The Nordic triangle?

by on February 10, 2011 at 2:02 am in Education, Philosophy, Political Science, Religion | Permalink

Via Conor Friedersdorf, and Bagehot, here is a discussion of Henrik Berggren and Lars TrägÃ¥rdh:

Conor writes:

Here's an interesting frame for the difference between America, Germany, and Sweden: every society has a different relationship to "the triangle formed by reverence for the Family, the State and the Individual." 

Bagehot writes:

Americans favour a Family-Individual axis… 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… the state and the individual form the dominant alliance.

Here is Reihan on this topic.  Here is my earlier and very directly related post on Sweden and the Swede as individualist.  Does anyone have a link to the Pippi Longstocking paper itself?

Here is Bagehot again:

(Before you scoff, you should perhaps know that the French–a conservative and statist lot–have a very complicated relationship with Pippi Longstocking as a children's book. For many years, the only French translation available was a bowdlerised version, that played down Pippi's wilder, anti-authoritarian side. There is a moral in there somewhere.)

Nellie February 9, 2011 at 10:57 pm

It would be very interesting to see Cowen develop his distinction between freedom from “state” and freedom from “community”. Are they even compatible or is there a fundamental tradeoff?

As Reihan Salam says in one of the links above, there really is a strong link between rightwing libertarianism and conservatism (even if the former usually try to deny it):
“The Nordics celebrate the role of the state in setting individuals free from family obligations. Traditional conservatives, in contrast, have seen the discipline of the market as an effective way to deepen and reinforce marital fidelity and intergenerational obligations.”

Michael G Heller February 10, 2011 at 12:19 am

Tyler, it's a chapter –

"Pippi Longstocking: The autonomous child and the moral logic of the Swedish Welfare State” in Helena Matsson and Sven-olov Wallenstein (eds.), Swedish modernism: architecture, consumption and the Welfare State. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2010.

@ amazon usa: http://www.amazon.com/Swedish-Modernism-Architect

azrael February 10, 2011 at 12:52 am

"For many years, the only French translation available was a bowdlerised version, that played down Pippi's wilder, anti-authoritarian side"

Which doesn't explain why the French worship Queneau's astonishingly anarchic Zazie Dans le Metro. Louis Malle tried to make a film of it in 1960 with most of the swearing taken out.

Nellie February 10, 2011 at 1:30 am

@Hieronymus Goat
Imagine you could choose whether to (in the case of last resort) be dependent on charity/employer/husband/parent or a welfare state – in which scenario would you fell more “free”? In which senario would you be more likely to say, "screw you all – I´m doing my thing"?

Andrew February 10, 2011 at 3:22 am

"In my view, the only involuntary relationship should be to the state."

Why? Why is the state special? Isn't that exactly what we have? When family obligations aren't voluntary, isn't it because the state enforces them? Empowering the state before you change the zeitgeist may end you up where you don't want to be.

"Naturalistic Thinkers/Atheists, Childfree, Marriagefree, and don't have any family whatsoever tend to fit in so very, very poorly."

Try academia.

david February 10, 2011 at 3:52 am

Good markets are anonymous, because markets punish discrimination. Good government is anonymous, too. Families and churches can't and don't do this.

JSK February 10, 2011 at 4:07 am

@Nellie: Is life about maximizing your autonomy? SHould it be. You kind of assume that life is best with no strings attached. However, my single friends are without exception less happy than my unsingle (for lack of a better word) friends. It is even so bad that some of them stay with generally sucky partners because of the fear of being alone. If individual autonomy was really the end all be all, such behavior would be the exception.

By the way, i'm speaking from the Netherlands, which is the most nordic country outside of scandinavia (alright, maybe Estonia is more nordic).

Nellie February 10, 2011 at 4:35 am

@JSK

OT, but:

What do you base … "Netherlands, which is the most nordic country outside of scandinavia" … on?

I also the exact same impression (togheter with New Zeeland – not Estonia however).

Eric Rasmusen February 10, 2011 at 4:39 am

Good comments!

I would, tho, like to see some evidence that the Scandinavians do value the Individual. Disliking Family Authority is not enough. It reminds me of secular Jews who define their Jewishness by how much they fear Christianity. It's not that they want to promote Judaism; indeed, they fear orthodox Jews even more. Similarly, Scandinavians (and Americans) who try to break down the Family don't necessarily want to build up the Individual. People who don't like their mothers criticizing them, for example, probably don't like their neighbors or co-workers or bosses or insurance companies doing it either— and will try to use the authority of the State to stop them.

I could be wrong, though. Here's one test. Do the Scandinavian countries give lots of freedom to voluntary associations, including businesses, to operate as they wish? If they're really State-Individual societies, they'd try to replace the Family with the State, and have governments that spend a lot but regulate little.

Eric Rasmusen February 10, 2011 at 5:03 am

Here's another test: Who pays living expenses for children and old people?

If the Family is stressed, it will be a social and legal obligation of their families.

If the State is stressed, it will be the government that pays for education and old-age pensions.

If the Individual is stressed, nobody will have any obligation to pay to keep children and old people alive, though their relatives will ordinarily do so voluntarily.

I think this is a pretty good measure, and according to it, even America is heavily Statist. Family is so downgraded that everybody takes it for granted that children have no duty towards their aged parents except to sign off on unhooking the life support machines.

Nellie February 10, 2011 at 5:18 am

@Eric Rasmusen

Scandinavian countries give lots of freedom (and power) to voluntary associations.
At least Sweden pretty much cede work related regulations to the outcome of negotiations
made between the Unions and the business community (even if the government can put agreements into formal laws).

They also give a lot of freedom to businesses.

(Norway is somewhat of a exception with a bit more authoritative state power)

Candadai Tirumalai February 10, 2011 at 6:58 am

It would be interesting to consider how these patterns work out in an American context in states like Minnesota, which has long had large populations of Scandinavian and German origin. Politically, the contrast between Hubert Humphrey, the archetype of the liberal decades ago, and Representative Michele Bachmann, a tea party leader, could not be sharper.

Willa Cather, who wrote about Nebraska in the late 19th and earlier 20th century, dramatized the interplay of some of these patterns.

Hieronymus Goat February 10, 2011 at 7:54 am

"Good markets are anonymous, because markets punish discrimination. Good government is anonymous, too. Families and churches can't and don't do this."

Right, the main purpose of markets, government, and life itself, is to punish discrimination.

No, tolerance is another way of saying you do not care. Anonymous handouts do not solve poverty. Punishing discrimination only promotes a different conformity than the families and churches, and one less able to educate.

You are saying, "The solution to alienation is anonymous loneliness! Conformity produces Hitler, so we must enforce universal anti-conformity!"

Anonymous February 10, 2011 at 8:26 am

A good market requires trust, by knowing the other party, the honest representation of the sold good, and the enforceability of the law and contract.

A good government requires that the sovereign can call its citizens before the court to answer for crimes, and a good democratic government requires that the citizens can know the government's responsibility to account for it.

Barkley Rosser February 10, 2011 at 11:02 am

Finland is Nordic but not Scandinavian, which is a linguistic category. Certainly Finland is more Nordic than either the Netherlands or its little brother in speaking a Finno-Ugric language, Estonia.

Nellie is right that the Nordic model generally involves relatively few regulations on businesses, aside from environmental ones, which tend to be pretty strict. They regularly show up near the top of the lists of "competitivenes" and so on regarding freedom of firms to do stuff. They are also very freedom-minded in terms of most personal conduct, as their historical reputation for sexual libertineness suggests.

The main source of oppressiveness by the Nordic state manifests itself in the very high tax rates in those countries that fund their large welfare states. So, if one is all worked up about taxes, as many in the US are, then the Nordic countries are terrible socialist monstrosities. If one is willing to pay higher taxes for all kinds of free education, health care, and so on, they can look pretty classically liberal.

Jim February 10, 2011 at 2:54 pm

"The Nordic countries are small, safe, relatively culturally homogeneous and rich."

In other words they are tribal. Tribal communities operate much the same way in the US. In western Washington where the tribes are rich from gambling income, the tribes have made all their members essentially into trust fund babies. Neither extended nor nuclear families have the resources to help individuals that the tribal governments do. The extended familes have basically faded away and often the nucear familes display a lot of dysfunction, so the tribe has stepped in.

It may be similar in tribes elsewhere with fewer resources.

Maia March 1, 2011 at 6:54 am

I'm british and i've lived in italy, where there was little state help for the indigent; most charities were funded by rich individuals eg our mental health work was funded by the families of sufferers who were rich and generous; relief for the poor was organised by 'the nuns' (i never met them, obviously you just went to the convent for help), and mentally ill people were generally shared out (or not) among their extremely extended family compared with the UK where the state is expected to deal with it.

Then i lived with a bangladeshi family with the usual mother-from-bangladesh, barely-literate (she probably was in bengali, but had no books so i don't know) and therefore kept up the traditional lifestyle (since she was doing the work – cooking etc) and it all ended pretty badly. I realised fast they never socialised with anyone except their extended family, two of the men had jobs and the kids went to school but otherwise they never met 'strangers' ie non family members. They certainly didn't let them into their homes. Therefore they always viewed me as an awful intrusion. Ok, they shouldn't have sublet their room therefore, and i should've had more sense than to take it, but i learnt something.

People with big families have most or all of their socialising, friends – and support therefore – from their families. We all have certain behavioural relationship norms in our heads, and usa/uk/anglosaxon societies are most stranger-oriented: we expect to meet, interact with intimately (house share) and become friends with strangers (non family/caste members).

I'm trying to say 'facts on the ground' – whether you are part of a large or small family, whether you lived in a state which provided welfare or not, or maybe did to some but not others (eg only urbanites may be able to access it, or it may consist of benefits like free university which aren't accessible to the poorest in a poor country, or vice versa – food stamps) will affect your relationships a lot, not just your views.

One big difference between america and here (europe) is you guys have big families – here average is one per family unless you're rural or poor – and you're very religious, i think like 50%? Nobody young here is religious. This must change things but i don't know how.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: