*Europe, Europe: Forays into a Continent*

I very much enjoyed reading this now-dated (1989) but still insightful volume of country-specific essays by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, one of Germany's leading public intellectuals.  The chapter on Sweden was my favorite.  Here is one good bit:

The "motley feudal ties" to which Marx alludes in the Communist Manifesto were torn asunder here earlier than anywhere else, to be replaced by a strictly organized centralized state.  Oxenstierna, an administrative genius, invented the prefectorial system two hundred years before Napoleon.  He sent governors armed with executive powers into all the regions of the kingdom.  They even had military means at their disposal to enforce the king's policies against the interests of the provinces.  He created the first national atlas and the first central bank in the world.  And so on.  Does all this have no implications for the present condition of the country and for the problems of its institutions?

Enzensberger also refers to Sweden as a country which has liquidated its own history in a bout of extreme forgetfulness.  I also liked this bit on Italy:

The great strength of this system is that it works not only from the top down but also from the bottom up — because even the poor, the "underprivileged," have their privileges, their consolations, and prerogatives.  The concierge apportions his favors and his punishments as he pleases, and the doorkeeper enjoys a mysterious power, of which his boss, the minister, is quite ignorant.

You can buy the book here.


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