Utopia, Dystopia or Somewhere In-between? Sweden, the Second World War and the Moral Turn

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In many ways can Thomas More’s vision in his classic Utopia from 1516 lend itself to describe Sweden as no longer a great power in war, as had been the case in the 17th and early 18th century, but an egalitarian nation and also in other aspects a peaceful, humanitarian example to follow. The ideal that More envisioned is to be understood as an unattainable and therefore unrealistic dream; his ideal society was named Utopia after the words for a good (eu-topos) and at the same time non-existing (ou-topos) place. However, in post-war Sweden, it was not unusual that Social Democratic politicians described the ongoing work to establish a people’s home and a welfare state as “a provisional utopia”. The similarities between More’s fantasy land and Sweden during the Second World War can first and foremost be explained with the fact that the Swedish government’s objective to remain not directly involved in the war could be realized. Although Sweden declared itself non-belligerent rather than neutral, it was mostly “neutrality” as a concept and reality that was discussed both during and after the war. Critical comments were directed against departures from the principles of neutrality during and the Second World War. However, the main argument in the public debate was that the Swedish government had acted accordingly with the principle of small states. The majority of the Swedes meant that the principle of neutrality was desirable, since Sweden relatively undisturbed could continue with the modernization project. Such a perspective was for instance evident in the research project called Sweden during the Second World War, which resulted in no lease than 21 doctoral dissertations and a number of other texts between 1966 and 1978. Also, post-war Sweden exerted itself for a considerable time to obtain a standing as a great moral power and world conscience. In a modernistic and supposedly anti-nationalistic spirit, the post-war national identity was founded upon the conception that Sweden was the “favorite child of an enlightenment project” – a country that other states should measure themselves against and, by implication, strives to resemble. A sharp contrast became visible in the 1990s. A number of debates about the politics in the 1930s and 40s, for instance concerning lack of neutrality and friendly attitudes towards Nazi Germany among Swedes in high places, resulted in a new history writing with a special emphasize on Sweden and the Holocaust. On one hand did Sweden retrospectively try to join the Second World War, of course on the winning side, as the nation became a member of the European Union. On the other hand did such a drastic rewriting of history has resulted in a lot of dilemmas, since the actual policy before and during the Second World War becomes problematic when judged by today’s moral standards.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Apr 7
Event12 th European Social Science History Conference, 2018 - Queen's University, Belfast, United Kingdom
Duration: 2018 Apr 42018 Apr 7
Conference number: 12


Conference12 th European Social Science History Conference, 2018
Abbreviated titleESSHC
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History


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