En europeisk apokalyps? Om Viktor Rydbergs 'Den hvita rasens framtid'

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In 1895 a posthumous essay by the Swedish poet and scholar Viktor Rydberg (1828-
1895) was published with the, for many modern Europeans, provoking title Den hvita
rasens framtid (“The future of the white race”). In the late 20th century however “the white
race” was a commonly used expression, it did not indicate any right-wing sympathies.
Rydberg himself was a leftist, a social liberal. Compared to the imperialistic arrogance of
many of his contemporaries, right and left, he sounds in his essay rather like a balanced
Rydberg’s conception of race is not equivalent with the modern term; the meaning
he gives the word is in fact more cultural than biological. When he speaks of “the white
race” Rydberg does not simply mean (Christian) Europeans, he includes Jews, Muslims,
Hindus, Buddhists living in Asia, America and to some extent Africa in this expression;
but what he actually criticizes is a phenomenon within Europe, not on other continents.
That is the reason why I am treating his essay as an example of internal European cultural
criticism. Rydberg’s essay was originally published as introduction to the Swedish
translation of Benjamin Kidd’s international bestseller Social evolution (1894), but it was
written independently of Kidd’s book. The Swedish author is, unlike Kidd, not a Social
Darwinist and far more pessimistic about the European future than the Irishman. A
common feature is however that both of them view religion and ethics as most important
for the survival of a “race”.
Evolution is rightly said to be one of the most typical theme in 19th century Europe,
but parallel to this optimism in the second half of the century there was a widespread,
nearly apocalyptic, anxiety for the degeneration of the population caused by exceptional
fast development. Rydberg shared this anxiety: he was very critical to industrialism and
unhealthy milieu of the big European metropolises, like London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna,
Petersburg and Moscow. According to what he says in his essay, death rates were much
higher in these towns than on the countryside, the surviving people living in the former
also suffered from bad health. In combination with low nativity this was a dangerous
threat to Europe, especially compared to the steadily growing, physically as well as morally
sound population in China and the Far East. If nothing is done about it, Rydberg fears
that East Asia in the future will conquer Europe in “the struggle for existence”. The
biggest threat to the western world, according to Rydberg, is however the atomistic,
egoistic individualism among Europeans themselves, especially among some of the
industrialists and businessmen, only interested in money. This lack of morals will in the
long run ruin the ecological system as well as the poor people on our continent.
To Rydberg the only alternative to decline and final cultural destruction of Europe
is a revival of the Christian idea of an organic fellowship of humanity in the body of
Christ, including living, past and coming generations. Furthermore he advocates
agricultural development and small, instead of large-scale industry.


  • Anna Lindén
Enheter & grupper

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Idé- och lärdomshistoria
Titel på värdpublikationFråm Kadmos till CAP - åtta uppsatser om europeiska nätverk, nationer och narrativ, CFE Working papers series No. 30
RedaktörerAndreas Önnerfors
FörlagCentrum för Europaforskning, Lunds universitet
StatusPublished - 2005
Peer review utfördNej


ISSN (tryckt)1403-6754


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