ARE SWEDES HUMAN BEINGS? OR:
ARE SWEDES HUMAN BEINGS? OR:
THE ILLUSION OF STATE-INDIVIDUALISTIC ETHICS
Commented review of ethics in the book by Henrik Berggren & Lars Trägårdh
Is the Swede a Human Being? (Stockholm: Norstedts, 2006)
by Kristo Ivanov, prof.em., Umeå University, (October 2012, version 190715-1535)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
In 2006 two Swedish historians, Henrik Berggren and Lars Trägårdh, published a "monumental" book with the provocative title of Är Svensken Människa? [Is the Swede a Human Being? Also translated into German]. Its title is explicitly borrowed from an earlier book by Sanfrid Neander-Nilsson that was a simple collection of essays based on erudite and jocular anedoctal evidence, published in 1946. It is not yet translated into English but it has been reviewed and in part summarized in the international press such as the International Herald Tribune (November 13, 2006), Foreign Policy (February 14, 2007), and Die Zeit (September 18, 2006). With its extensive references and notes it is a statement and an explanation of Swedish national identity and character as expressed in its politics, social code and in the particularities of its legal system. They condition the criteria by which researchers seek and get their funds, and consequently conduct more or less "agnostically" their research while, as claimed in a remarkable PhD dissertation in computer science (popularized in #43 in Ellul Forum), such an apparent agnosticism may be really be an unconscious modern expression of gnosticism. The basic "Swedish model" is presented in terms of a rare combination of individualism and collectivism. It is achieved through a democratic delegation of authority and responsibility to state government and administration, which are trusted because of historical reasons and of a protestant alliance between the church and the state, recalling the messages of Max Weber and and Ernst Troeltsch who saw "religion as one of the core forces in the society". Individualism or independence is then understood as liberation from family, church and personal ties, and it is seen as a precondition for sincere true love as well as for responsible citizenship through the practice of democracy. Some of the book's ideas have been subsequently used in political polemics in other publications such as Absolut Sverige (2012, page 32ff., see below, next paragraph), and indirectly in Do not let them get away: Ten important questions to Swedish politicians (2012, in Swedish, pdf-format on the net) by Patrik Engellau and Thomas GŸr who were active at The New Welfare Foundation.
The book is to a great extent research-based and its analysis is often quite intricate but fascinating because of the revealed complexity of the subject in all its ramification in hundred years of history, literature, politics, economics and, for my own professional purposes, its implicit technological infrastructure. In order to understand what I perceive as the intellectual debacle that follows the books's brilliant summary in its last chapter it is necessary to review here below a sample of the book's text in its preceding chapters. The book, at the highest level of ambition, completes earlier and later books, also in Swedish language, of various degrees of quality and ambition, mainly expressions of the authors' outrage for what they perceive as the Swedish ideology as implemented in its state's democratic tyranny and implementation of political correctness. Most of them start from worldviews different from mine but are historically important. Examples of such books, that symptomatically are often considered in mass media as controversial are Karl-Olov Arnstberg's three books Svenska Tabun [Swedish Taboos; sold out], Invandring och Mörkläggning [Immigration and Concealment], and PK-Samhället [The Politically Correct Society]. Furthermore: Absolut Sverige [Absolute Sweden] by Mikael Jalving, Demokrati: Socialistisk eller Frihetlig? [Democracy: Socialist or Libertarian?] by Nils-Eric Hennix, and Med skräcken som verktyg [With terror as a tool] by Marika Formgren.
And now about my motivation for this study. Because of the ubiquitousness of information and communications technology (ICT) it is justified that a recurrent theme in ICT research should be the ethical aspects of its presuppositions, application, and consequences. Is it "good", why and for whom, to contribute to its further development, whatever that is, and to its diffusion, or to encourage its use beyond what is perceived to be "mandatory" and unavoidable in our personal life situation? In a review of an earlier book about certain trends in the philosophy of technology I dwelled upon its ethical base. I was amazed by the depth of the authors' insights but I was still more amazed by the experience of anticlimax after reading the end of the text, its conclusions cast in the form of recommended ethical action. It prompted me to dedicate a special paper to an analysis of this experience of anticlimax, under the title of "Ethics in technology - and theology of the flesh". My amazement grew still greater when I experienced the very same feeling of anticlimax at the end of my enthusiastic reading of the book in question here, on the Swedish cultural environment that also determines the ethics or the lack of it that prevails in a technologically advanced society, including its view of technology.
Following a series of both national and foreign influential
political and literary personalities, the book dwells upon one nineteenth
century's figure, Carl
Jonas Love Almqvist that Wikipedia introduces as
"romantic poet, early feminist, realist, composer, social critic and
traveler." I do not single out him from the text of the book because of
the depth of this thought or his importance that I judge very inferior to that
of another referenced personality, Erik Gustaf Geijer.
I choose Almqvist because of his representativeness for later dominant Swedish
thought on the basis of Jean-Jacques
Rousseau whose ethical consequences for later European thought were comprehensively
summarized in Irving Babbitt's Rousseau
and Romanticism (1919), as commented (in
Swedish) by Jan Olof Bengtsson and
evidenced by the ongoing general confusion in the discussions of ethics, including the introduction of terms such as "meta-ethics".
The reigning confusion is exemplified
in Ann Heberlein's overview (in Swedish) of late literature on
a good human being today?" (Dagens Nyheter 26 October 2012) where
the lay reader is conscientized about the mind-blowing effects of modern discussions
of ethics that programmatically explain away the Christian heritage by means
of reference to countless philosophical debates and redefinitions of terminology
represented by terms such as virtue, character, freedom, etc. Those who want to pursue this question are directed here to the valuable attempt to unravel these concepts made by the Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre.
In the context of Almqvist the book remarks (pp. 115ff.) that along with the nascent bourgeoisie the natural division of labor between man and woman changed with the consequent enhancement of male power and its domination of women and children. The husband begins to be considered as the link to and a filter from the outer world. The argument is illustrated with quotations including a feminist novel that exemplifies brute domestic dictatorship, as if it documented representative facts. What is interesting here is that the reference to the nascent bourgeoisie and the figure of supposedly oppressive manhood with consequent feminism is not related to the French revolution, nascent scientific thought, technology and industrialization where both woman and man were forcibly subordinated to the hard oppressive realities of a mechanistic worldview and initial capitalistic exploitation. In this way all talk about man as a rescuing link to the family's outer world, seen as a core of social criticism that I have surveyed in an earlier review of "political correctness", is explained away.
The book continues (p. 117) referring uncritically to complaints about the husbands' consequent control of women's lives, and bourgeoisie's complicated rituals for courtship, wooing and socializing, followed by an increasingly hollow patriarchy and use of command-language in families. In doing so it ignores the arguments advanced in the philosophy of technology mentioned above about the brutalizing effects of the loss of tradition, related to the phenomena of rape, not to mention the neglect of other uncriticized "rituals" of Western modernization such as found in the disciplining regulation of industrial work and in governmental bureaucracy or administration.
A subsequent analysis (p. 121f.) of a novel by Almqvist, Drottningens Juvelsmycke (The Queen's Tiara, published in 1834) is famous in Sweden for introducing the androgynous figure of Tintomara, evidencing the author's ambiguous if not disturbed view of the relations between man and woman that were symptomatic for the evolving Swedish view of the family institution. It is also symptomatic that our book acknowledges that Almqvist there combined an erotic view of woman with a "total plasticity" regarding woman's true nature, with blurred sexual boundaries (that today are tellingly called gender boundaries.) "People hide their feelings", and Tintomara is an "unclear and erotically alluring being". One most important observation for the purpose of understanding the limitations of our reviewed book is to note that it nowhere displays a psychological or a sociopsychological insight into the meaning of Tintomara. As I have suggested in my paper on political correctness mentioned above, we have here the option of an interpretation in terms of both psychoanalysis (Oedipus complex) and analytical psychology (anima-animus archetypes) that I also presented in an essay on The Illusion of Communicative Information. Almqvist can be identified as, say, "anima-obsessed". This is not the place for trying to develop the whole question along the internationally classical pattern of "Ayesha" as, for instance, Sue Austin does in Desire, Fascination and the Other, but rather to hint at important shortcomings in the book's analysis as restricted to narrow Swedish cultural themes, which explain its eventual ethical anticlimax.
It is therefore symptomatic that despite of Almqvist himself ambiguosly forfeiting individual dependence only upon God, along with interpersonal independence among all humans, he is still described (p. 124f.) to have avoided "religious moralizing" and to have found an effective leverage for the rescue of true love: "full economic independence between man and woman" or a "federation of two equal and socially androgynous beings." My own reflection is that in doing so he would apparently have solved but in fact explained away the problems raised by three different kinds of friendship according to the Aristotelian ethics of friendship (Nicomachean Ethics, book VIII). As Aristotle expresses it: "The kinds of friendship may perhaps be cleared up if we first come to know the object of love. For not everything seems to be loved but only the lovable, and this is good, pleasant, or useful." Without "religious moralizing", Aristotle still refers to both god and gods, and is able to differentiate perfect or true friendship with the good from the one with the pleasant, while the two are unconsciously equated at the historical basis of Swedish love, a friendship that obviously only distrusts the useful and opens the way for the narcissism of the pleasurable.
A bit further into the text (p. 127ff.) the book considers other related works by Almqvist such as Det GŒr An (It is Acceptable, 1839), which in the form of fiction portray the nascent ideal model of Swedish love. True love is rescued at the cost of abandoning the social contract of reciprocal responsibility between husband and wife. State government assumes the economic responsibility for the children who will "belong" to the woman. Family law will be matrilineal, and fatherhood, if necessarily know at all, will amount to the fathers' "counseling" their children. The dissolution of the link between procreation and marital relations (cornerstone of e.g. the Catholic doctrine of marriage) led to accusations that the author was advocating polygamy. I note that (as reported by the tabloid Aftonbladet, 8 September 2005) polygamy has indeed been proposed in modern times by Swedish feminist politicians, while polyamory movements have raised increasing interest as portrayed in a long series of articles in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter in September 2012. Symptomatically it included an article referring to a legal counsel who expresses the need, desirability and feasibility of a reform of Swedish family law in order to accomodate polyamory. This is the background against which a critical recent editorial about "Children are not a human right" ("Barn är ingen rättighet", Dagens Nyheter 17 September 2012) had to be written in order to emphasize that human choices of late, single, or lesbian parenthood should not be entitled to support and coverage of costs for insemination or in vitro fertilization by tax financed public health insurance. This is also background for other phenomena noted in the press (Dagens Nyheter, 7 September 2012), not to mention those not noted in the press, like citizens who request that social welfare pay them or somebody else for accompanying their own old mother to theater or for taking their son to football's training.
As it could have been foreseen this kind of portrayed sociopsychological development led to a change in the perception of what manliness is supposed to be in view of the tendencies towards a new matriarchal order associated with the liberation of woman from patriarchy. In a few following pages (p. 128-133) the book describes how the liberation of woman was associated to a sort of liberation of man from the responsibilities that ensured adulthood and dignity. Contrasted to the mature, independent woman (or, rather, dependent upon the support of the state) man is depicted as a wandering Casanova or, I would say, rather a Rubirosa if seen from the intellectual point of view. He is not especially independent in terms of intellect or livelihood, relying upon his relatives and social network. Rather, he is a male "belle of the boat", pleasant and easygoing, a person who willingly establishes himself as a drone on the margin of woman's pre-planned life. The male figure of Albert in Det Går An can be seen as introducing a possible future for manliness that foreshadows the most recent realities like Hanna Rosin's The end of men (2012), a book that repeats the today "feminist" theme of the early Society without the Father by Alexander Mitscherlich (1969) that I considered in another essay, and the later Life Without Father (1996) by David Popenoe to which I will return below. Man is emancipated from his social obligations. His economic parental and educational responsiblity has been assumed by woman and ultimately by the state and its nurseries. Fatherhood is no more a fact but only one among his various possible allowed pastimes on the mood. Emancipated man has been allowed to become "a selfish, comfortable individual satisfying his own needs, without civic responsibility, displaying a tension between aesthetics and politics, and between romantic utopia and powerful realism." This recalls the phenomenon of how aesthetics came to replace religion, and postmodernly even politics, as witnessed in today's "inter-net-worked" Western academic rush for "design" and "emotional interaction-engagement-involvement-embodyment". It is a trend that is hinted at in the book by means of references to Ellen Key (besides Geijer, Almqvist and others.) Key, classified as "difference feminist", appears as the intellectually most ambitious representative of the well-meaning ethical-religious disorientation of the epoch as depicted in Claudia Lindén's doctoral dissertation (in Swedish, with summary in English, pp. 305-312) On Love: Literature, Sexuality and Politics in Ellen Key (2002.) Key's legacy as expressed in Wikipedia includes "that motherhood is so crucial to society, that government, rather than their husbands, should support mothers and their children." In the bargain it was forgotten that it is marriage, foundation of society, which originally gave protection to woman and children. This includes physical protection of their bodies, which becomes obvious in times of war and crisis. It is such protection and "care" that nowadays is supposed to be practically assured by the state police, which then would be the contingent substitute for solidarity in the civil society and man's muscle strength and protective support of the family, while technology (cf. weapons and power steering) amplifies the muscle strength of women.
It is interesting to note how this blueprint for the coming techno-industrial society follows the same outline as analyzed in one earlier review of mine of Howard Schwartz's book on the rationale behind "organizational self-destruction", before the literary visions referred above became fully political, and eventually even "politically correct". The question is more subtle than simple egoism, and it stands at the core of our book here. A key thought in our context is that humans are at best capable of altruism or selfless solidarity. Nevertheless they are quite reluctant to voluntarily submit to binding communities over time where other people have the power to determine what the collective obligations should be (p. 363.) The theological import of this standpoint for our analysis here is contingent to the idea of "other people" having the power to determine and enforce obligations, while one forgets that traditionally the main obligations were coded in terms of religion, as divine will. As the Swedish political scientist Tage Lindbom did explain in his books, of which The Myth of Democracy and The Tares and the Good Grain were translated into English, the suspicion for investing power in other humans, increased during the process of secularization of society, is what eventually impelled the strive towards equality aiming at limiting others' power, albeit at the initially unperceived risk of everybody becoming "democratically" powerless alike in relation to the state, as feared by Alexis de Tocqueville, more specifically in his "What sort of despotism democratic nations have to fear" (1835.) This unperceived process was reinforced in Protestant countries because of the more pronounced alliance between the state and the Church, while in Catholic countries today there has been more of a division of power between the two. The startling reliance upon the almighty state in Sweden is what apparently justifies a statement, expressed in the book, that "There exists a qualitative difference between working and not working. In one case one is dependent, in the other one is not dependent" (p. 313), meaning the "in a conflict with her husband a woman can still assert her independence [from the man, but dependence upon the state] and show the man at the door." And this is taken as one main argument for women to leave home in order to work on the labor market (as long as there is no unemployment).
Conclusions? After an initial masterly depiction of the "state of the art" in Swedish society, the last chapter of the book, entitled "Swedish Love - timely or untimely?" (p. 365) starts its inconclusive conclusions that in part build upon some of the faulty ethical fundaments hinted at in my text above. One of these conclusions is the reference to luminars such as Georges Bataille and Michel Foucault, as heirs of, among others, the enlightened Marquis de Sade and the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Such reference would explain the nature of love or "erotic revolt" as the only means left for the individual human being to exist for at least a few futile moments vis-a-vis an apparently benevolent almighty state (p. 370.) I find it obvious that such a futile erotic revolt is consistent with the sexualization and "feminization" of modern societies that are controlled by a strong and controlling "benevolent" state, typically under the label of a Swedish version of state feminism. It is also obvious that such a state government will have no objection to the sexual liberalization of customs along LGBT-guidelines, while politicians can relax as people and its mass media prefer to discuss percentages of biological gender (in)equality in occupational branches of the society instead of discussing embarassingly hard ethical foundations and political questions of real international power balance, finance, criminality, and general "moral disarmament" that is "feministically" described in the Bible's Isaiah 3:12: "Youths oppress my people, women rule over them. My people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path."
The book, however, does not stay at this state of affairs as a solution to the conflict between individualism and collectivism, attempting as it does to define its own bias for what it calls "state individualism". In doing so it willingly mentions (p. 376) Tocqueville's and his closest Swedish counterpart Erik Gustaf Geijer's anxiety for individualism's narcissistic dangers, or man's continuously increasing focus on his own ego, a concept that is conveniently left undefined but possibly standing for (the ego's) sheer pleasures. While ignoring relevant philosophical analyses of Geijer's thought such as (in Swedish, but with references to Harald Höffding, related to Carlyle and Kierkegaard) by Jan Olof Bengtsson, it is symptomatic for the book's own bias that it does so without recalling their most important appeal to the early guarantee against narcissistic dangers that was offered by Christian teachings. Remarkably, they are forgotten and occasionally referred to as "moralisms" (p. 243, 245) but they were mentioned earlier in the book (e.g. p. 221). Almqvist is occasionally quoted referring to them (e.g. pp. 132, 143) despite of forgetting them in the main of his work. In his famous classic Democracy in America (1835-1840) edited with introduction by Isaac Kramnick and translated by Gerald Bevan, Tocqueville himself adduces the political importance of Christian teachings while acknowledging the problematic conflict between individualism an collectivism in words that are still more clear (e.g. pp. 799-809) than in our book reviewed here. He has numerous such references to Christian teachings (pp. 344, 336f., 497, 501ff., 613f., 634, 792, 801, 858.) They are conspicuously absent in our reviewed book. Some of Tocqueville's references deserve to be quoted here below, with my own occasional emphasis in italics (p. 344, 510f.):
"Tyranny may be able to do without faith but freedom cannot". "There is almost no human action, however individual one supposes it to be, which does not originate in a very general idea men have about God, his connections with the human race, the nature of their souls, and their duties toward their fellows.[...] Fixed ideas about God and human nature are vital to the daily practice of their lives but the practice of their lives prevents their acquiring such ideas. [...] General ideas relating to God and human nature are thus among all ideas most fitted to be withdrawn from the usual practices of individual reason and which have the most to gain and the least to lose by recognizing an authority. [...] We have to recognize that if religion does not save men in the other world, it is at least very useful for their happiness and importance in this. That is above all true of men who live in free countries. When a nation's religion is destroyed, doubt takes grip upon the highest areas of intelligence, partially paralyzing all the others. Each man gets used to having only confused and vacillating ideas on matters which have the greatest interest for himself and his fellows. He puts up a poor defense of his opinions or abandons them and, as he despairs of ever resolving by himself the greatest problems presented by human destiny, he beats a cowardly retreat into not thinking at all. Such a state cannot fail to weaken the soul, strains the forces of the will, and shapes citizens for slavery. Not only do the latter allow their freedom to be taken from them, they often give it up."
But still more than so, Tocqueville also offers the basis for the forgotten or ignored solution of the conflict between individualism and collectivism in his discussion (p. 613f.) of the doctrine of self-interest, which properly understood can be reconciled with religious beliefs": that is, to do good to our fellow men for the love of God. His thoughts would later reverberate in the work of Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch that I mentioned above.
The reviewed book's message recalls the phenomenon of giving up privacy and - as it is better called in Sweden - personal integrity vis-a-vis citizen's control by the nanny-state, and political correctness as a mirror of the above quoted "retreat into not thinking at all" that I also considered in my review of a book by Howard Schwartz about the psychology of "organizational self-destruction". But my focus of interest in this review is to grasp the process by which this religious dimension is lost or ignored in the reviewed book with all its depth and historical insights. This can be seen by following the course of its text with the relevant highlights (pp. 98, 145, 162, 167, 173f., 221, 297, 376, and 339). From the early historical insights that "freedom is what is left when God and the king have got their part" to the later position that despite of disregard for Christian idealism there should be a difference between higher and lower forms of individualism. Furthermore: the gradual shift of authority from God to "the law" as ground for individual independence led to a further shift from law to the supposed authority of an introspectively perceived "love" that merges with a vague Nietzschean conception of individual self-realization and approximation to superman ideal. The next step was to guarantee a sort of private sphere, a privacy restricted to pure personal life of feelings. When obliged to realize the need of an overarching function corresponding to God's, the gradually secularized culture had to assign it to the supposedly democratic almighty state, leading to nationalism. That also meant that law itself was to be subordinate to politics in the spirit of positive law. At this point (p. 221) the book finds and confesses an insight that later on appears as remarkably inconsequential for its argumentation: "without the Christian faith in God that defined the limits for the nineteenth century's individualism there was not natural defense left against the state's turning against the weaker groups of the population." The idealism of the hegemony of undefined "love" had opened the door for ideas of voluntary racial hygiene and new supermen in government agencies who could strain and eventually infringe human rights. A general thirst for security was satisfied by the mirage of independence, if not from the state of a majoritarian democracy, at least from each other human, to begin with inside the family: " in a culture that equates the human dignity with the individual's autonomy, it is difficult to fundamentally oppose that women and as far as possible even children should be beneficiary of the independence from other people who had been accorded to ordinary male citizens " (p. 297.)
It is at this point in the text that we arrive to the passus initially surveyed above (p. 376) about the "anxiety for individualism's narcissistic dangers, or man's continuously increasing focus on his own ego, a concept that is conveniently left undefined but possibly standing for sheer pleasures. Now becomes clear how one arrived at that, roughly by dismantling Christian teachings with its church-expression in civil society, and equating God with the state and its annexation of labor unions (p. 339) that characterizes social democratic ideology. Probably this is a part of a broader cultural development in the West as accelerated or mirrored in the history of its philosophy. As I have already remarked elsewhere in an article on Ethics in Technology Carl Jung, writing on the nature of the psyche, notes that (in Collected Works CW 8, ¤359f., p. 170f.): "Wherever the spirit of God is extruded from our human calculations an unconscious substitute takes its place. In Schopenhauer we find the unconscious Will as the new definition of God, in Carus the unconscious, and in Hegel identification and inflation, the practical equation of philosophical reason with Spirit, thus making possible that intellectual juggling with the object which achieved such a horrid brilliance in his philosophy of the State. Hegel offered a solution of the problem raised by epistemological criticism in that he gave ideas a chance to prove their unknown power of autonomy. They induced that hubris of reason which led to Nietzsche's superman and hence to the catastrophe that bears the name of Germany. Not only artists, but philosophers too, are sometimes prophets. [...] A philosophy like Hegel's is a self-revelation of the psychic background and, philosophically, a presumption. Psychologically, it amounts to an invasion by the unconscious."
So, the question is
why, how it comes that a deepgoing book like the one reviewed here
programmatically ignores the religious question despite of mentioning the need
for a "moral rearmament", and relabels ethical questions as
"moralisms", and satisfies itself with explaining away religion and
theology by programmatically and tersely declaring (p. 365) that "We do
not believe in God." In a personal communication (21 August 2012) one of
the book's authors explains that they had considered the inclusion of
religion/secularization in the analysis but desisted from that without any
deeper discussion. He still believes that it was a wise decision because
otherwise they would not have made it to get out the book, but if they had
written it today they probably would have made a different decision, since
religion appears to be an increasingly important topic today. On November 1st, 2015, however, a friend called my attention upon the need to update the present text of mine on the basis of an editorial on culture in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter with the title of "Svensken lider av ett sekulärt självbedrägeri" [The Swede is suffering from a secular self-deception]. It notes that in the preface to a new edition (2015) of the book reviewed here (2006) the authors recognize "with shame redness on the cheeks" that when they wrote the book were guilty of a grave omission in their narrative about the Swedish government individualism: they simply forgot away religion! The authors themselves see their oversight as being an example of "one of the most common errors majority culture in this country: to believe that the Swedish political culture is unaffected by beliefs". Nevertheless it is symptomatic that this oversight, both in the editorial and the book itself, is later to some extent explained away by reducing again religion to its political role.
My point was obviously not to exhort the authors to believe in God but rather to point out that their analysis can be invalidated if they to not consider the consequences of people's religious convictions, or the lack of them. All this is consistent with, explains and emphasizes the main remarkable blunder in the book. Among its 450 pages with as many bibliographic references plus 600 notes it ignores and does not even mention the Swedish political scientist, Tage Lindbom who most directly deals with its subject, unraveling roots of the problem in several books, e.g. in Västerlandets Framväxt och Kris [The Emergence and Crisis of the West, 1999.] But that is not all. This remarkable blunder of ignoring Tage Lindbom is a pale reminder of all what the book ignores, invalidating its research and its message: the historical meeting of liberalism as socialism in the light of religion and theology. This whole question is treated in Alain Besançon's work La falsification du Bien: Soloviev et Orwell [The falsification of the Good: Solovyov and Orwell], which in its complexity recalls Lindbom and reveals the basic ethical failure of the book reviewed here. Be as it may, the case seems to recall in my mind what Tocqueville claims in my quotation above, about when "Each man gets used to having only confused and vacillating ideas on matters which have the greatest interest for himself and his fellows. He puts up a poor defense of his opinions or abandons them." The rest of this article will dwell upon symptoms or consequences of this standpoint in the analysis in the rest of the book and its conclusions.
In a section on alienation and anomie beyond the earlier mentioned anxiety for individualism's narcissistic dangers, or man's continuously increasing focus on his own ego (p. 376ff.) the book considers several secular approaches to the phenomenon that seem to limit themselves mainly to describe the phenomenon, sometimes relating it effects of technology. Such approaches are as in David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd, Christopher Lasch's The culture of narcissism or The True and Only Heaven about progress and its critics, JŸrgen Habermas' Between Facts and Norms on the so called colonization of the "life world" (whatever that is, that I did question in another context), Zygmunt Bauman's The Individualized Society, or Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone with reference to, for instance, the rise of "autistic TV-watching" that today could have been an analysis of the advanced autism of computer gaming or even of presumedly "social" facebooking and twittering. What appears to me to be common to many such approaches is precisely their reliance on secular theorizing such as, for instance, critical theory that I have considered in other reviews of ethical aspects in social psychology and technology. Without touching (except later, p. 383) the delicate term "political correctness", which I have dwelled upon in another review, the book nevertheless complains (p. 379) that we are living in a "therapeutic society where individualism has degenerated into a whiny narcissism that is good at monitoring rights but uninterested in living up to obligations and duties except for those that are severely enforced by almighty state government in its own interests and in the name of "the people". Instead of striving for responsibility we compete about who is most victim."
A surprising anticlimax arises, however, when the book suddenly claims (still on p. 379), and thereafter suddenly abandons with a remarkable but, that the astute Zygmunt Bauman is undeniably correct to call 'love thy neighbor as thyself' a cornerstone of a civilized life (sic.) In stating this, replacing Jesus Christ's Love your neighbor as yourself with the astute Bauman's as source of the exhortation, the book reaches the abyss of the consequences of secular thought. In the bargain it does not notice that the Christian teaching has been the one which to a great extent and long before Bauman has mobilized humans merging emotionally and cognitively the individual with the collective. God means more than Bauman and a Kant with his categorical imperative. Towards the end of this article I adduce a quotation from the Confucian I Ching that clarifies these aspects of the question.
After this the book keeps wandering around the concepts of individualism and self-realization, its rightful and legitimate expression in the market and the state, contrasted (p. 385) to the collectivism of the political Left. The distressing results of the European Values Study and World Values Survey regarding Swedish secularism and weak "family ideology" are explained away (p. 383) on the account of other presumed Swedish virtues such as greater tolerance for other cultures and a positive attitude to immigration. In the absence of God or Jesus Christ the synthesis between individualism and leftism will be achieved by the Swedish model of state individualism. And here we encounter the second and final anticlimax of the book which in my mind recalls a quote of mine from T.S. Eliot's (Choruses from "The Rock", VI, 1934)
"They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good."
In short, the book puts the question of a "deeper insight" into the meaning of individualism. For this purpose (p. 385f.) it puts on the one side of the balance: (a) a striving for [or need of? - never clarified] a market-liberal independence and self-realization. On the other side of the balance (b) a political left striving for [or need of? - never clarified] security and solidarity. Despite of giving the impression that there will be a neutral weighing of merging of the two dimensions, the authors of the book surreptitiously claim that (a), i.e. the striving for freedom, autonomy and independence will not lead to normlessness (anomie) as little as conservative or socialistic ethics of moral duty will lead to happiness and solidarity. In this way the authors by means of "nots" and "as little" confuse it all as if in double negations. They put on the same hip both conservatives and their traditional opponent leftists, and tip the balance in favor of market liberalism. They top the blended argument by just assuring the reader that "Swedish individualism", that is, state individualism does not "automatically" lead away from solidarity, but rather can deepen it on the basis of acknowledging a "reciprocal autonomy", whatever that weird concept is. Presumedly, the process will be successfully driven by the "cumulative choices" at the free individual level .
I consider that this kind of argumentation will not do. A serious discussion of this matter would probably require, for instance, an in-depth understanding of what is meant by the term "communitarian statism" as related to state individualism in the account of J. G. Fichte's philosophy of law, and which are the problems of its combination with liberal individualism.
The argument is completed by assuring (p. 386f.) that the Swedish family is not in such a state of disintegration as it is sometimes affirmed and remarking that, by the way, the crisis of the family is an international problem. The authors satisfy themselves with noting that 80% of households consist of two adults (never mind whether they are not the both parents of the children) and that the number of first birthing single women is relatively low (never mind whether the children lack one parent.) They ignore the roles of finance and technology that I have considered in the context of the earlier mentioned political correctness, and the economic opulence of immediate post-war Sweden that allowed for a comparatively lavish welfare. The family politics of state individualism is then claimed to have rescued parenthood at the cost of marriage (sic.) The possibility for women to work on the labor market has protected family's most basic functions: to reproduce itself and educate the children (sic.) The book achieves a sort of apotheosis when finally noting that the state creates possibilities for a functioning social community despite of increased individual autonomy - "not the least for women, children, and elders" (forget the fathers) by supporting the citizens both within the "family" and on the market. Statistics of divorce are acknowledged to indicate that Scandinavians do not succeed in creating lifelong "couple relationships", but seen from children's perspective (sic) Sweden with its "parental insurance" is still a more family-friendly, "softer" society than the highly competitive USA society. Former critic of Sweden David Popenoe, author of, among others, Life Without Father (1996) has apparently been led astray when he is triumphantly quoted at the end of the book claiming that even if Sweden cannot live up to the ideal of lifelong "biological parenthood" it is ahead of the USA with regard to "structured and lasting relation between parents and children in a family-friendly environment."
At this point it is justified to only recall the Christian heritage about the meaning of family (e.g. as summarized by Stephen B. Clark in Man and Woman in Christ, 1980) but also to present the following self-explanatory quotation from the Chinese "bible", the Confucian I Ching or Book of Changes (the Richard Wilhelm translation rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 3rd ed. 1968, pp. 144, 227f. and 570). The particular influence of modern democracy and social order for the understanding of this quotation is furnished by Tocqueville as referenced earlier.
"The family is society in embryo; it is the native soil on which performance of moral duty is made easy through natural affection, so that within a small circle a basis of moral practice is created, and this is later widened to include human relationships in general. [...] Religious forces are needed to overcome the egotism that divides men. The common celebration of the great sacrificial feasts and sacred rites, which gave expression simultaneously to the interrelation and social articulation of family and state, was the means employed by the great rulers to unite men. The sacred music and the splendor of the ceremonies aroused a strong tide of emotion that was shared by all hearts in unison and that awakened a consciousness of the common origin of all creatures. [...] Only a man who is himself free of all selfish ulterior considerations, and who perseveres in justice and steadfastness, is capable of so dissolving the hardness of egotism. [...] Therefore the hearts of men must be seized by a devout emotion. They must be shaken by a religious awe in face of eternity [...] When the father is in truth a father and the son a son, when the elder brother is an elder brother and the younger brother a younger brother, the husband a husband, the wife a wife, then the house is on the right way. When the house is set in order, the world is established in a firm course."
I am finally tempted to
return to the book's reference to Geijer's observation
(p. 122) that it is one thing to love people as a matter of principle, another
one to live together with them. That is by definition the family, instead of
paying lip service to solidarity,
toleration, and cultural diversity.
But my temptation is mainly to revert to Tage Lindbom's work that as I observed
above was unforgivably ignored in our reviewed book. The negligent omission of Tage Lindbom is a minor symptom of neglecting main currents of thought at the confluence of politics and religion, socialism-communism and Christianity such as exemplified in Nikolai Berdyaev's Dostoievsky: An interpretation. In that text Berdyaev, who had lived through the Russian revolution, explains the dynamics of what today appears as political correctness, and the loss of ethical freedom at the meeting between socialist and Christian thought, a problem that had earlier been hinted at by Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America (availalble in a Penguin Classic edition) when referring to the "Tyranny of the Majority" (pp. 287ff. and 305ff.) and "What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear" (pp. 803ff.) It would take us too far here if I were to try to develop in my own, new words, some main lines of Berdyaev's complex argument. It will be enough to offer a hint directing the reader to an essay that is available on the net, The Metaphysical Problem of Freedom (1921), which apparently is an outgrowth from a chapter of Berdyaev's mentioned book. Unfortunately it seems to be a heavy, faulty translation and it is better to revert to the book itself, mainly its chapter III on "Freedom" and chapter VIII on "The Grand Inquisitor: Christ and Antichrist". The main idea is to explain why Christianity is a religion of fundamental freedom in the sense that allows for the two poles of freedom: freedom from coercion and therefore allowing for the possibility of a choice of evil, and thereby the freedom to freely choose the good of God, not because of admiration of or dependence upon power, but just for spontaneous love. Rejection of Christianity means negation of the possibility of sin and implicit coercion to do the "right" thing, or to choose the good that is then defined politically. In the philosophical domain such questions appear, for instance, in texts about the related central problem of "free will", as in the following by The Information Philosopher who writes:
Hegel's idealist colleagues Fichte and Schelling were very enthusiastic about freedom for the individual, the "I," which was Kant's "transcendental subject." They wanted the I to be "unconditioned," an undetermined thing in itself (unbedingtes Ding an sich). For Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, this freedom was freedom from both Nature and God. [And quoting Schelling:]
"The defenders of Freedom usually only think of showing the independence of man from nature, which is indeed easy. But they leave alone man's inner independence from God, his Freedom even with respect to God, because this is the most difficult problem."
"Thus since man occupies a middle place between the non-being of nature and the absolute Being, God, he is free from both. He is free from God through having an independent root in nature; free from nature through the fact that the divine is awakened in him, that which in the midst of nature is above nature."
There are people who instead of trusting religion and Christianity appeal to either "musts" or to art, such as Claes G. Ryn in his penetrating criticism (in Swedish) of "cultural radicalism" that could be seen as an approach parallel to the book reviewed here. Symptomatically a desperate appeal to art is also Alain de Botton's in his Religion for Atheists. Others appeal to the "religion" of phenomenology: in my article on Trends in Philosophy of Technology I did characterize it as a desperate attempt to create a "theology without God". Nevertheless, amid vague references to phenomenlogy, an insightful approach is offered by Steven Shapin in his "A Social History of Truth" with dimensions that are significantly ignored in the book reviewed here: "Freedom is the source of the need of trust...promises offered under duress were void...Free action had to be freely disciplined". And quoting Niklas Luhmann: "Trust is then the generalized expectation that the other will handle his freedom" (p. 39, but cf. also pp. 375, 394, 413.) The unacknowledged problem of the state individualism proposed in our reviewed book is that the state will not handle its freedom, except formally on election day, and as exemplified in the Wikileaks-Assange or the Snowden affairs that I considered in my article on WikiLeaks, Information and Systems. On the contrary, through propaganda and criminalizations it will enforce political correctness and the people's trust in its correctness, undermining (the need of) reciprocal trust among citizens, within civic or church communities, and in particular within the educational source of trust: the nuclear family. This terminological and philosophical chaos is what eventually leads astray even a quite sophisticated Swedish historian of ideas as Ronny Ambjörnsson, in an article on friendship as being more enthralling than love (Dagens Nyheter, 1 June 2014, "Därför är vänskapens väsen mer spännande än kärlekens".) On the basis of an apparently apolitical secularized analysis he endorses the hypothesis that people's supposedly increasing interest in friendship is the counterpart of distrust of modernity. Disregarding that modernity includes secularization he states that this mirrors our late disbelief in the states's capability to solve the problems of the individual or we do not want any longer that some "patriarchal authority" plans for us and subsumes us in one of its compartments. Even homosexuality is then seen as evidencing the supremacy of friendship over love. Ambjörnsson's approach in the middle of chaotic thoughts where eros is left undefined may then paradoxically be read as an acclaim of the victory over patriarchate and heterosexuality that we earlier saw as closely related to the disintegration of the family and the rise of the modernity's state.
My conclusion is that state individualism is the result of the rejection of religion in general and Christianity in particular in a society that still stands on rests of basic Christian values. It will work only so long as a wealthy Western country like Sweden has the financial capability, built upon capitalistic high-tech industry, to "buy" replacements for familial love at the cost of long run disintegration of society. Some consequences are suggested in the film documentary about The Swedish Theory of Love, which also has been illustrated by comments of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman in a noted video with the same title, both echoed by elaborations about the evanescent meaning of modern worklife, such as by Roland Paulsen and, earlier, by Christer Sanne. My own overviews of dominant academic conceptions of ethics in technology as deduced from ongoing technological research and industrial development, as well as the decay of the community between old and new generations, only confirm these findings. My final conclusion, as already expressed elsewhere, and also explaining why Tage Lindbom has been sometimes shallowly criticized for his traditionalist "preaching" style is, beyond gnosticism: Evangelization or Apocalypticism. In the way of Catholic evangelization an exemplary document that was written for other times (1910) is the apostolic letter of Pope Pius X Our Apostolic Mandate. Together with its later complement by Pope John Paul II, Laborem Exercens (1981) it can be finally recommended as one valid basis for further brainstorming and research in the main areas of this paper, illustrating the neglected necessary interdependence among politics, ethics and theology in a modernistic techno-industrial society such as Sweden.