offers a helpful overview of the Swedish national character and the history of the Swedish welfare state, perceptively singling out the distinctive traits that have made Sweden the "extreme experiment" that it is and succinctly summing up some of the more notorious episodes in modern Swedish history. But this isn't all: he also illuminates socialism and the socialist mind in a way that I think will be useful for Americans -- for what he's drawn here is a vivid map of the territory into which our president and many of his cronies and supporters wish to lead us.
Take education. Of course, real education means, above all, helping students learn how to think critically. In a country like Sweden, however, schools and universities are primarily sites of indoctrination whose purpose is to create good socialists. If the Swedish system celebrates kids who are great at sports while all but punishing kids who stand out academically ("Excellence of bodies yes, brains no"), part of the reason is a fanatical devotion to equality of result, and part is an awareness that kids with first-rate minds are potential critics of the system. Hence socialism's preference for mediocrity over excellence.
And, one might add, for social science over hard science. Yes, Sweden awards Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics, and medicine, but its educational system discourages an interest in math and science -- because, you see, experts in these fields end up serving industry, which exploits workers and produces environmentally hazardous waste. For decades, consequently, Sweden has suffered a deficit of scientists, engineers, doctors, and technicians. Students who choose to enter these fields, furthermore, tend to be so ill-prepared that they "need remedial classes." There's also a lack of plumbers, construction workers, and other laborers -- for just as Sweden's social engineers distrust science, they look down on vocations involving manual labor.
In Sweden, the brainwashing starts early -- not in school, but in day care. No fewer than 85% of Swedish children under age three are in municipal (or municipally administered) day care. This figure is probably the highest percentage in the world. It is, Sjunnesson notes, the kind of experiment in mass, government-controlled child-rearing that Plato envisioned in his Republic and that "was central in Orwell's and Huxley's dystopias." If you're a Swedish parent who doesn't want your kid brought up to be a good little socialist soldier -- well, good luck: you have few if any real alternatives. Parents who don't put their kids in day care "are often suspect in the eyes of social authority." As for home schooling, it's forbidden under a 2010 law (the only such legislation in the EU aside from a German ban enacted in 1938 because "the Nazi party did not want anyone else to school the young"). In any event, the cause of home schooling hasn't gained much traction among Swedes, who have been efficiently trained to view any expression of unease over state-run education as "deranged" and to accept the socialist proposition that children belong not to their parents but to the state.
Sjunnesson makes a crucial point about the high tax rates in Sweden and other Nordic countries. The high taxes are necessary, of course, to fund the welfare state. But they serve another purpose. Socialists recognize members of the middle class, who are all too frequently driven by an ambition to better their circumstances, as a potential threat to the authority of socialists, whose machinations make such ambitions harder to fulfill. How to nip this nuisance in the bud? Easy: impose sky-high taxes on them. For, as Sjunnesson points out, people who have been able to accumulate some savings in the bank are better positioned to "stand up against authority" and "rise with self-confidence"; they're not "as servile as if they had nothing." Sweden's tax system, then, is designed to make it extremely hard for Swedes to save money -- and it works: compared to other Western countries, "Swedes have unusually small amounts of savings." And consequently, people who might otherwise be vocal critics of the socialist welfare state are very aware of being dependent on it, knowing that if they get sick or lose their jobs they won't have their own resources to fall back on. Confiscatory tax, then, serves not only as a means of enriching and expanding the socialist state, but as a form, itself, of socialist control.
"Meek as sheep": that's how Sjunnesson describes his fellow Swedes. They're afflicted with a "silent conformism," the result of a "spiral of silence" driven by a "fear of exclusion" and a perceived need to maintain a social order founded on perceived consensus views. Whether the perceived consensus views actually are the consensus views doesn't matter: "When no opposing views are heard, people do not believe there are any even if they themselves dissent." Those who do dare to dissent are branded as extreme -- even though those "extreme" views may be thoroughly mainstream in other Western countries -- and are often targeted for violence by self-styled "anti-fascists" who behave exactly like fascists. Sweden is, note well, a country in which members of the anti-establishment Sweden Democrats Party are demonized for dissenting civilly and peacefully, while certain entertainers are celebrated for singing about their desire to commit acts of violence against Sweden Democrats. Then there's the story of how a frank Fox News report on the Islamization of the city of Malmö led an irate member of Parliament to demand that the Swedish counterpart to the FCC close down Fox News's operation in Sweden. As Sjunnesson sums it up: "freedom of speech means little in Sweden."
There's much more of interest in this book. About, for example, the inculcation of virulently anti-male attitudes at all levels of the Swedish educational system. ("Boys cry when they hear how bad they and their father are and men have always been.") About how the system rewards irresponsibility on the part of young unmarried mothers and the men who impregnate them. ("With a baby, a single parent sidesteps all waiting lines and the child may be the only means to an apartment for decades.") About a national self-hatred so fierce that "schools have asked pupils not to wear [Swedish flag] t-shirts or wave the yellow and blue flag as it could be interpreted as racist." About a country where adults admire and envy youth beyond all reason, and accordingly exhibit greater levels of hedonism and infantilism than their counterparts anywhere else on the planet. And about levels of anti-Semitism that made international headlines yet again just the other day, when Israel's Eurovision delegation was harassed and threatened on the streets of Malmö.
For an American reader, Sjunnesson's book about a supposedly free country where the media march in lockstep and where dissent can be dangerous carries a special resonance in the wake of revelations that the IRS has targeted conservative groups and the Justice Department has snooped on AP and Fox News journalists. To some observers, the depth of the Obama administration's hostility toward any hint of criticism in the media has been especially puzzling, given that most news media have in fact been absurdly supportive and protective of Obama throughout his presidency. But to a true socialist government, any dissent is intolerable. In Norway, where the domination of the news market by state-run TV channels and radio stations and by state-subsidized newspapers already give the government a very strong hand in shaping the media message about itself, officials have now gone a step further, proposing that the state award grants to fund journalistic projects of its own choosing -- an outrageous suggestion in a democratic country, but a no-brainer for those with a socialist mindset.
In socialist countries, after all, the state doesn't exist to serve the people; the people exist to be shaped into unquestioning servants of the state -- servants who accept that the state is them and that they are the state. In such countries, it's taken for granted that there's no need to place any limit on state power or to provide mechanisms to protect citizens from that power, because, by definition, as Sjunnesson puts it, "the state always is good." We may mock the European Union for banning jugs or bowls of olive oil on restaurant tables, but this is what socialism does: the powers that be need to have their fingers in every pie, need to minimize the number of situations under which freedom may actually be experienced, need to accustom citizens to a society in which their lives are increasingly regulated. They need, in short, to create a country in which the land and the system are, in the minds of the general public, one -- a country, that is, in which the people simply cannot imagine the nation itself without the socialist state.
No so-called democracy on earth has gone as far in this direction as Sweden. For the Swedish people, Sjunneson says, "the country is the welfare state…Swedes have have no home but the welfare state and no identity outside its yarn" -- outside, in other words, its narrative about itself. Winston Smith, Orwell's narrator in 1984, suggests that the only hope of overthrowing the totalitarian government of his native Oceania lies with "the proles"; Sjunneson, for his part, believes that his fellow Swedes are so brainwashed by welfare-state propaganda that the only way Sweden can save itself at this point is by admitting "one million new immigrants from India, China, Africa and Latin America" who have service skills or technical knowhow, who have no truck with jihadism or multiculturalism, who want to move to Sweden not for a handout but to study hard and work hard, and who will, in time, found more rigorous schools and start more vigorous businesses.
A pipe dream, I fear. Yet Sjunneson's portrait of his country is a cautionary tale whose lessons the rest of us ignore at our peril.