When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch
Son Of A Gunnar

Germany or Sweden? Two Models Of Social Democracy Put To The Test

From afar, new Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz share much, both in their views and the political system where they rule. But subtle differences, which arose in the rubble of World War II, can be everything.

anuela Schwesig (SPD), Minister-President of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, (l-r)  take a selfie with Chancellor-elect Olaf Scholz (SPD)

Incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz poses for a selfie

Carl-Johann Karlsson

My dad has died ...

That was my first thought a few Fridays ago when I saw that Netflix had added another series to its growing Nordic-noir category: a six-part crime drama about the 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme.

Well, OK, my very first thought was trying to guess who they’d picked for the role of Palme’s assassin; but almost immediately after that, my second thought was that indeed, most certainly yes, Gunnar Karlsson had clocked out.

After all, my old man — an admirer of Palme and (since his retirement two years ago) an even greater admirer of Netflix — hadn’t called to give me a thorough review right away.

A stroke, most likely (all those ready-to-eat microwave meals) I reasoned as I turned my Bulgarian flat upside down in search of my phone.

But it turned out, a suspenseful 10 minutes later, that Father Gunnar was alive and kicking, sounding chipper even, when telling me that the killer was skillfully portrayed by Swedish comedian Robert Gustafsson.

Targeting Wall Street 

Mostly, however, Gunnar had been engrossed in the concurring (live) screening of another political event, in the form of the Swedish election: “A great speech!” he said. “It had some of that stuff that’s been missing.”

The speech was that of Magdalena Andersson, the former Swedish finance minister who’d just been elected the new leader of the social democratic party (SAP). The stuff that’s been missing, in Gunnars book, was the once-upon-a-time passion and pathos of labor leaders — attributes that had to some extent died with Palme that frosty night in 1986.

And indeed, hanging up to watch a replay, it was a good speech; 45 minutes of sharp elbows to Wall Street bankers, a call to better integrate migrants, a plan to quell organized crime and — finally — some plain talk about the real damage of economic inequality.

Andersson also took a moment to salute another just-crowned leader sitting in the audience: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. To Andersson, the recent center-left victories in Germany and Norway supported her case that Europe is seeing a turn of political tides.

Photo of new Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson

New Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson


Never again 

And yet, as Gunnar pointed out less enthusiastically if social democracy in Europe is truly experiencing a revival, Germany was far ahead of Sweden.

Following World War II, as democracy returned to West Germany, the country adopted a set of new laws in 1949 to ensure it would never relive the catastrophe of the Third Reich. Hitler had come to power in a country with a highly liberal constitution, exploiting democratic freedoms to undermine and then dismantle democracy itself.

The new German constitution set up barriers to radical, undemocratic tendencies by granting the Federal Republic powers to ban unconstitutional parties (which it used, first in 1952 to shut down the neo-Nazi Socialist Reich Party and then the German Communist Party four years later.)

The law is separable from morality.

What became known as “defensive democracy” in Germany led to a European renaissance of natural law — the idea that humans have inherent rights and that regulation and morality should be deeply connected. As such, several countries, including Norway, now agreed that the law must rest firmly on inalienable rights — the same conviction that inspired the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But not in Sweden. In my home country, the social democrats of SAP had in its formative days fully committed to a concept of what’s called “legal positivism” — the idea that what the law is must be separated from what the law ought to be; in other words: The law is separable from morality.

So Nazism, Fascism and other ugly isms hardly surfaced at all in the Swedish legal discourse of the decade that followed the War. In the eyes of my parents' and grandparents' generations, there was no need: The country’s legal system had passed the test of the totalitarian era with flying colors, with wide support for the burgeoning welfare state staving off the threat of extremist ideologies.

From morals to pure mathematics

But fast-forward to today, and Sweden is questioning the very roots of its political system.

As the far-right Sweden Democrats have gone from 1% support to roughly 20% in the last two decades, the SAP (alongside every other mainstream party) have been unable to formulate a credible response to the nationalist and xenophobic stances of a party with roots in Nazi ideology.

And it makes logical sense in our system: if the law is indeed amoral, and democracy is a question of mere formulas, how do we dismiss calls for the deportation of migrants, or the sinister assertion of an “inherited Swedishness,” as inherently undemocratic?

Of course, social democracy has dwindled for the same reasons in Germany as in Sweden and other Western democracies, where voters have seen their lives turned upside down by globalization, automation and recurring financial crashes that are exploited and twisted by xenophobic leaders. But Germany benefits from an arsenal of now 60-year-old constitutional tools to protect itself against extremist forces, while Sweden does not.

Alternative for Germany (AfD) party was a “suspected case” of anti-democratic extremist activity.

Earlier this year, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Saxony-Anhalt would place the regional branch of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party under surveillance as a “suspected case” of anti-democratic extremist activity.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, the center-right opposition parties have in the last few years gone from refusing to collaborate with the Sweden Democrats to embrace them as a necessary partner on the way to parliamentary power.

To Gunnar, it’s not possible to detach democratic values from natural rights without the detrimental consequences that Sweden (like others in the West) is experiencing today.

It’s worth noting that while Swedish labor leaders like Olof Palme, as well as his predecessors, all subscribed to legal positivism, they carried much of the humanistic message in their characters, which kept the ideology from becoming hollowed out. But today, with the faultlines of legal positivism becoming increasingly clear, we know that these leaders were the exceptions that confirmed the rule: namely that democracy needs more than votes to sustain it.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


Shame On The García Márquez Heirs — Cashing In On The "Scraps" Of A Legend

A decision to publish a sketchy manuscript as a posthumous novel by the late Gabriel García Márquez would have horrified Colombia's Nobel laureate, given his painstaking devotion to the precision of the written word.

Photo of a window with a sticker of the face of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with butterfly notes at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Poster of Gabriel Garcia Marquez at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Juan David Torres Duarte


BOGOTÁ — When a writer dies, there are several ways of administering the literary estate, depending on the ambitions of the heirs. One is to exercise a millimetric check on any use or edition of the author's works, in the manner of James Joyce's nephew, Stephen, who inherited his literary rights. He refused to let even academic papers quote from Joyce's landmark novel, Ulysses.

Or, you continue to publish the works, making small additions to their corpus, as with Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector, or none at all, which will probably happen with Milan Kundera and Cormac McCarthy.

Another way is to seek out every scrap of paper the author left and every little word that was jotted down — on a piece of cloth, say — and drip-feed them to publishers every two to three years with great pomp and publicity, to revive the writer's renown.

This has happened with the Argentine Julio Cortázar (who seems to have sold more books dead than alive), the French author Albert Camus (now with 200 volumes of personal and unfinished works) and with the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. The latter's posthumous oeuvre is so abundant I am starting to wonder if his heirs haven't hired a ghost writer — typing and smoking away in some bedsit in Barcelona — to churn out "newly discovered" works.

Which group, I wonder, will our late, great novelist Gabriel García Márquez fit into?

Keep reading...Show less

The latest