The New Totalitarians


The New Totalitarians, by Roland Huntford, New York: Stein and Day, 1972, 354 pp $10.00.

This is a book about Sweden by the London Observer's Scandinavian correspondent. His thesis is that "modern Sweden has fulfilled Huxley's specifications for the new totalitarianism." He lets Sweden's rulers speak for themselves, and they make a good case for the thesis. At the least Sweden is a corporate state with features that Mussolini could not impose on Italy. Huntford reports that "the social ideology of the German Nazis and the Swedish Social Democrats had much in common," which may account for the resemblance that the Swedish economic system has to that of Nazi Germany. He also reports that Gunnar Myrdal was once a Nazi sympathizer because of Hitler's advanced ideas on social welfare.

Huntford argues that in its rule of 40 years, the Social Democratic Party (socialist) has enveloped the state and rules administratively through the bureaucracy. Even if voted out of office, the socialists would probably rule de facto because of their grip on the bureaucracy and "popular organizations" (which have official functions) and their domination of the intellectual climate. The Swedish Diet is a nonentity and always has been except for the period 1718-1772. Gustaf III, a late-eighteenth-century king who toyed with the idea of a return to parliamentary rule, was assassinated by the bureaucracy who felt their prerogatives threatened.

There is nominally a private economy, but business firms have government directors on their boards, and taxation is designed to make business expansion dependent on state loans, the granting of which is conditional on cooperating with the state. Urban renewal and economic means are used to destroy privately organized cultural activities (and the Catholic church). The director of the state theatre, who wants no competition to his (uniformly leftist) repertoire, acknowledges that "the whole question has been settled for us by the town planners." Schoolchildren are taught to be suspicious of the private businessman, but not of the state bureaucrat.

According to Huntford, in Swedish the word "welfare" not only means benefits but supervision of behavior and conditioning of the citizen. From culture to the bedroom, the Swedish state leaves nothing untouched. There is a computer registration of all persons. If the local temperance board decides that a citizen drinks excessively, off he goes for compulsory treatment in a state institution by administrative order without due process of law. An administrative order is sufficient to take children away from parents. Consequently, parents are encouraged to conform to the state's ideas on child-raising.

In Sweden a person's security derives from social welfare, not from a rule of law. According to Carl Lidbom, judge, cabinet minister and Social Democratic theoretician, "The purpose of the law is to realize official policy. It is one of the instruments for changing society." According to the deputy Ombudsman, "The law in Sweden is an instrument of the civil service, codifying its decisions." According to a legal official, "The law is not there to protect the individual…it has got nothing to do with guaranteeing one's freedom."

Indeed, in Sweden the individual and his initiative are in disrepute, and it is state educational policy to eliminate both, because all autonomy conflicts with the scheme of social reconstruction. For the same reason European Common Market membership was rejected. The state saw the free movement of labor and capital as inconsistent with social planning—planning that is so comprehensive that, according to the head of the Directorate of National Planning, "people will have to give up the right to choose their own neighbors."

Official spokesmen are not worried by the decline in creativity, because they see Sweden in the role of a free rider, benefiting from scientific and technical discoveries made elsewhere. The official policy against individuality makes it difficult to oppose public expenditure (total taxes are 40.6% of GNP) because the words for "individual" have derogatory connotations, whereas the words for "collective" and "state" are positively loaded.

Education is viewed as a propaganda device, and there is no academic freedom. "Committed scholar" means in Sweden, as in the U.S., one who is committed to advancing leftist ideology. According to the deputy Minister of Education, "Education is one of the most important agents for controlling society. It has been integrated into our scheme for changing society, and its purpose is to turn out the correct kind of person for the new society."

He also says that "academic independence is incompatible with a modern educational system. The aims of the universities are set by society and, since society produces the economic support, it has the right and duty to direct their activities." Socialists, of course, make this argument only when they have control of the state. Until that time, academic freedom is a convenient guise under which leftist propagandists can break down the socialization process that imparts the values of the existing society.

Radio, TV, and culture are under the Minister of Education, and writers and artists are dependent on the state. The private newspapers do not oppose the state's propagandistic use of education and the media. The editor of the largest newspaper says: "News must be used to change society and influence people. If it is objective, and designed only to inform, then it is conservative."

Since it is the socialists' aim to push the country further to the left, leftist dissent is encouraged. In effect, the Swedish "new left" is a dupe of the state which encourages leftists to discover social imperfections because each discovery justifies an increase in the state power to correct the imperfection.

The state's institutional machinery for enforcing a leftist opinion on the country is complete, but the prevalence of leftist opinion does not seem to be dependent on the state's enforcement mechanisms. This should not surprise us. A similar uniformity of liberal-left opinion in American universities, communications, and culture is not a product of state policy. This suggests that liberty is a function of the content of ideas and that emphasis on institutions can be misleading.

If people do not believe in liberty, then democratic institutions will not uphold liberty. This is the problem in Sweden. The liberals who are technically in opposition to the socialists share their values. Says the editor of a liberal newspaper: "Given the choice between welfare and liberty, I would choose welfare every time."

This might explain the disquieting fact that in Sweden empirical evidence carries no weight in the battle between the welfare state and the free society. According to Huntford, the elimination of poverty and slums and the implementation of all the "advanced" ideas have been accompanied by a 250% increase in crime, the highest juvenile delinquency rate in Western Europe, and a suicide rate twice that of the United States. By the time experience refutes one social welfare theory, it is already associated with the old order and more radical theories supplant it.

Huntford thinks that Swedish totalitarianism results from a traditional submissiveness to authority and the absence of liberal ideas. But the social reconstruction and perfection of society are precisely liberal ideas. In implementing their programs Swedish ideologues have experienced excitement and personal fulfillment, but the social costs of these private satisfactions are the destruction of liberty and a bored society.