The Cultural Construction of Equality in Norden

  • Bo Stråth
Part of the Approaches to Social Inequality and Difference book series (ATSIAD)


This chapter argues that the Nordic countries managed to keep the tension between freedom and equality under better control than elsewhere in Europe. This is something different from arguing about concepts like freedom and equality in absolute terms. The control of the tension between freedom and equality might be seen as a Nordic Sonderweg, which dealt with the political and cultural implementation and management of the vision of equality. The Nordic specificity was that the bønder (farmers) were both the object of a Romantic idealization of a heroic past going back to the world of the sagas, and an actively participating subject in political processes. Norden became, in some sense, more equal than many other societies, and the people’s movements were crucial in this development. When trying to come to terms with new kinds of inequalities when industrial capitalism was spreading, the people’s movements gave the debate a particular twist. Ideals of equality were connected to ideals of positive freedom following Isaiah Berlin and to ideals of self-realization through bildning.


  1. Berlin, Isaiah. 1969 [1958]. Four essays on liberty. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Eisermann, Gottfried. 1956. Die Grundlagen des Historismus in der deutschen Nationalökonomie. Stuttgart: F. Enke.Google Scholar
  3. Sejersted, Francis. 2001 [1984]. Demokrati og rettstat. Oslo: Pax.Google Scholar
  4. ———. 2002 [1993]. Demokratisk kapitalisme. Oslo: Pax.Google Scholar
  5. ———. 2005. Socialdemokratiets tidsålder. Norge og Sverige i det 20. århundre. Oslo: Pax.Google Scholar
  6. Sørensen, Øystein, and Bo Stråth, eds. 1997. The cultural construction of Norden. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.Google Scholar
  7. Stråth, Bo. 1996. The organisation of labour markets. Modernity, culture and governance in Germany, Sweden, Britain and Japan. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. ———. 2001. Nordic capitalism and democratisation. In The democratic challenge to capitalism. Management and democracy in the Nordic countries, ed. Haldor Byrkjeflot et al. Oslo: Fagbokforlaget.Google Scholar
  9. ———. 2004. Nordic modernity: Origins, trajectory and prospects. Thesis Eleven 77 (1): 5–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. ———. 2005. The Normative foundations of the Scandinavian welfare states in historical perspective. In Normative foundations of the welfare state: The Nordic experience, ed. Nanna Kildaland and Stein Kuhnle. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. ———. 2012. Nordic modernity: Origins, trajectories, perspectives. In Nordic paths to modernity, ed. Jóhann Páll Árnason and Björn Wittrock. New York/Oxford: Berghahn.Google Scholar
  12. ———. 2016. Europe’s utopias of peace: 1815, 1919, 1951. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  13. Tocqueville, Alexis de. 1988 [1835–1840]. Democracy in America. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  14. Wagner, Peter. 1990. Sozialwissenschaften und Staat. Frankreich, Italien, Deutschland 1870–1980. Frankfurt/Main: Campus.Google Scholar
  15. Winkel, Harald. 1977. Die deutsche Nationalokonomie im 19. Jahrhundert. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bo Stråth
    • 1
  1. 1.University of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

Personalised recommendations