The curious task of the American Left is to eliminate “white privilege” by forcing people to adopt Nordic social arrangements at gunpoint.
Progressives have a longstanding love affair with the nations of northern Europe, which are, or in some cases were until the day before yesterday, ethnically homogeneous, overwhelmingly white, hostile to immigration, nationalistic, and frankly racist in much of their domestic policy.
In this the so-called progressives are joined, as they traditionally have been, by brutish white supremacists and knuckle-dragging anti-Semites, who believe that they discern within the Nordic peoples the last remnant of white European purity and who frequently adopt Nordic icons and myths, incorporating them into an oddball cult of whiteness. American progressivism is a cult of whiteness, too: It imagines re-creating Danish society in Los Angeles, which is not full of Danish people, ascribing to Scandinavian social policies certain mystical tendencies that render them universal in their applicability.
Call it “Nordic Exceptionalism.”
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The Left occasionally indulges in bouts of romantic exoticism — its pin-ups have included Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, Mao Zedong; we might even count Benito Mussolini, “that admirable Italian gentleman” who would not have been counted sufficiently white to join Franklin Roosevelt’s country club — but the welfare states that progressives dream about are the whitest ones: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, etc. The significance of this never quite seems to occur to progressives. When it is suggested that the central-planning, welfare-statist policies that they favor are bound to produce results familiar to the unhappy residents of, e.g., Cuba, Venezuela, or Bolivia — privation, chaos, repression, political violence — American progressives reliably reply: “No, no, we don’t want that kind of socialism. We want socialism like they have it in Finland.”
Translation: “We want white socialism, not brown socialism!”
The real differences between relatively homogeneous northern European societies and the sort of society we have here in the United States is rarely if ever seriously addressed by our democratic socialist friends. The unspoken assumption — that all of us will either learn to behave like good little Scandinavians or be enemies of the state in this new metaphysically blond utopia — is, as our feminist friends like to say, problematic.
Set aside for a moment the conflation of socialism with high-tax welfare-statism — Sweden, with its entrepreneurial, trade-driven economy and very little in the way of state-owned enterprises constitutes anything but centrally planned socialism — Nordic practice is what self-described socialists such as Senator Bernie Sanders generally have in mind when they talk about socialism. (We can ignore, for the moment, the old Castroite holdouts and youthful Chavistas writing for Rolling Stone; everybody else does.) The racial aspects of Nordic welfare-statism are studiously not talked about, even when Stockholm burns while members of its unassimilated Muslim minority riot.
Sweden is the most diverse of the Nordic countries, and its immigration history has been a start-and-stop affair. The most dramatic immigration episode in Swedish history is, of course, the dramatic emigration of Swedes to North America in the early 20th century, when grinding poverty and famine sent one in four Swedes packing to the United States and Canada. It is estimated that there are today more people of Swedish ancestry living in the United States and Canada than in Sweden. Political and economic realities encouraged Sweden to recruit labor immigrants for many years, and its formal and informal relationships with other Scandinavian countries — as well as the veto power over immigration policy held by its trade-union confederation, which made familiar Buchananite noises about the peril of cheap foreign labor — ensured that the vast majority of Swedish immigrants were other Nordic people. When Jews fleeing National Socialism sought refuge in Sweden in the 1930s and 1940s, “the majority were rejected due to anti-semitism and discriminatory racial ideology prevalent in Sweden at that time,” as Charles Westin puts it.
Sweden had virtually no non-European immigrants, and few non-Nordic immigrants, until the 1970s. In popular usage, the modern Swedish word for “immigrant” does not mean “foreign-born person,” but “non-Nordic person in Sweden.”
Socialism and welfare-statism, like nationalism and racism, are based on appeals to solidarity — solidarity that is enforced at gunpoint, if necessary. That appeal is more than a decent-hearted concern for the downtrodden or the broad public good. It is, rather, an exclusionary solidarity, a superstitious notion that understands “body politic” not as a mere figure of speech but as a substantive description of the state and the people as a unitary organism, the health of which is of such paramount importance that individual rights — property, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of association — must be curtailed or eliminated when they are perceived to be insalubrious. If the nation is an organism, it’s no surprise to find Donald Trump describing foreigners as an infection. Thus the by-now-familiar xenophobia prevalent in Democratic rhetoric (and the Trumpkin anti-capitalist Right’s rhetoric) about Asians and Latin Americans “stealing our jobs.” The Swedes, the Swiss, and the Germans often are in direct competition with key American industries, but there is never any talk about the Swedes “stealing our jobs.”
Funny thing, that. As is the curious fact that the socialism you might read about in The Nation is cosmopolitan and liberal, whereas the socialism presented to the voters by Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Donald Trump, etc., is nationalistic and xenophobic, us-and-them stuff that would have warmed the heart of Father Coughlin or Henry Ford.
Socialism and welfare-statism, like nationalism and racism, are based on appeals to solidarity — solidarity that is enforced at gunpoint, if necessary.
Solidarity, as it turns out, is not evenly distributed, nor is it color-blind. None of those denunciations of wicked “foreign oil” ever end with an accusatory finger pointed north toward Canada, our largest foreign supplier. When Barack Obama wants some solar-energy subsidies to pay off his crony-capitalist backers, he doesn’t rebuke the Canadians, but those damned dirty brown people in the Middle East. (Middle Eastern people seem destined to take the eternal brunt of American economic stupidity: It used to be the scheming Jewish bankers, now it’s the nefarious awful Arabs who want to sell us crude oil that we need at market prices.) You’d need a microscope to find a substantial philosophical difference between the economic views of Democrat Ted Strickland, the boobish former Ohio governor who likes to go around denouncing “economic traitors,” and those of, say, Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, who fears “wild and anarchic globalization.” Even “liberal” is becoming a term of abuse for the Left, with denunciations of “neo-liberalism” becoming almost intense as those of “neo-conservatism.” The anti-trade rhetoric prevalent in the recent TPA/TPP debate assumes, without ever quite saying so, that economic interactions with foreigners — especially dusky, poor foreigners — is inherently destructive.
In reality, economic xenophobia and ordinary xenophobia always end up colliding. The nastier of Europe’s anti-immigrant and ethno-nationalist movements argue that ethnic solidarity is necessary to preserve the welfare state. Among ordinary Swedes, the topic of immigrants’ — non-Nordic people’s — relatively high rates of unemployment and welfare dependency is politically charged. The same is true in the other Nordic countries; see Jørgen Goul Andersen and Tor Bjørklund on “welfare chauvinism.” Nordic welfare chauvinists often point to Finland as enjoying the ideal social situation: 99.6 percent of the population is either ethnically Finnish (93.5 percent) or Swedish (5.9 percent), and 80 percent of them are nominal members of the same church (Lutheran). The largest single non-European immigrant community in Norway is composed of Somalis; there are 35,000 of them, approximately the population of Bettendorf, Iowa.
“We’d like to make America more like Norway or Finland” is, among other things, a way of saying, “We’d like to make America more like a virtually all-white society.” It’s not like they don’t have public health care in Singapore or income redistribution in Ghana.
Think about that the next time a progressive tells you that Chicago ought to do things the way Helsinki does.
— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.