Interpreting Swedish election results with the Huffington Post

Sweden had its national election a few days ago. The Sweden Democrats were expected to do historically well, and did. But pre-election polling suggested they might claim as much as 30% of the vote, not the almost 18% they ultimately won. Reports centered on the lack of established measures to prevent voter fraud have raised speculation that something untoward may have occurred.

Regardless, it was a good result for the Sweden Democrats, and damaged the position of the more establishment parties that now have to figure out how to maintain their agreed-upon firewall against political expression of ethnic nationalism.

Here to help us make sense of it all is Nick Robins-Early, who writes for the Huffington Post.

Sweden Is What Happens When Liberals Let The Far-Right Set The Agenda

Did you know that the “Far-Right” is setting the agenda in Sweden? Guess you haven’t been paying attention.

The country’s left-wing Social Democrats just saw their worst election result in generations.

Nick Robins-Early

09/10/2018 10:46 AM ET

Sweden’s Social Democrats are one of the most successful political parties in modern history, winning the highest share of the vote in every national election for the past 100 years.

What have they accomplished besides winning elections? Normally political parties are supposed to achieve things once they gain power.

But on Sunday, the once-dominant party scored its worst election result in generations. Its decline is a symptom of when liberal parties let radical-right populists dictate the political agenda.

What you need to understand is that conditions in Sweden arose from an agenda set by radical-right populists.

The Social Democrats won a little over 28 percent of the vote, the most of any party but far short of giving their center-left bloc a majority. Meanwhile, the far-right Sweden Democrats won 17.6 percent of the vote in its best ever result. An exit poll showed that almost a fifth of the far-right voters cast their ballots for the Social Democrats the last election.

The result gives no party a clear route to forming a government, leaves the country politically fragmented and means that the ruling Social Democrats could potentially lose power.

The liberal party’s losses are at least partly self-inflicted. Faced with growing support for the Sweden Democrats, the Social Democrats focused much of their campaign on issues such as immigration and crime, where the far-right controls the narrative. And rather than countering the Sweden Democrats’ anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric with a vision of their own, the liberals shifted to the right with proposals that included sending the army into neighborhoods with high crime rates.

In defense of the Social Democrats, constructing a winning rhetorical argument out of what’s happening in Sweden is a challenge. For example, state broadcaster SVT reported last month that, over a recent data collection period (it looks like it was 2016, but my Swedish is shaky), 58% of all convicted rapists, 74.5% of all convicted gang rapists and 85% of all convicted rapists who carried out a violent assault in the course of their crime were born outside of Europe.

Because I don’t want to be accused of exaggeration, let’s step back and remind ourselves that, obviously, the Swedish Left’s vision isn’t their country’s blond, blue-eyed women being raped by brown foreigners. We should devote some attention to what the Swedish Left’s vision actually is. Helpfully translated from Swedish alt-media outlet Fria Tider by Voice of Europe:

The Swedish government wants to allocate 5 million Swedish crowns (around half a million euros) in migrant sex courses, news outlet Fria Tider reports. A portion of the money will be spent on the government’s sex information website “Youmo”, which provides translation in Arabic, Somali and Dari.

The goal of the website is to teach migrants “health, sexuality and gender equality”. On the website, sex information is illustrated, among other things, with several pictures of foreign men with blonde, Swedish women.

Example illustration:

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Okay, maybe the Swedish Left’s vision does seem a little rape-y.

Back to Mr. Robins-Early.

“They adopted the [Sweden Democrats’] agenda because they were afraid of losing voters,” said Ulf Bjereld, a professor at Gothenburg University and an active member of the Social Democrats.

“It was a political mistake.”

The Sweden Democrats, which have origins in the neo-Nazi movement …

This is 1933 all over again!

We’re always hearing that the Right is driven by a single-minded desire to revive Nazism,  but that might be the Left’s self-projection.

… have spent years telling Swedes that their country is in crisis. The party blames hordes of migrants for breaking the country’s beloved welfare state,

I hope Mr. Robins-Early means that in good faith, and isn’t demeaning Swedes for looking favorably upon their well-organized social support system, for which they and other Scandinavian countries are rightly admired.

bringing in crime and threatening Swedish identity.

Things that definitely aren’t happening, folks!

That message has resonated with a growing number of people in recent years, as concerns rose over high-profile incidents of gang violence, an influx of refugees and regional economic inequality. Even some of their radical proposals and views found their way into the public debate. In June, a lawmaker’s comments that Jews and indigenous people don’t count as true Swedes received widespread attention.

Robins-Early is referring to remarks by Sweden Democrat parliamentarian Björn Söder, to the effect that Jews and other minority groups in Sweden enjoy recognized minority status precisely because and to the extent that they are not ethnic Swedes.

Similarly, the party’s proposal to only take in asylum-seekers from Nordic nations is a de facto ban on refugees that goes against Sweden’s history as one of the world’s most humanitarian nations.

But that might be sort of congruent with Sweden’s history as the world’s most Swedish of nations.

The far-right party further benefited from establishment parties’ lack of attention to its rhetoric. That silence, experts say, created an information vacuum that the Sweden Democrats filled with anti-migrant, ethnonationalist views[.]

It seems like the Sweden Democrats do get some critical attention. Söder’s comments certainly triggered a media firestorm this year, just like they did when he made effectively the same remarks in 2014. Back then the Simon Wiesenthal Center listed Söder’s interview as the sixth-worst anti-Semitic/anti-Israel incident incident of the year.

“If nobody is talking about stuff that people see as problems, the only answers and understanding that they’re going to have are the ones offered by the populist parties. That’s what you basically had in Sweden,” said Sheri Berman, a professor of politics at Barnard College.

The far-right’s claims, experts say, often did not match reality. Although Sweden has real struggles with regional inequality, social change and increasing violence, overall crime rates have dropped, the country is witnessing the highest economic growth in decades and income has increased across the board. The number of killings has risen in recent years, but there were still only 113 murders last year out of a population of nearly 10 million people, and there have been similar peaks since the government began reporting those statistics in 2002. As for Sweden Democrats’ warning of the “Islamization” of Sweden, the average Swede vastly overestimates the percentage of the population that is Muslim.

Maybe overall crime rates have dropped, or maybe there is reason not to fully trust reported crime statistics. Maybe data reflecting economic growth is missing something about the economic reality, or maybe Swedish society rewarded its people materially but failed them in other ways. Regardless, if the murder rate spiked in your municipality, or if your neighborhood was lucky enough to be blessed with hundreds or thousands of new refugees from the Middle East and Africa, you might be forgiven if your impression of crime or immigration that doesn’t exactly reflect the dead-on average for Sweden as a whole.

Robins-Early doesn’t seem very sympathetic, though–he comes across as a little irritated with Swedish voters he finds to be dumb and uninformed. Don’t they get it? All of this stuff about crime and mass immigration is made up! The Social Democrats built this amazing economy! The Sweden Democrats have done nothing!

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Nick Robins-Early, probably

When the Social Democrats finally did address public concerns over immigration and crime during the campaign earlier this year, the party mimicked many of the talking points and policies of the far-right. The government’s finance minister suggested refugees seek another country in which to claim asylum, while Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced that the country would crack down on criminals, and the party declared that emergency border security laws from the height of the refugee crisis would be kept in place indefinitely.

But embracing more conservative policies backfired ― support for the Social Democrats dropped even further, and one member of the Swedish parliament resigned from the party in protest.

“A strategy that was tried to win back voters from the Sweden Democrats meant that the Social Democrats fell even more,” said Bjereld.

“The parties who have been true to their ideological grounds ― they are the only parties who have raised in support.”

Makes sense as far as it goes. What parties like the Social Democrats supposed to do, though? Double-down on policies against which voters are reacting?

That same scenario has played out similarly in countries across Europe, where traditional left and right parties have employed similar strategies to regain voters from populist parties, largely without success.

“What happens is that xenophobia, racism, anti-immigration ideas become more recognized and legitimate … because the big parties, the power-holding parties are jumping on them,” said Emilia Palonen, an expert on populism at the University of Helsinki.

“These mainstream parties should be bringing in new issues, new excitement into politics, and instead they’re following.”

Rather than copying the far-right’s emotional appeals toward identity and its criticism of the state, mainstream parties should offer voters fresh alternatives, Berman said.

“[If] center-left parties can’t come up with a better narrative, a better set of policies, a way of making this work, then they are screwed.”

Nick Robins-Early doesn’t suggest what those fresh alternatives or superior policies might be, though.

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The Inevitable Victory of the Alt-Right

Mytheos Holt seems to have written a kind of hit-piece on the Alt-Right for an outlet called American Greatness. It would have been enough to simply reply that the Alt-Right’s metapolitical processes are far from over and move on. But Mytheos has a less-obviously bug-person persona and an exponentially more entertaining first name than “Jared,” and I’m interested in input, even critical, from all sources. I read what he had to say with curiosity.

[N]ow, judging by the pitiful group that showed up to Unite the Right 2 last month …

Let’s pause there. I’m not aware of any leader of the “Alt-Right proper,” as Holt labels it, who encouraged people to attend Kessler’s anniversary event. Many of them, myself and Richard Spencer included, specifically discouraged people from doing so.

Holt raises this counterfactual suggestion to support his ultimate assertion, which he lays on the table early:

In fact, to paraphrase the great Python lads, the Alt-Right may pine for the gas chambers, but it has also passed on. It has ceased to be. It has expired and gone to meet its maker. It is a stiff, bereft of life. It rests in peace. If the Left weren’t propping it up to scare people, it would be pushing up the daisies. Its meta-political processes are now history. It has run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible . . . and promptly called that choir cucks. This is an ex-movement!

If he says so. Leaving throwaway “gas chamber” silliness aside, the most interesting and at the same time obviously false claim here is that the Alt-Right’s metapolitical process has run its course.

The truth, it turns out, is the opposite, and perhaps Holt knows so. His use of “metapolitical” and his accurate synopsis of the struggles by white racialists to establish and reclaim the term “Alt-Right” are signs of the closer-than-average attention he’s paid to the movement and to the elder and younger thinkers who have shaped it. The Alt-Right’s strategy and influence was intentionally developed as a metapolitical effort from the beginning. Calling it a failure on these terms is at least a more sophisticated bully tactic than desperately framing it as a “hate” movement.

Yet the ups and downs of the past few years and months often have had little connection, if any, with matters metapolitical. Challenges associated with deplatforming, for example–from Internet sites, banks, and a host of other facilities and third-party services–which represent the Alt-Right’s most serious obstacle, are arguably not a metapolitical issue at all, and certainly do not speak of a completed arc of becoming and possibility. In my view that arc has actually widened and lengthened, and the possibility it represents become more palpable, even as the Alt-Right has experienced nearer-term difficulties. The movement’s metapolitical orientation, rooted in recognition of the importance of race and explicitly directed at overcoming the challenges of white demographic decline and depressed morale–this seems, if anything, even more relevant now than before, say, August 2016. The aggressive and ongoing effort to deny the Alt-Right any meaningful platform, online or off, also suggests something about its continued relevance.

Holt begins to interpret his own historiographical outlook more fully by comparing the Alt-Right both to American “movement conservatism” and to later attempts to reset it. In this connection he offers the example of David Frum‘s effort to create an alternative version of conservatism through his FrumForum. Frum wanted an alternative to conservatism too, right?

Such a comparison goes a long way towards resolving any curiosity I had about Holt. If FrumForum represented a political alternative comparable, even superficially, to the Alt-Right, what were its metapolitics? Zionism? Kabbalah?

Glib and insulting, okay, but the correct answer does have a lot to do with Zionism. Still, I’m somewhat sympathetic to Holt, whose writing illustrates that he’s able to relax his instinct of ethnocentrism long enough to inquire seriously into the thought and activity of racially-minded whites, even if his ultimate aim is (of course!) deconstructive. There’s something endearing in Holt’s self-narrative, in which he recounts his naive belief that, in writing about the Alt-Right, it would suffice for him to be Jewish and deconstructive. Charmers David French and John Podhoretz swiftly corrected him: to neoconservatives, being an acceptable Jew means being not only deconstructive, but also ruthlessly tasteless and obnoxious. Holt isn’t, which led French and Podhoretz, revealingly, to question Holt’s ethnicity.

The meat of Holt’s explanation continues to give the impression of youthful naiveté. Does Holt still believe (in the Current Year!) that the Alt-Right’s energy is drawn from neo-Nazis and Klansmen? After all of his inquiry, does he seriously think that the Alt-Right is driven by a will to genocide every non-white group? It seems so.

Holt confesses to having been attracted to the Alt-Right when its most attention-getting interpreter was Milo Yiannopoulos–when it seemed to be simply “ironic,” “punk, [] edgy, and transgressive, … a bizarro version of the ’60s student rebellions,” its leadership more like “the early Beats, or the Sex Pistols” than political figures.

Milo, of course, is cancer. On the other hand, it was and is important for the Alt-Right to retain an edge and a transgressive thrill, a plain necessity for any viable movement with a future. But it’s also necessary for it hold that trangressive quality in balance with the somber, enduring wisdom and considered telos on which it is ultimately based.

That Holt was attracted to the Alt-Right in large part as a kind of escapism while now rejecting it as lacking in philosophical depth and political sophistication may reflect more about his personal disorientation than any real deficiency in the movement itself. But to me, the bigger problem is that his diary of the Alt-Right is frequently unrecognizable. For example, he suggests that, after “Heilgate” in 2016, Richard Spencer retreated, along with the least-mature elements that could plausibly said to be connected to the Alt-Right, “into conspiratorial theorizing that the people responsible were Feds, or Jews, or something.” That several of the Roman saluters demonstrably were Jewish or that some idiot defenders were desperately insisting upon this as proof that the Alt-Right dindu nuffin is beside the point–relatively weak-minded people with poor powers of explanation are found in every impactful movement. But neither Spencer nor other real leaders of the Alt-Right were ever as facile in their response as Holt here claims.

Neither, contra Holt, are they intent on avoiding engagement with difficult questions, like

… why the traditional family had broken down, or why whites had acquiesced to policies that diluted their power, like, say, the Immigration Act of 1965, or even how European identity could all be subsumed under whiteness given the multiplicity of different cultures and identities involved …

This notion of Holt’s that the Alt-Right is “allergic to thinking” and “incapable of introspection” is simply perplexing. The very questions for which he claims the Alt-Right is utterly without answers are the subject of lively debate and internal disagreement among the intellectual leaders and outlets of the movement, a sure sign that they are being genuinely considered. Even on Twitter, where my responding audience consists substantially of pseudonymous accounts with minimal followings, the pushback against any meaningful assertion I might make on matters of consequence is often immediate, reflective, and instructive. Yes, one can (I’m told) locate mental defectives who are unironically attempting White Sharia. But one can also learn from attendees of grassroots conservative functions that the real menace is the conspiracy of homosexual reptilian shapeshifters who are poisoning our water supply. Even I’m not cynical enough towards Conservatism, Inc. to pretend that this is an accurate reflection of its intellectual output.

Holt is not wrong in pointing out a certain delusional, immature aspect among the movement’s leaders that left them unreprared for the reality they encountered in Charlottesville. Several of those leaders have found their way out of the movement; others have simply gotten wiser. Holt’s comparison to the black civil rights movement is also apropos but still not a basis for his insistent cynicism. Even with marked situational and institutional advantages, the black civil rights movement, like most organized bids for social and political power, stumbled a lot before it eventually began to succeed.

Saying that Holt is simply self-projecting when he tags the Alt-Right as eternally boring, predictable, unoriginal and sad is obviously too much of an I’m-rubber-you’re-glue reply, one that would not be necessary even if it was accurate. But Holt is solipsistically coloring his reasoning with a sense of disappointment, acrimony and pessimism that makes his argument unrelatable even when he happens to say something at least partially accurate. I don’t have or need a more energetic up-note response than to simply say I don’t share his pessimism at all, and neither do the writers and activists who continue to work in the back and foregrounds to give the Occident the political enterprise it deserves.

Fukuyama has a new book on identity

[I’d aspired to blog daily. The day after my first post a road construction crew outside our home dug up our internet cable by mistake, which was finally repaired after three days and lots of phone calls by my wife to our service provider.]

The heading under which I found Evan Goldstein’s interview with Francis Fukuyama in the Chronicle Review led me to remark simply, “Duh.”

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But Fukuyama is not a completely uninteresting figure–there’s more to him than having simply burped, “history is over,” and actually probably more to that thesis than is often recognized. So, I read the interview, and probably will read his new book on identity. Some thoughts.

It’s a common thing for conservative-minded thinkers to erect a false opposition between politics based upon principles on the one hand and politics based on identity on the other. On their telling, goodness and light flows from the former, evil and darkness from the latter. To me and to many others, it seems like a simple thing to recognize instead that principles, good and bad, necessarily take root in and arise from particular identities.

But Fukuyama, for all his apparent ideological shifts, is still simplistic and Manichean in this regard. And his discourse on identity is explicitly pointed away from certain identities–able-bodied heterosexual white males primarily. This is seen from his validation and valorization of groups that make up Steve Sailer’s Coalition of the Fringes, united as it is around its resentment and aggression towards whitey.

Yet Fukuyama, who is more or less of the same generation as Sailer (right?), clearly wishes for something comparable to Sailer’s notion of Citizenism—some moralizing civic glue that can bring us all together, at least within the American territorial space, and keep us from variously sulking within our ethnic enclaves and viciously fighting with one another.

Fukuyama hesitates to agree that there’s a free speech crisis on campus. He observes that the conservative spin machine frequently oversimplifies and sensationalizes occurrences in a clumsy manner, which I get, and he notes that people like Charles Murray normally do get to speak, which strikes me as a shallow take.

But Fukuyama’s remark that “What happens on campus ultimately does filter down to the rest of society” was a recognition that was critical to my own development as I made my way through the sociological jungles of Lawrenceville, Bowdoin and Kenyon. In my experience, community discourse moved to a rhythm of unspoken assumptions and impulses to which I ultimately failed to relate. The individuals and groups that were promoted as model leaders by the school administrations frequently struck me as more than a little weird, and sometimes even mentally ill and openly hostile towards large segments of society. It occurred to me that these classmates of mine would one day occupy territory in the lower strata of elite society, and this instinctively worried me. It led me to look ahead and consider the kind of political and philosophical responses that would be required to counter their influence.

There’s something false and truncated about Fukuyama’s explanation of how civilization has come apart. In his telling, “identity came to the forefront” in “the ‘60s and ‘70s.’” But identity always animated American life and purpose. “American” was an identity—a white identity—and in important ways, in many people’s minds, still is. For whatever reason, Fukuyama hews to an institutionally-privileged narrative of American origin and history, in which its immaculate Lockean/Enlightenment founding repeatedly had to be defended against toxic, unnatural white racialism in various forms. The possibility that racialism has some legitimate place within this arc of history is never seriously considered. Figures like Fukuyama are able to stave of the cognitive dissonance in order to preserve a story in which politics of identity are not really a respectable possibility until the period during which non- and anti-white forces—ones that Fukuyama respects as good and legitimate—begin to gain more power.

Fukuyama’s flash autobiography of his turn away from the academic Marxism is entertaining:

Q. You have an unusual background for a political scientist. You majored in classics at Cornell, then did graduate work in comparative literature at Yale, where you studied with Paul de Man. Later you spent time in Paris sitting in on classes with Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. Any memories from this journey through deconstruction?

A. I decided it was total bullshit. They were espousing a kind of Nietzschean relativism that said there is no truth, there is no argument that’s superior to any other argument. Yet most of them were committed to a basically Marxist agenda. That seemed completely contradictory. If you really are a moral relativist, there is no reason why you shouldn’t affirm National Socialism or the racial superiority of Europeans, because nothing is more true than anything else. I thought it was a bankrupt way of proceeding and decided to shift gears and go into political science.

Fukuyama has very sensible things to say about the late Samuel Huntington. Until recently I was unaware that Huntington did more than simply write important books that more or less congrued with white racialism. Fukuyama says he disagrees with Huntington’s restrictionist sentiments on immigration but shares his view “that white Europeans had a specific culture that they brought to North America that was very important for the subsequent functioning of liberal democratic institutions in the United States.”

So, that’s kind of an up-note, to my ear. Fukuyama ends on a very conventional-sounding down-note:

[W]e have a president who is, I believe, a racist, and has certainly been willing to accept support from racists. It’s very dangerous that he’s awakened this overt xenophobia. It makes me really mad.

Two womps.

Martine Auerdal’s stale take

Martine Auerdal writes about politics for the Norwegian outlet Dagbladet, whose name translates literally to, “Declining Circulation.”

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Dagbladet’s annual circulation, 1980-2016

In the August 16 edition of Declining Circulation, Auerdal, in the course of describing current activity in the Scandinavian political Right, highlighted my visit to Arendalsuka, or Arendal’s Week, a six-day showcase of social and political groups, parties, institutions and causes, anchored by a free, open-air festival in the streets of Arendal, scenic coastal capital of Aust-Agder county. Auerdal wrote of my appearance in a photo, broadcast on Twitter, smiling together Hans Lysglimt Johansen and Bjørn Christian Rødal, leaders of the fledging Alt-Right-friendly political party Alliansen.

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Fine optics

Auerdal related to her readers that I am an American right-wing “extremist,” but declined to suggest anything I’ve said or done that qualifies me as “extreme.” She also falsely characterized my participation in the Unite the Right rally last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which she claimed a counter-demonstrator was killed.

I traveled to Charlottesville a year ago with the intent of participating in the event, but in fact the rally, which was organized in response to the proposed removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, was never allowed to take place at all. Instead the state governor, ignoring an injunction from a federal judge, suddenly declared the gathering unlawful, announced a state of emergency, and deployed dozens of riot police to drive the demonstrators from the event location into a hostile, violent crowd of counter-demonstrators.

Hours after the event was chaotically halted in this manner, and hours after the police had taken the measures they asserted were necessary to reestablish conditions of law and order in the city, a group of counter-demonstrators attacked a vehicle, whose young, panicked driver then accelerated forward, allegedly causing the death of one of the counter-demonstrators.

Auerdal also failed to mention the circumstances of another demonstrator’s discharge of a handgun. The demonstrator, who was standing with a group that was attacked by a counter-demonstrator wielding a makeshift aersol flame-thrower, responded by pointing his own weapon into the ground and firing one round. Evidently Auerdal felt it would thrill Declining Circulation subscribers more to read simply that “en Ku Klux Klan-leder skjøt mot en folkemengde” (“a Ku Klux Klan leader shot at a crowd”).

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Flamethrower Guy did not do anything … in Auerdal’s World

It may be that Auerdal sometimes engages in meaningful journalism–I have no idea. Here she was simply repeating unfounded and defamatory distortions previously circulated by her betters in the American McDonald’s media.

Although I have been refreshed to find that news outlets in Norway tend to be less hysterical and openly hostile than their counterparts in the United States, Auerdal’s behavior causes me to worry that they may be equally stupid and immoral. Too bad.

Not to mention the fact that the editors of Declining Circulation showed no interest in publishing (a much more polite and far less entertaining) version of this response. I’m told that in Norway one enjoys a customary right of reply in such situations that has been vindicated at law and is typically respected by the country’s media outlets. I lack the energy for protracted legal vindication, and punching up this post was more fun anyway.