”Royal Swedish Envy”

This is a common expression in Swedish: Whenever a Swede shows signs of envy, another Swede rushes in and says this is an example of “Royal Swedish envy” – as if envy were an emotion particularly and peculiarly Swedish, not to be found in Denmark, Norway, Finland, much less then in countries outside of Scandinavia.

Why blog about this? Well, The Economist recently published a short piece called Who’s Shrugging now, dealing with Ayn Rand’s influence in Sweden. I quote:

Sweden might seem an odd place to foster a Randian movement. In 1976 she decried its welfare state as “the most evil national psychology ever described” […]

So how did Ayn Rand arrive at this conclusion? Did she travel extensively in Sweden and talked to many Swedes to discover what our national psychology is like? Well, no.

The quote is from Ayn Rand’s very last Ford Hall Forum lecture, “The Moral Factor” (April 11, 1976), also issued in pamphlet form. Among other things, the lecture discusses the case of Ingmar Bergman, who was arrested in 1976 on a charge of tax evasion. I quote from the pamphlet:

Harry Schein, chairman of the Swedish Film Institute, and a friend of Mr. Bergman, said: “’There is something very Swedish about this whole case. The idea of people saying “you can’t get away with anything.” We call it “the royal Swedish envy,” and it’s 400 years old.’ He added: ‘One of the reasons Swedish equality is so advanced is that the motive behind it is not just socialism, but an active dislike of people who are supposed to be better. You have to cut people down. Everyone must be equal. Make someone who’s exceptional feel unexceptional.’”

This, I submit, is the most evil national psychology ever described. This is the bottom of the moral abyss. Many of you have read my essay on “The Age of Envy,” which deals with what I regard as the lowest evil: hatred of the good for being the good. It is shocking to read of an entire nation committed to that kind of hatred. Yet such is the base of the Welfare State and the motive required to hold it together.

It is, indeed, “shocking to read of an entire nation committed to that kind of hatred”. It is even more shocking to hear this of the nation where I was born and have lived most of my life – and to learn that throughout my life, I have been surrounded by “haters of the good for being the good”, without even noticing it. What does this tell about my powers of observation, and of my ability to induce from my observations, even in a case where there is an abundance of concrete instances to induce from?

Enough sarcasm. – Certainly there are some bad people in Sweden, just like everywhere else. And certainly a majority of Swedes support the welfare state. But I believe in most cases, this is simply because they do not understand better. A few of them might be motivated by this “hatred of the good for being the good”; but those people are in a minority in any nation or culture.

What is the line of reasoning here? There is a slightly jocular expression in the Swedish language; this is taken to be representative of the national character, or national “sense of life” of the Swedish people; and then the conclusion it that Sweden is the most envious country on earth.

I am not much of a patriot; but neither do I think the entire Swedish people should be condemned on such a flimsy basis.

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One Response to ”Royal Swedish Envy”

  1. I have learnt that all scandinavian countries consider themselves to have a law of envy. So it does not seem to be very particularly swedish.. And while sweden has heavy taxation and a large state, it should be stated as well that personal liberties are fairly good, the trade is fairly free and the country dont send drones around the globe.

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