The Great Swedish-British Divergence

Up to and including the 1960s Britain and Sweden were travelling roughly along the same politico-economic path, characterised by the mixed economy and the welfare state. Then they began to diverge. Britain experienced (suffered?) what I call in one of my books her ‘Great Reaction’, while Sweden (and the rest of Scandinavia) by and large kept to the Social-Democratic road. Living in Sweden for the past 23 years, on and off, I’ve been mulling over why this divergence took place, and – with Kajsa, mulling from the other direction – developing some ideas.

She and I are now contemplating writing a book about this together, which will also serve as an introduction to modern Swedish history for Anglos. We’re both fairly familiar by now with each other’s countries, and professionally engaged on the histories of our own. It seems to be a project ideally suited to us, and could just work.

Any ideas from others will gratefully received, and acknowledged if the baby ever gets born. I may post progress on this blog.

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3 Responses to The Great Swedish-British Divergence

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  2. My FB Friend Marie Clausén posted this comment on Facebook. I disagree with much of it – especially with regard to the degree and social impact of the neoliberal pandemic in Sweden – but it’s a view obviously well worth my taking on board. (Marie is Swedish-Canadian.)

    “I find it interesting that you experience Sweden the way you do – as a largely socialist country, or one at least more socialist than Britain. I don’t see Sweden that way at all. Sweden leans heavily toward not just liberalism, but neo-liberalism and even libertarianism (not to mention to the far right in ever increasing numbers). While social democracy was an interesting and to a large extent successful experiment of the 20th century, the much older, harsher, sink-or-swim attitudes of a millennium ago are back.
    “And there is no such passionate leftist movement in Sweden as there is with Corbyn and his Corbynistas in the UK or even with Sanders et al. in the US. And the intellectualism of the Left Bank has never really been a thing in Sweden where the left are rather associated with uneducated labourers and as a consequence are collectively considered unintelligent and undereducated by non-leftists, whether it be true or not. In other places like France or Greece they can be accorded a grudging respect whether their viewpoints are agreed with or not, but you don’t see much of this in Sweden, certainly not over the past 20–30 years or so.
    “The current Social Democrats in Sweden are really just mild and lukewarm neo-liberals with a different rhetoric attached, rather than firebrands with deeply radical convictions (the days of Palme are long gone), and the other leftist parties are small and insignificant.
    “I see upcoming potential shifts to the left in the UK and possibly the US as much more interesting and promising than anything happening in Sweden currently.”

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  3. TJ says:

    This is a very interesting project. Some obvious things I guess are the levels of homogeneity, ethnically and culturally which in Sweden may have led to a more solid welfare statist consensus (and social democracy) The influence of neo-liberal ideas largely From the US (more influential surely in UK in undermining social democracy, Thatcherism etc)). Social class and industrialisation? Effects of war and conflict and post-imperialism (UK) pre- and post-1945?. Swedish isolationism until recently. then EU and single market, immigration – effect social democratic consensus. Rise and influence of the corporate business class? So much more of course, but would be a fascinating book Bernard, and hope it comes comes to fruition.

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