Anne-Marie Pålsson and the independence of the Swedish parliament

Anne-Marie Pålsson, a lecturer of economics and the Lund university and former centre conservative member of parliament, has published a book about the lack of independence of the Swedish parliament. This book was covered in the  media on the 28th and 29th of November 2011.

Pålsson, Anne-Marie 2011. Knapptryckarkompaniet. Stockholm: Atlantis.

This coverage in the media by and large missed the point. Several media claimed that she primarily criticized the internal culture of the centre conservative party under the present party leader, even if her book is about the status of the Swedish parliament in general.

There has also been a complete lack of academic analysis and historical and international contextualization. If the media have acknowledged that this was a general criticism, they have pretended as if it was new information, even if the same thing was said already in the 1940s.

Per Albin Hansson, the social democratic party leader in the 1940s, has often been quoted when he described the Swedish parliament as a “transport company”. This is almost identical to Pålsson’s book, with has the title “The Button Pushing Company”. There was no mention of this.

National radio even attempted to defend the existing order, even if it is in violation of the constitution. They also criticised Pålsson for continuing in eight years as an MP despite her criticisms. (“Fredrik Reinfeldt får skarp kritik av fd partikollega”. SR P1, P1 Morgon, 29/11-2011).

However, Pålsson was not very good either at analysing the problem and describing it in a historical context.

This book and the media coverage illustrate several interesting points about Swedish political culture:

1. Death of history.

In 2010, Solveig Ternström, a member of parliament and well-known actress from the centre party, resigned as an MP. The reason was the same. She described Sweden as a “party state”, meaning that all power lies with the political parties, not with the parliament. She was also interviewed in national radio (SR P1 Studio Ett, 16/2-2010).

In other words, in the interview in 2011 in national radio the reporter acted as if this never had happened.

2. Marginalization

Judging from the evening TV news, no channel found Pålsson’s book to be of interest. This was despite the fact that both leading tabloids and the largest daily, Dagens Nyheter, had this as a top story.

3. National broadcasting is most politically corrupt.

National TV relegated the news to their website, while the private channel 4 at least discussed the topic in their morning television.

We also have the death of history and the personalized attack on a critic, as above.

4. Political corruption in academia through silence.

Political scientists, who are perfectly aware of the status of the Swedish parliament, but also state employed, seem to have clammed shut.

5. No real coverage or academic analysis.

The media failed to report that Pålsson had used the excellent research facilities of the parliament to compare the independence of parliament in several countries. She found that Sweden’s parliament is formally the most powerfull, but in reality the least powerfull among comparable countries. This more important and solid research was not mentioned at all in the media coverage.

6. The filtering function of foreign correspondents in Sweden.

This type of debate and internal criticism is not frequent, but when it occurs it seems that it never reaches an international audience. This makes it possible to continue to lie about Sweden in foreign media and in international surveys, such as The Economist’s Democracy Index. For this, foreign correspondents in Sweden are to blame.

This is not really a part of Swedish political culture, but it certainly contributes to it.

One of the question in The Economist’s democracy index is about the independence of parliament. They have given Sweden a full score on this question. Supposedly this is based on information from “independent experts”. However, they are not named, so we have no idea about who they have asked. There are also no references.

Apparently, the people they have asked are either not experts, or have been lying; or The Economist are lying about asking experts.

7. The political apathy of the general public in Sweden.

When there is public debate about the constitution, it does not really stir a public opinion. It is more like a brief and passing media event, even if the ramifications of what has been said arguably should lead to much stronger reactions. This confirms that the general public in Sweden has no relation to-, or view of-, or influence over-, or interest in the functioning of Swedish democracy.

Because of these strategies in the media, something can remain known but not really recognized. This makes it possible to both be hypocritical about political realities in Sweden among Swedes, and lie about them to foreigners.

Footnote: For a complete media survey archives and databases must be used. The information above is based on concurrent web research.

Here is one example of an article in the supposedly independent liberal tabloid Expressen:

“Förra riksdagsledamoten sågar Reinfeldt”. Marit Sundberg, Expressen,  2011-11-28.

Posted in Breaking News, Democracy, International surveys, Journalism, Political corruption, Political parties, Political science, The Economist Democracy Index | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Karl-Göran Algotsson and the rule of law in Sweden

This quote is from a monograph by a Swedish political scientist about legal preview in Sweden. Karl-Göran Algotsson is one of the few political scientists in Sweden who has studied topics with a relation to liberal democracy in Sweden.

Algotsson, Karl-Göran 1993. Lagrådet, rättsstaten och demokratin under 1900-talet. Stockholm: Norstedts juridik, p 397. From his summary in English:

“The debate concerning the Law Council [an assembly of high court judges that can preview laws] can be seen in a wider perspective. It shows up the far-reaching and diametrically opposed views of the non-socialist parties and the Social Democrats on constitutional politics. Their differences of opinion can, with some ovestatement, be described as follows.

The non-socialist parties espouse a state bound by law, a limited state with a system of checks and balances. The Social Democrats uphold the power of a democratically elected Parliament to carry through effective reform policies, which involve more extensive state intervention.”

Two things are interesting about this quote:

1. The political party that has dominated Sweden for almost a century, has not been in favor of a state bound by law.

2. There seems to be a fundamental rift in basic democratic values in Sweden between the opposition parties and the dominant social democratic party. Are there rifts of the same kind and degree in other countries?

However, Algotsson is too coarse in his analysis, to the point of being misleading. Reality is more complex, and less democratic:

1. The opposition, when in power, has shown much less interest in the rule of law. Their interest has also mostly been in the area of property rights, rather than such rights as family rights or personal integrity.

2. The mayor opposition party, the centre-conservatives, do not have a strong ideological foundation in liberal democracy. Their view of state power and prerogative is in reality not much different from that of the social democrats.

3. The environmental party, which should be categorized as a leftist party, has the strongest and only real ideological comitment to liberal democracy, among the Swedish political parties. (To a limited extent, also the Christian-conservatives).

4. The farmer’s or centre party has for most of the 20th century had the exact same view as the social democrats. This was especially clear in the 1950s.


Posted in 1950s, Legal preview, Political science, Rule of law | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Svante Nordin and state control over academia

The following is a quote from an interview with Svante Nordin, a Swedish professor of history, in the largest Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter.

“You have written that you stopped being a Marxist, but you were still influenced by Antonio Gramsci’s writings about hegemony. Is there a struggle of hegemony going on at the universities?

[Question put to Svante Nordin by the reporter]

– Not so much in Sweden as in the U.S., where a so called cultural war took place during the 80s and 90s, and is still going on. In France and Germany as well. And in Denmark.

– But Sweden is so terribly homogenous. There is a culture of consensus, where everyone does the same thing. However, in this book I have taken the role of the devil’s advocate.

– And it is a good thing that someone does that. The consensus is strenghtened because the state interferes and elevates a certain theory to dogma, such as gender theory, or, before that, peace research. Certain questions are excluded, as if anyone who criticizes such theories is against peace.

– The result is a terrible moralism and an anxious political correctness. I am a believer in academic debate about controversial issues, such debates are not as dangerous as they often may seem.”

What we see is a description in 2008 of state-guided political correctness in the Swedish university system, and a professor who feels obliged to defend his unwillingness to cave in to this political correctness.

This is especially interesting because he compares with other countries, where debate and even a “cultural war” has taken place. In Sweden there was no such war because the state decided which culture was the correct one, according to Nordin. This amounts to a description of a form of mild totalitarianism. However, Nordin also argues that one factor is homogeneity. In other words, not just state control but a more generalised element of culture or mentaliy (this is not entirely clear).

Put differently, in Sweden, for some reason, there seems to be a combination fear of debate over controversial issues and state control, which is characterized by a “terrible moralism” and  “anxious political correctness”.

We can also note that the alleged state ideology is of the kind that is preferred by the political left; in this case gender theory and pacifism.

What this suggests is that the inheritance from the old Lutheran Orthodoxy is alive an well, on a deeper cultural level. However, instead of religion, the state controls academic research; and instead of Lutheran orthodoxy their is leftist orthodoxy.

“Professor på krigsstigen”, Lars Linder, Dagens Nyheter, 29/3 2008. (My translation).

Posted in 2000s, Collectivism, Consensus, Critics, Denmark, Education, Mentality, Political correctness, Religion | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lars Trägårdh about Swedish historiography after the Second World War

In The Concept of the People and the Construction of Popular Political Culture in Germany and Sweden: 1848-1933 (Berkeley: University of California, 1993), Lars Trädgårdh describes Swedish historiography after the Second World War:

“The identification of the celebrated Swedish welfare state with the Social Democrats meant that most historians focused on the history and prehistory of the working-class movement and on the glories of the Social Democratic Party. In addition, the intellectual atmosphere was dominated by a general cult of modernism that tended to associate the past in general and peasant life in particular with backwardenss and poverty”. (p. 139).

This suggests that Swedish historiography has been highly politicised. How does this tally with the notion of Swedish rationality?

Given the many indications of an agrarian structure in Sweden well into the 1940s and 1950s, this also suggests that the notion of Sweden as modern has served the purpose of a denial of this recent agrarian past.

Posted in Historiography | Leave a comment

Olof Palme about judicial review in Sweden 1975/76

This is a quote from the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme, from a debate in parliament in 1975/76:

“The conservatives and the people’s party want to give the courts a political role. That is foreign to our system. We do not want judges and civil servants to be the wardens of the people’s elected representatives. The people has a right to decide in its own house. There is an old popular tradition in this area that is very strong. In this matter of principle we and the centre party have the same view. I think that this honours the centre party. It is rather typical that the two parties that have a deeper and more immediate connection with the popular movements have this attitude. It is not, so to speak, a civil servant and court Sweden that we want. It was against this that the popular movements – both the labor movement and the peasant movement – once upon a time rebelled.”

What this illustrates is that the social democratic party in Sweden and the centre party have been against independet courts that can check decisions by parliament.

It also illustrates a rethoric about the courts as representatives of an older conservative oligarchy, rather than as independent upholders of the law.

The irony of this is that by rejecting judicial review, Olof Palme and the centre party defended the principles of the old oligarchic system. In this regard the argument is facetious. The reason that Olof Palme rejected judicial review was that he wanted a state where politicians and civil servants continued to be unassailable and the courts continued to support the powers that be.

In terms of political culture this illustrates two things. Both that the Swedish tradition has been oligarchic and the courts political, and that this aspect of political culture continued – at least until the 1970s – despite the advent of mass democracy in the 1920s.

Footnote: Judicial review developed in practice in Sweden between the 1930s and 1960s, but was very limited. It was regulated for the first time in the Swedish instrument of government in 1979. However, it was then curtailed to the point of becoming inconsequential. In 2011 it was strengthened, but the results of this new regulation is unclear; because the wording is unclear, because the change is recent and because tradition is expected to be strong.

Posted in Rule of law | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Rural despots in 19th century Sweden

Brita Sundberg-Weitman is a former circuit level judge and chairman of the Swedish civil rights union. She has become known abroad as a witness in the Assange hearings.

In 2009 she published a book that was critical of the lack of rule of law in Sweden. This book was an update of a similar book that she wrote in the 1980s.

In her new book there is interesting historical information. When the parliament debated the 1809 constitution and wanted to strengthen civil rights there were references to a situation in where the rights of the little people often were violated by petty despots in the rural areas.

This is important because of the utopian myth that Sweden is and always has been a country with an impeccable rule of law.

Sundberg-Weitman, Brita 2008. Sverige och rättsstaten på 2000-talet. Stockholm: Jure Förlag AB, p. 37.

Posted in Rule of law | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

American scholars and Swedish society

In 1959 Seymour Martin Lipset wrote the following:

“The Social Democratic Party and the co-operatives of Sweden and other parts of Scandinavia have proved of great interest to American scholars: few, if any, have touched on the nonsocialist parties”.

Lipset, Seymour Martin 1981 [1959]. Political Man: The social bases of politics. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, p. 18.

What this suggests is that the American image of Sweden for a long time was biased by a selectivity with regards to information about Swedish society. It also suggests that the utopian myth has contributed to a bias in the foreign study of Swedish society.


Posted in Political parties, Research | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment