Revolutionary Conservatism in Sweden

The right-wing victory in the 2022 Swedish election for the first time opens the doors to power for the far-right Sweden Democrats.

The 2022 Swedish election was a particularly sad story for people on the left. Not only did the centre-left bloc that went up against the liberal-conservative right bloc lose with a small margin, but the latter’s victory now means that the far-right party the Sweden Democrats (SD) for the first time will have direct political power, as the largest party in the right bloc. Most likely not as part of the new government – the most right-wing in the history of the country – as they are still considered a bit too controversial for that, but certainly as a partner who, because of their size, will be able to put major pressure on the other three parties (the Moderates (M), the Christian Democrats (KD) and the Liberals (L)) to implement the most central parts of their politics. Since the Sweden Democrats became big enough to enter into parliament in 2010, all other parties have refused to cooperate with them because of their neo-Nazi roots and the racism that time and time again seeps out through the polished façade – yet faced with the realisation that taking the SD onboard was the quickest and simplest way to challenge the Social Democrats for political power, the Moderates and the Christian Democrats decided to do so leading up to this election. After some internal debates, the Liberals then decided to do the same – although with more red lines against the SD and with major disagreements among its members that still have not been fully resolved.

This year thus marked the first time when the SD were campaigning with other political parties for direct political power as part of a ruling coalition. As a result, one of the central strategies by the traditional right-wing parties was to try to tone down the controversy of them collaborating with the SD – which sometimes led to almost parodic statements aimed at papering over the racism of the SD. For example, the leader of the Moderates claiming that the SD should be celebrated for their struggle, against the majority opinion, to highlight immigration as a problem – as well as one right-wing journalist arguing that one cannot honestly claim that the SD is a radical party.

This is all obviously completely false, which is why many Swedes are concerned with the SD now being part of a ruling coalition and what it may mean for Sweden when they will have direct political power. To understand this better, it is necessary to take a closer look at just how radical the SD are – and what price the traditional right-wing parties, and by extension Sweden as such, may have to pay for them having taken the SD onboard.

Two Different Kinds of Conservatism

When the SD are brought up by their critics, it is usually based on their neo-Nazi roots and the racism that still sits at the heart of the party. That is certainly fair, but what I think should be highlighted more often is their long-term political ambitions. This has been brought to light by various writers, such as Morgan Finnsiö and Daniel Poohl of the anti-racist journal Expo. As Poohl has pointed out, central to the SD’s political programme is a line of conflict between the Swedish majority population and the primarily ethnic minorities that stand outside of it – based on a desire for an ethnically and culturally homogenous Sweden. Immigration should thus be reduced to zero, re-immigration should be taken up as a means for sending non-assimilated immigrants back to their home countries, and certain Swedish values and cultural expressions should be codified into basic norms of Swedish society. In other words, it is not simply that the party want to solve temporary problems with immigration and criminality, since they are rather driven by the idea that Sweden is under attack by minorities as well as a political and media establishment that has allowed immigration and multiculturalism to flow freely into the country. What they therefore want to accomplish more long-term is to stop this and fundamentally remake Sweden into an ethnically and culturally homogenous state. One should thus not take it lightly when they claim that it is the ambition of the party to become state bearing, just like the Social Democrats were during the post-war decades: the major political party that alone accumulates at least around 45-50% of the votes and sets the political agenda in Sweden that all other parties somehow must relate to.

The SD’s political programme may thus be understood as what Poohl refers to as revolutionary conservatism, which stands in contrast to the traditional conservatism of parties such as the Moderates and the Christian Democrats. For their ambition is not to remake society in the way envisioned by the SD. On the contrary, what is characteristic of traditional conservatism, according to Poohl, is how conservative values may coexist with modern society (e.g., how one can support both LGBTQ+ rights, as well as something like the nuclear family). Revolutionary conservatism, on the other hand, indexes the ambition to wind the clock back and fundamentally change society by overturning what is understood as existentially threatening phenomena like the ubiquity of multiculturalism and LGBTQ+ rights. It is based on the idea that things have gone too far, due to the hegemonic agenda of a ‘left-liberal establishment’ and its commitments to minorities and multiculturalism.

Although the SD does not just attack various minorities – since their ambition to overturn multiculturalism by distributing traditional Swedish values across the social field also encompasses targeting the cultural production and distribution that go against these values by, for example, removing ‘inappropriate’ books from libraries, as well as modern art from public space; remaking popular adult education along their ideological lines; and restricting the freedom of expression in journalism, academic research (e.g., gender studies), as well as in public service. The social environment for journalists that report critically on the SD has for example already become highly toxic – with many routinely facing threats and harassment online in particular. Indeed, for the SD, these journalists – along with public service media in general, as well as centre/left politicians – are part of the same left-liberal establishment whose multicultural agenda threatens the ethnic and cultural purity of the Swedish nation.

An Existential Culture War

As is well-known, the success of the SD is not an isolated phenomenon – but rather part of a larger conservative movement that has seen many political victories over the past decade in particular. Indeed, the political project of the SD cannot be fully understood unless it is positioned within this international conservative movement, whose overall revolutionary objective may be characterised as an ambition to wage what is considered an existential culture war for the survival of the nation. As Finnsiö explains: the term ‘culture war’ may be traced back to the American far right of the 1990s, who developed an idea that political correctness (PC) is not simply a specific term, but rather a left-liberal ideology aimed at tearing down existing social institutions as part of an ongoing culture war. And, as the writer Bilan Osman adds, the architects of this culture war are identified as a PC-elite driven by socialist and liberal values, who corrupt the social field by remaking it entirely for the benefit of minorities – which, in turn, side-lines and alienates the national majority population, who strategically are labelled things like racists and homophobes by the PC-elite when they oppose this.

When one of the main representatives of the SD is arguing that they are waging an existential war for the survival of Swedish culture and ultimately the Swedish nation as such – which only can end in victory or death – it must thus be understood against this backdrop. Indeed, for people like him, there has been an ongoing culture war at least since the eruption of the 1968-movement – which is considered to have had massive negative impact on Western society, as it threatens the existence of fundamental conservative values like national identity and the nuclear family that must be defended at all costs. For even though the right won the economic battle due to the ideological victory of neoliberalism in the 1990s, far-right parties like the SD are fuelled by anger over what they consider a left-liberal cultural victory – whose furtherance of multiculturalism and various minorities they argue now dominate the social field in education, the news media, the entertainment industry (e.g., Hollywood), and so on. The left-liberal PC-elite have thus tilted the balance of the conservative idea of a homogenous national state – to the point of its possible collapse. This is consequently why culture wars are understood by the far right as ultimately being existential.

Radicalised Conservatism?

There is thus lots at stake in this new political coalition. For even though the Moderates and the Christian Democrats are conservatives of the traditional rather than the revolutionary kind, the fact that they have taken a radical conservative and authoritarian party such as the SD onboard and now will have to sit down and negotiate with them should not be taken lightly. Indeed, as Poohl argues, what is at stake here is not simply concrete political compromises, but also different approaches or attitudes towards politics. The major question at the moment is thus how far the traditional conservative parties, as well as the Liberals, are willing to go with regards to the SD, to secure political power. Needless to say, hopefully not too far, but if the election campaign is anything to go by it will be exactly the opposite – since one of the most depressing elements of the overall awful election campaign indeed was how the traditional conservative parties took up the problem formulations of the SD as central (and sometimes the rhetoric as well). One can only hope that this was just a distasteful campaign strategy, rather than an indication of where they will go in the future. Otherwise, we might see what the writer Natascha Strobl has identified as radicalised conservatism – which refers to when traditional conservative parties become increasingly radicalised through the influence of revolutionary conservative politics (the Republican Party in the US being one such example).

In the worst-case scenario, we are at the beginning of such as trajectory – which ultimately would lead to the SD’s dream of an ethnically and culturally homogenous Sweden. Again, this is what the other parties in the right-wing bloc now must refuse to compromise with. Although, as Poohl points out, one should already be extremely worried about what will happen to the social climate of Sweden when some traditional political parties are fine with governing based on the support of an authoritarian party whose representatives time and time again demonstrate that they do not care about the entire population – and when their way of dividing people increasingly becomes part of everyday life. Indeed, as Poohl argues, this does something to the overall atmosphere of a society, particularly for the excluded, and will most likely take a long time to overcome.

Featured Image: (Pixabay)