Lipset and authoritarianism

In Political Man: The social bases of politics (Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 1981 [1959]) Seymour Martin Lipset summarizes an extended and detailed analysis of the social basis of authoritarianism.

In his view, the “vital variable” for authoritarianism is a population with a “lack of a rich, complex frame of reference” (p. 116)

There are three prominent characteristics in the Swedish historical experience that suggest such a lack:

1. Geographical isolation. (Both Sweden as a nation and the people, in individual hamlets, cottages and farmsteads).

2. Ethnic homogeneity. (Language, religion, rituals, music, dance, food, clothing, etc).

3. Late urbanization. (In the 1940s, 50% were still occupied in rural trades, towns were small, and industry was often small scale and local).

In fact, very many of the social and economic variables that Lipset argues are contrary to a vital democracy have at one point or another been described as characteristic of Swedish society.

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