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What is Swedish culture?

What is Swedish culture?

What is culture? How do concepts affect our worldview? How can we talk about our Swedish culture without creating unnecessary contradictions? Youtuber Henrik Jönsson explains!

At the end of December, the Christmas peace was disturbed when a very heated discussion broke out about the existence or non-existence of Swedish culture and about Christmas' origin. It is of course not a new phenomenon in today's Sweden with politically motivated statements that diminish and even deny the existence of anything indigenous. Christmas 2018 was no exception.

This year, Åhlén's Christmas campaign was launched to dispel the "myth" of Swedish Christmas by claiming that Santa Claus was "Turkish". You can read more about that fiasco in my fact check.

Henrik explains very well what the discussion was about, but to get the full picture you can also read Ebba Busch Tor's (KD) opinion piece in Aftonbladet, the head of the authority Ingrid Lomfors replica and Ebba Busch Tor final reply.

So what is culture?

The discussion about Swedish culture usually revolves around what you see with the naked eye or hear. The language. The food. The art. The clothes. The fawn-red cottages with white knots. The dancing around the midsummer pole.

But as Henrik points out, the visible and audible cultural manifestations we perceive with our senses are just the tip of an iceberg. 80 years before Henrik's video was published, the author and politician said Fabian Månsson in the following way about culture:

Culture is never merely a collection of tools, machines, buildings and works of art; it is in the fingers and brains, in the attitudes and reactions of individuals; it must be transmitted from generation to generation by teaching and imitation, and should continuity cease, a cultural epoch will crumble into the earth with its last bearers, and its material manifestations will remain only as ruins and memorials without life and spirit.

Fabian Månsson (1872-1938), History of the Viking Age: from the tribes to the Nordic empires (1939)

Perceptions of right and wrong, attitudes and values, patterns of behaviour, views of the family, gender roles, religion, work, and more, all fit into a culture. And you know what? Our culture here in Sweden is far from "right".

On a cultural level, we Swedes are actually extremists all the way, as clearly illustrated in the "cultural map" in World Values Survey (WVS). Since the 1980s, the WVS has surveyed people's values in a total of 100 countries, and this map shows which countries are close to each other in terms of values, regardless of geography.

Cultural map by Inglehart and Welzel, World Values Survey (2015)

Y-axis (left) shows how traditional or secular-rational a culture is. People from cultures with traditional values tend to value religion, family relationships and authority, while rejecting divorce, abortion, homosexuality, etc. These societies also exhibit high levels of nationalism and national pride, according to the WVS. At the other end of the scale, we find secular-rational values that coincide with the liberal view of life.1

X-axis (bottom) shows how much people in a culture prioritise economic and physical safety and security, which according to WVS is linked to low levels of trust and tolerance. It is also associated with high ethnocentrism where you put your own ethnic group first. At the other end of the scale, where survival and freedom are taken for granted, people give higher priority to self-realisation through issues such as the environment and gender equality. Cultures at this end of the scale generally show high levels of acceptance of immigrants, abortion and homosexuality.2

What the extreme location on the map says about us Swedes is, according to the Institute for Futures Studies, including that God has no natural place in our daily lives, that we do not question homosexuality and abortion, and that we have a high level of trust in other people.

What does this mean? Well, it means that when we meet people from other parts of the world, we should be aware that what Swedes consider right and wrong may be considered extreme. Sweden is not a country with "normal" values, because what is considered normal can differ greatly between countries.

Institute for Futures Studies, 2015

Sweden is not a country with "normal" values. Sweden is an extreme country. That matters.

One of the most important points Henrik makes in his video is, in my opinion, the importance of know oneself, that is, taking time to get to know, reflect on and understand their culture as part of their self-development. In a broader perspective, it is also extremely important for society's ability to develop. The alternative, denial of all cultural differences, is, as Henrik points out dangerous.

Trying to prevent the recognition of cultural differences in order to make criticism of identity-politically selected groups impossible is counterproductive and dangerous. For those who do not understand their own culture cannot problematise their cultural bias either, and are thus deprived of vital tools for developing communication and real understanding of other cultures.

Henrik Jönsson

So what happens when the world's most extreme country opens its arms, hearts and wallets and welcomes hundreds of thousands of people from cultures at the exact opposite end of the scale in a short space of time? What happens when traditional (clan) cultures with strong religious overtones colonize secular and liberal Sweden?

I have been told that the result will be a "multiculture", and that this would be a good thing for everyone involved with an abundance of exciting food, cultural exchanges and economic benefits. Rather, the result is "many cultures", which of course can mean positive cultural exchanges, but one consequence is unfortunately that it also creates many potential areas of conflict.

The potential for conflict also increases the greater the difference between these cultures, not least in a strongly collectivist society like Sweden where decisions about how we live large parts of our lives are made jointly by the politicians who hold our wallets. "Everybody gets in", as one politician put it. Talking about a culture clash is an understatement.

Today it is therefore more important than ever for us Swedes to understand our own culture, because if we don't, how on earth will foreigners who move here and want to become part of Swedish society be able to understand us? Who knows, maybe they understand Swedish culture better than we do.

We also need to have the sober realisation that far from all people in the world want to be like us or live like us. Not only do they not want to live like us, in these cultures you would not tolerate our way of life. That should give us pause for thought.

No matter how much you throw around buzzwords like "multiculture", it is Swedish, Nordic and Western culture that forms the basis of our society and our freedom. The conversation about our culture, the understanding of ourselves, is too important to be left in the hands of political activists - especially when it involves the most extreme people in the most extreme country in the world.

I believe that we Swedes have paid a very high price for that mistake, and that future generations will unfortunately be left with most of the bill. But it is never too late to stop, think, and take a step in the right direction.

Man, know thyself!

If you appreciate Henrik's thoughts, follow him on Youtube! You can also support his work on Patreon or send him a money order at 1234 12 75 02.


  1. World Values Survey
  2. World Values Survey

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