Okategoriserade TOLERANCE AND TRUST Reflections on Some Scandinavian Values and Experiences
“Weber talks of a Tischgemeinschaft, where you can eat and drink and pray. At the table people, or rather the male population, got to know each other, have faith in one another. Coming together, sharing bread and views, wine and troubles, without risk of being beaten, but with the prospect of enhancing one’s knowledge and wellbeing — what is this, if not tolerance? It wouldn’t be totally wrong to see an Eranos conference as a Weberian Tischgemeinschaft.".
Published on balticworlds.com on augusti 8, 2013Read more.>>
Brody is a small town in Western Ukraine. Its main street used to be called Ulitsa Lenina — Lenin Street. When the Bolshevik Red Army fought against Polish, White Guard and Ukrainian Nationalist troops in 1920, in what has been known as the Polish-Russian War, it was called Zolotaya ulitsa — Gold Street. Of course it also had a German name, Goldstrasse. As a matter of fact, it had two German names: during the years of the Nazi occupation during World War II, it was renamed Hitlerstrasse — Hitler Street.
When that war started, Brody was part of Poland. Its Jewish inhabitants, around ten thousand, were the majority of the population — or were still the majority: there had been more of them. German artillery, armor and aviation destroyed 1,711 buildings in this little town which, as a consequence of the Hitler-Stalin pact, was first transferred to the Soviet Union, then conquered and occupied by Germany. The town was practically purged of its Jewish population: they were murdered on the spot, starved to death, taken to a nearby extermination camp, Bełżec. At the beginning of 1943, the Brody ghetto was closed and the remaining Jews were deported to Majdanek.
This town, Brody, which had once belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, had experienced miseries of many kinds. During the Polish-Russian War, the writer Isaac Babel took part as a correspondent on the Bolshevik side and reported from the front on battles and terror assaults. In his diary, on the 30th of July, 1920, he notes, after having arrived in Brody:
The town is destroyed, looted. A town of utmost interest. Polish culture. Old, rich, peculiar Jewish settlement. These terrible bazaars, dwarfs in kapotes, kapotes and peyes [that is, caftans and sidelocks], males exceedingly old. School Street, nine synagogues, everything half in ruins [. . .] a bearded, talkative Jew: if only peace came, then we would have commerce again; he tells about the Cossacks looting the town, about the humiliation the Poles had subjected them to; beautiful synagogues, what luck that at least the old stones are left to us. This is a Jewish town — this is Galicia . . .
Isaac Babel, himself of Jewish origin, from the mighty port city of Odessa, may not have been aware that this Brody, on the former Russian-Austrian border, was the home town of another great Jewish writer, Joseph Roth, who happened to be reporting from the same war, a bit northwards, in East Prussia, during those very days. Roth had begun his career as a star journalist in Weimar Germany; both he and Babel were born in 1894 and at the time left-leaning; both had witnessed the horrors of war, but neither of them would survive the next great war: they fell victim to political and personal tragedies.
I got to know a little about Joseph Roth and his world when I translated some of his short stories into Swedish, which is my native language. One of these narratives, “Strawberries”, is about the town where he was born and brought up. As so often, Roth draws a line between “Europe” — the Europe of civilization, nation-states and colonies — and his own universe, separate from that Europe: that is, the old monarchy in general, and the province of Galicia in particular.
“My birthplace,” he writes, and I quote from Michael Hofmann’s excellent English version, “was home to about ten thousand people. Three thousand of them were insane, if not dangerously so. A mild insanity wafted around them like a golden cloud. They carried on their business, and earned money. They married and had children. They read books and newspapers. They concerned themselves with the things of this world. They conversed with one another in all the languages that were used by the very diverse population of this part of the world.”
Most of them were people of the margins, of the periphery, far from high society and the corridors of power. Most of them were poor, badly nourished, many of them subjected to prejudice and envy. There were smugglers, bandits, notorious liars among them. To this place came merchants from Vienna to buy their hops, emigration agents from big shipping companies in the cities of Hamburg and Bremen who took all their money and property in exchange for a ticket to America, a continent of which they knew nothing. Young girls were taken to brothels in Shanghai or Rio de Janeiro. From Russia came persecuted Jews and political refugees — a migration that has been so splendidly described by Martin Pollack in a recent book. People got along, and died in awful numbers, whether they were Poles, Russians, Germans, Jews, or Ukrainians. Yet there was much that was commendable in this society of underdogs. Roth continues:
Where I came from we lived at peace. Only close neighbors were enemies. People got drunk together and were reconciled. Commercial rivals did nothing to hurt one another. They took it out on the customer and the client. They all owed each other money. None had any grudge against anyone else.
There was no tolerance of political parties. No distinctions were drawn between people of different nationalities, because everyone spoke every language. Only the Jews stood out on account of their caftans and their hats and their superiority. There were occasional minor pogroms. In the general hurly-burly, they were soon forgotten. The murdered Jews were put into the ground, and the plundered ones denied that they had lost anything.
This was also a country where there was no need of paper: passports, identity cards, birth certificates, family trees — as in “Europe”, that is to be understood. Because no one paid taxes: officials lived on bribes. And no one went to prison. Grave crimes occurred now and then; trivial crimes weren’t investigated. The narrator explains why, and why these corrupt practices were accepted:
Arson was overlooked: that was an act of personal retribution. Vagrancy, begging, and hawking were all long-established local practices. Forest fires were dealt with by foresters. Mayhem and manslaughter were put down to excessive consumption of alcohol. Robbers and muggers were not pursued on the grounds that they punished themselves sufficiently by renouncing ordinary human society, trade, and conversation. Counterfeiters put in appearance from time to time. They were left in peace because they damaged the government more than they did their fellow citizens. The courts and the lawyers were kept busy, if only because they worked so terribly slowly. They made it their business to settle conflicts and arbitrate disagreements. Debts were invariably overdue.
This was obviously a society in which much went wrong. But there was also the day-to-day feeling that things could have been much worse. When the Austrians acquired this piece of land from the Polish crown in 1772, they started sort of a cleanup. This was a backward territory. Peasants were terrorized by Polish landowners. The priests of all denominations were dirty, destitute and drunk. The new imperial authorities launched a program of what was proclaimed as progress and enlightenment. As Larry Wolff has shown in a brilliant book, The Idea of Galicia, the Jews in particular could hope to benefit from these efforts. To them the Emperor was the guarantor of fairness and justice, a force that could counterbalance the capriciousness, idleness and ruthlessness of the once ruling aristocracy. A degree of cheating and fraud, a mentality of Schlamperei, of negligence, and of generally approved obstruction could be interpreted as a weapon in the hands of the misfortunate — as long as most people believed they enjoyed advantages from it.
Of course, Joseph Roth doesn’t deliver a scholarly or even a reliable account of the realities of fin-de-siècle Galicia. Poverty was still endemic. Progress was being held back by powerful agents in local society, and the monarchy itself, as a universal and unifying framework, as both a real and an imagined community, was steadily in decline. People all over were on the run: as a matter of fact, emigration was more widespread in this area than anywhere else on the continent. No, we can’t trust this guy Roth, inasmuch as he himself was widely known as a deceiver and a con man. Nevertheless, I would argue, he provides us with a set of interesting reflections, or rather statements. Much was tolerated that we latecomers have come to despise, even condemn and punish. Political parties, on the other hand, were not tolerated — which sounds strange to us who have been taught, if not indoctrinated, to appreciate the institutionalized plurality of opinion as a foremost virtue of democracy. Roth regarded them as splitters, adversaries at the expense of ordinary people. To him, true pluralism was to be found in the old society that had so regrettably passed away. When, in Roth’s last novel, The Tale of the 1002nd Night, the unhappy cavalry captain Taittinger, a baron, returns for a while to his estate in the Carpathians, he finds a mayor who is German, one of the scattered Saxon colonists who arrived in in the eighteenth century; his steward is from Moravia; the peasants are Carpathian Russians; the footman is a Hungarian who isn’t sure any more what comitat, district, he has come from; his forester is a Ruthenian — that is, Ukrainian — from Galicia; and the police sergeant has roots in Pressburg, or Bratislava. This blend, this harmony of unequals appeals to Taittinger — perhaps not as the ultimate state of things bur as a secure and a bit sleepy retreat for a man who has no ambition in life.
Thus Roth, looking back with a sense of forlornness, became more and more hostile to a newly created republican order that favored principles over tradition, promoted experimentation instead of safety, and hailed discipline and smartness before tolerance and weakness. His disdain for, and distrust of, the authorities in the successor states, after the dissolution of the dual monarchy, became almost an obsession. What had previously been pragmatic solutions to problems of everyday life were now increasingly seen by the ruling elite as obstacles to a new political mechanism that was aimed at transforming society, transforming existing political and social relations, in a way that different sorts of people, people of different moods and identities, were forced to adapt to whether they liked it or not. What had once been acceptable if not laudable behavior must be wiped out, suppressed, in the name of a higher blessing — which to Roth was sheer cruelty — namely the total domination of the will of the majority, or if you will, the survival of the smartest. What about the rest, then? What about the poorest, the laziest, the oddest? What about those living on the margins, or the freaks, or the disabled, or the disorderly?
These are questions that have haunted much of the twentieth century — a short century indeed, as both John Lukacs and Eric Hobsbawm, two outstanding historians, have told us, but by the same token an age of intense controversy and conflict never seen before in human history.
Admittedly, Scandinavia is more remote than Galicia is — although not too remote for poverty-stricken Galician seasonal laborers, who regularly migrated to Denmark and southern Sweden to work as beet-pickers or farmhands, far into the twentieth century. They also went to large landed estates in Germany, of course, east of the river Elbe, mainly in Mecklenburg and Pomerania. This traffic, to a liberal and nationalist like Max Weber, posed a deadly threat to the German peasantry, who were unable to compete with cheap Polish labor and got proletarianized. By the way, class antagonisms of this sort are mostly absent in the works of Joseph Roth, especially when he envisions a past that is lost for-ever, and which in itself has as little resemblance to paradise as one can imagine.
Now let me leave both Roth and Weber for a while, just to return to both them a little later. For a moment I shall try to enter the Swedish, or better, the Scandinavian scene in order to do justice to the subtitle of my talk. I won’t try to tell this informed audience that there could be such a thing as a single, or uniform, Scandinavian perception or pattern when it comes to “tolerance” and “trust”, or when it comes to anything societal at all, but there may, as always, be some lessons to be drawn from a particular setting, whether it is a dormant legacy or a living memory.
The first use of the term “tolerance” in Sweden dates back to 1788, according to a fairly reliable source: the dictionary of the Swedish Academy. I suppose you will find this astoundingly late. It is almost one hundred years after John Locke, in the aftermath of religious wars and disorders, wrote his famous Letter Concerning Toleration, in which he claimed that “no man can, if he would, conform his faith to the dictates of another” — one of Locke’s principal arguments being that imposing religious uniformity would lead to more disorder in society than allowing diversity. Having a faith at all was a prerequisite, however: as we know, Locke explicitly excluded those who denied the existence of a God. “Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist,” declares Locke. “The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all.” Locke, who had defended the right to rebel against an illegitimate government, was not prepared to accord the same right to a godless person, rebellious or not. Puritans and other sectarians had taken much the same stance in the political and religious upheavals that are usually called the Civil War or the English Revolution, in the mid-seventeenth century. As dissenters, they insisted that the state guarantee their freedom of thought and speech. However, they drew the line at the Catholic faith; and this seems in part to have been dictated by the implicit presumption that you cannot force people to be tolerant without being intolerant against them. After all, fears of a revival of Catholic rituals and preaching in the Church of England, to the dismay of most Englishmen of the day, had triggered the struggles in the first place.
It seems most unlikely that ideas of political and religious tolerance should never have been heard of in a seventeenth and eighteenth-century Sweden that pretended to be a European power of some significance; that invited foreign scholars to teach at the royal court, such as the philosopher Descartes, or at their universities, such as the jurist Samuel Pufendorff; and that produced a truly international figure as the naturalist Linnaeus. Although Sweden at the time was a strictly Lutheran society, and didn’t permit any other confessions on Swedish soil, the leaders of Swedish society —the aristocracy, the military, even the big merchants — were an international class with connections to pre-Enlightenment France, to the Netherlands, a center of modern science, and of course to the English as fellow Protestants. Some Swedes must have been rather well informed of what was going on in foreign lands, not-so-far-off. The term “tolerance” itself may not have been adopted or recorded in literature, in treatises, or in private communications. But since the policy of State and Church was one of severe intolerance and ideological rigidity, as in many other parts of Europe, that in itself would have made opposition and dissension all the more likely, and furthered a creed of tolerance, a longing for diversity.
Let me give you one notable example: that of a Swedish eighteenth-century liberal, Peter Forsskål. He would make a good subject for an essay all by himself. Forsskål, as a young man, became one of Linnaeus’s favorite disciples, and if there ever was a Swedish John Locke, it must have been he. Born in 1732 in the small town of Helsinki, then part of the Swedish kingdom, he went to study in the German town of Göttingen, whose university was strongly influenced by English and Scottish ideas. After some years at the academy in Uppsala, Forsskål joined a scientific expedition to Arabia, where he died of malaria, just over thirty, in what is now Yemen. No one but Carsten Niebuhr, a German-Danish mathematician and explorer, returned from the expedition. Linnaeus named a nettle variety, that Forsskål had sent home, after him, characterizing it as “stubborn, untamed, obstinate, abrupt”.
Who was he then, this stubborn, obstinate man? A botanist by profession, yes; but he might as well, and with no great exaggeration, be called a political scientist. Forsskål actively engaged in the philosophical quarrels of his day, and Immanuel Kant in Königsberg is said to have turned to his writings when attacking Christian von Wolff, a leading thinker in the tradition of Leibnitz and Descartes. In 1759, Forsskål himself published a tract, or a leaflet, of political philosophy, Thoughts on Civic Freedom, which caused considerable controversy in his native country, in part because it contained a liberal program for a change of political systems, but primarily because it was not written in Latin, the learned language, but in the Swedish vernacular, and was intended to be widely read and circulated, not only in Academia. The censor, then in conflict with the ruling party, approved it with only minor alterations, and the tiny little book was printed — and immediately banned by the government. Linnaeus, then the university vice-chancellor, was ordered to have all copies seized and destroyed; Forsskål somehow managed to rescue the bulk of them.
What about this tract was so offensive, so criminal, and in a way pioneering?
We have to consider what sort of society Sweden was in the middle of the eighteenth century. In Swedish historiography, this era is known as “The Age of Liberty”. But the “liberty” that took over in 1720, after a relatively short period of absolute royal power, was mainly in the hands of a ruling aristocracy divided into two competing factions or parties. This regime of liberty, which lasted some fifty years, allowed parliamentary commissions to administer a strongly politicized justice, persecuting opponents and imposing capital punishments for political crimes. Politicians were bribed by foreign powers, France on the one side, England and Russia on the other. The last great peasant uprising in Swedish history occurred during these years of liberty. And economically, the age wasn’t liberal at all but rather regulated, in accordance with the prevailing doctrines of Mercantilism and with an industrial policy that gave heavy support to a privileged class of manufacturers.
Now, Forsskål reacted against this whole system. Politically, it was still a feudal system, whereas the forces of production and the markets for products were becoming more and more capitalist. Forsskål explicitly favored individual rights, not inherited rights. With an implicit hint at the conditions in his own country, he wrote that for civic freedom, “the greatest danger is always posed by those who are the most powerful in the country by dint of their positions, estate, or wealth.” He advocated strict republicanism and the rule of law in place of the power state and the abuse of power. Nevertheless, he said, “subjects can also be oppressed by each other. And, in many Republics, such as the Polish and Italian ones, which take pride in the hallowed name of freedom, there, most people are bondsmen of the high-ranking notwithstanding.” The tolerance he pleaded for, although he did not use the word, is summarized in one central passage: the life and strength of civic freedom consist above all, he says, “in limited Government and unlimited freedom of the written word”. Such a constitution would benefit all of society. Because freedom of the written word promotes the sciences, it criticizes all harmful statutes, it restrains unjust officials and is the Government’s surest defense in a free society. In some respects Forsskål is more radical than Locke, it seems to me. One mustn’t be afraid of delusions, says Forsskål, because “usually, those who seem to be made dangerous by a failing conscience may become good citizens, if only society adapts a little to their delusions”, and in the long run, truth will always triumph. This is almost a program for scientific discourse, for politics as a way of rationally settling social conflicts. It is a program for continuing knowledge production. It is free of burdensome references to the Scriptures. It is also a sign that Enlightenment had reached, and to some extent begun to transform, the High North.
I do not mean to imply that this man, Peter Forsskål, was a revolutionary. He was not. On the contrary, he preached social peace. “A wise government,” he wrote, “will rather let the people express their discontent with pens than with other guns, which enlightens on the one hand, appeases and prevents uprising and disorder on the other.” For these and other words, however, he was heavily fined, and then he went abroad and died. But just a couple of years after his untimely death, his ideas were openly propagated in the very heat of political debate, and some were even put into practice. I’ll tell you how it came about.
In 1765 the Diet, the assembly of Sweden’s four estates — the nobility, the clergy, the burghers, and the yeomanry — was convened. The government, or state council, met with harsh criticism. Liberals had mobilized in all estates. They demanded free trade and economic deregulation, attacked monopolies and privileges, and called for transparency in all things official. State censorship in particular was a target. Many of these goals were achieved in the course of the proceedings, and this Diet stands out as a true reform parliament in Swedish history. A cleric from a Finnish province, Anders Chydenius, put forward a motion in which he justified freedom of information and expression with the need for knowledge in order to institute good laws and with the need for control in order to supervise the authorities. To leave this to a censor, a civil servant, would be equal to arbitrary rule: “Freedom in a Nation”, he wrote, “is secured not only through the Laws, but through the light of the Nation, and knowledge of how the Laws are handled.” Such freedom would promote both tolerance and an active citizenry. I quote Chydenius at some length:
To expect from a man such a perfect statement that it does not bear contradiction or change is totally fruitless. If the statement is absurd, there are always those who rapidly refute it. If it is based on truth, then it stands invincible, and no fortress can be more laudable than the one that has withstood the hardest sieges. If the goal is ambiguous, truth must be found out through polemics. If that is denied, it could have no other source than fear of the day of truth. And nothing can honor innocence more than when she is allowed to present her arguments before the public opinion. If the evil is read by a larger audience that can listen to a speech, then also the response upon it will be read by more people, and that will give a more complete conviction, from which follows a complete reciprocal balance. Falsehood disgraces its originator, but it is to the benefit of the Nation, in that truth be better founded and take better root.
The proposal was swiftly adopted, and resulted in a Freedom of Information Act of 1766, the first in the world to have constitutional rank, which abolished censorship except for religious matters and granted full access to official documents. Openness became the rule; secrecy was from now on the exception and had to be ordered for each document individually. Legal action could only be taken against a book or a paper after its publication.
It is interesting to note that these two liberals, Forsskål and Chydenius, were both Finns, although Swedish subjects. They both came from an eastern periphery and didn’t belong to the influential cliques, coteries, and centers of power in the capital. This is indeed a crucial factor. They had few connections; they could act independently. Their agenda wasn’t free from self-interest. Without information and publicity, people from the provinces were cut off from the decision-making process that others might control more easily, and this of course was felt as a particular disadvantage by people entrusted with some sort of authority in local society, such as parsons and minor officials. Secrecy, until then the norm, was an obvious obstacle to freedom of expression, and freedom of expression was necessary for informed decision-making. The examples of Forsskål and Chydnius give us fine illustration to a notion made by a British scholar, Robert Wokler, that Scandinavian Enlightenment had a “rural-pastoral” rather than a “worldly-urban” touch, to be found in a vicarage rather than in a salon.
Based on this historical record then, we may perhaps come to two preliminary hypothesis: that without transparency there could be no such thing as trust among members of society, because trust requires information and public control; and without a degree of mutual trust it is hard see how such a thing as tolerance could be established and sustained, since to be tolerant you mustn’t be put under constant stress and danger.
Freedom of expression and information, as enacted by the Swedish Diet in 1766, was not absolute. There were limits. The state religion must not be questioned. But apart from that, diversity of opinion was not only tolerated; it was encouraged. Truth was to be strengthened through dissection and discussion. And power would not be legitimate without dissent — a certain degree of dissent, that is. In fact, there were fears that the freedom that had been enacted could be abused. And fairly soon it turned out that it was not political debate, or enlightened discussion, that benefited most from the abolishment of censorship, but to a great extent libel, gossip, and triviality; in other words, remarks that belonged in the private rather than the public sphere. After a while, the fundamental law enacted in 1766 was nullified in the course of a royal coup d’état, but its principles of transparency and non-censorship remained, and are to this day an integral part of the Swedish constitution.
Now then, when the word “tolerance” first came to the fore in Sweden, just a year before the French Revolution, its connotations were not entirely positive. “That word Tolerance”, said a totally forgotten poet and clergyman, Anders Lanaerus (1738–1810), who would later represent his estate in the Diet, “Tolerance has become sort of a symbol by which our new World wants to mark its enlightened way of Thinking and its imagined precedence to the old World.” This in a way looks like the exact opposite of the interpretation made by Joseph Roth: that you would find real tolerance in the old world, in the swarm of contrasts and peculiarities that defines statehood in a multinational kingdom, whereas the modern nation-state — a product of revolution and Enlightenment — tends to support intolerance and the persecution of minorities, of the weakest and most vulnerable groups in society. Roth’s concept of tolerance — a concept implicit in his reasoning — was oriented towards behavior, not ideas or opinions. It was a tolerance that in the Middle Ages was practiced towards the destitute, the beggar, since you could supply him with alms, and later on towards the vagrant, the tramp, since you could require services of him without really paying for them, and towards the fool, since it saved you the cost of keeping him in an asylum. Roth didn’t deny the occurrence of pogroms or the unfairness and the immeasurable amount of human tragedy that were harbored in the old society, but he feared worse things. Ideologies were his enemies. To the liberals, on the other hand, tolerance was an instrument in the struggles of ideas, in scientific discourse, in the fight for prominence and hegemony in general. Now, the passage from Lanaerus that I quoted points to an imagined precedence of the enlightened world. And that was perhaps a quite natural reaction coming from a churchman who might have felt embarrassed on behalf of his estate and vocation by false doctrines and religious fanatics of the day — Swedenborgians, Pietists, Moravians — who appealed primarily to the middle or lower-middle classes and were extremely suspicious of all officialdom, whether worldly or spiritual.
This position taken by a conservative minister was not an odd one, of course. It had to do with politics, with power, since religious beliefs were an instrument of power in societies not yet secularized, and still are to this very day. The great Dane of the nineteenth century, Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783–1872), priest, politician, educator — a typical nation-builder of his time — hated tolerance. He hated it because he hated Enlightenment, which to his mind brought nothing but delusion. And, asked Grundtvig, weren’t the French philosophers themselves intolerant against their adversaries? Grundtvig was no reactionary. On the contrary, he launched a program for the reformation of the Danish school system and could well be regarded as a modernizer, albeit of the moderate sort, an early social engineer. He had a strong belief in human progress, wrote patriotic songs, was a staunch polemicist, to the point that he once was deprived of his ecclesiastical office. In other words: he was a fighter, and yet he was against tolerance. He was against it in spite of the fact that he himself was a victim of intolerance in the state of Denmark, which up to 1849 was ruled as an absolute monarchy.
Over time, Grundtvig was forced to distinguish between to two kinds of tolerance: a bad kind and a good kind. Bad tolerance was seen as a weapon against the true believers; it reflected a mentality, he said, that “Christians not only can, but ought to detest and manfully combat”. If the meaning of tolerance was that all views should be endured, then you must hold lies equal with truths. That in turn would mean neutrality and “an indifference to views about man’s highest concerns that prohibits hating and detesting and condemning any opinion whatsoever”; and, further, that it would be “folly to require of a pious man that he be tolerant towards atheism and blasphemy”. Good tolerance, on the other hand, Grundtvig called frisind — “broad-mindedness” may be the English term that comes closest. That would mean respecting other people’s values, but not failing to declare one’s own. Good tolerance, to Grundtvig, is the opposite of indifference.
Two contemporary Danes, Thomas Bredsdorff, a member of the Danish Academy, and Lasse Horne Kjaeldgaard, a literary critic, have drawn attention to Grundtvig’s old arguments in the aftermath of the public controversy about the “Mohammed cartoons” that were published in a Danish daily newspaper. Old arguments perhaps, but not quite outdated. This dialectic between bad and good tolerance, between the defense of one’s own views and the respect, not for “false ideas”, but for people who stick to such ideas, tends to show up every now and then. Grundtvig himself, during his long life, as Bredsdorff and Kjaeldgaard show, had to revise his stand more than once and at last took refuge in what they call an early version of “repressive tolerance”. This attitude would say: Let us accept that there are holders of mistaken beliefs, sectarians, and wicked people — but not take them seriously. “I think,” Grundtvig says, “the authorities would be well advised to look upon every religious congregation which they have not themselves promoted as a social amusement whereby some people seek stimulation and refreshment, as others do in theatre, card games, music, feasts, or whatever other pursuits human beings find pleasure in.”
Such an attitude may have much to do with a creed of pragmatism that for a good many years, if not centuries, has characterized the political culture both in Denmark and in Scandinavia as a whole.
So far, I have traced tolerance or intolerance in terms of relations between the individual and an institution equipped with power, whether the Church or the Crown: between the individual conscience and an ideological superstructure. The starting point was the advent, or at least the promise, of a civil society — a society that starts a process of secularization, or is the result of such a process. Of course we can imagine tolerance in other societies as well, even in strict religious societies, where faith and politics have not been separated. As one Swedish scholar, Ronny Ambjörnsson, recently stressed, a policy of tolerance in such societies tends to be seen as a collective good rather than embracing individual rights. Minority faiths are tolerated on the declared or implicit condition that they do not interfere with the affairs of the state, or with the affairs of the other minorities. Thus the price of tolerance is discrimination and exclusion from influence in public matters, and an institutionalized form of deference and inequality. In the Ottoman empire, religious minorities were allowed to pray and were obliged to pay taxes. Other examples of multi-religious settings might be the Moslem empires of the Indian Moguls and of Andalusia in the high and later Middle Ages. Ambjörnsson reminds us of the Latin root of the word, tolero, which means, roughly, “to endure”, “to put up with”. “It is not the best of ideas,” he says, “but it is not a bad idea.” It is an idea of subjects, not of citizens.
That sort of tolerance didn’t work so easily in Europe, or the rest of Europe if you count the Ottomans as European rulers, after the wars of religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – one exception, perhaps, being the principality of Transylvania under early Habsburg rule. The principle of one ruler, one faith was stipulated, and practiced with rigor, particularly in the Scandinavian countries where Lutheranism became a state religion, and for some two hundred years the only lawful form of worship, in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. The first non-converted Jew to arrive in Sweden, Aaron Isaac (1730–1816), came as late as 1775. The Swedish monarch Christina, in 1654, had to leave the country after having abdicated and become a Catholic. Arguably, shaking off religious intolerance was a more onerous task in these countries, with their orthodox, state-regulated Lutheranism, than in many other parts of Europe. It had to be a process of learning, of collective re-education; a process that is still not complete to day.
Let me elaborate a little further on national differences or peculiarities, as a way to addressing the second topic of my talk. A year ago, I asked Peter Johnson, a Swedish journalist who for more than thirty years has been living and working in Warsaw, to write an article on Polish gated communities. Poland happens to be the country in Europa with the highest number of people, mostly members of a well-off middle class, living in private settlements enclosed by walls and fences. Why is that so? I wanted Peter to find out. He went all over the place carrying out his investigation. In the taxi on his way to the Warsaw airport, where he was to take off for Sweden, he discovered he’d run out of money. He couldn’t pay for his ticket. Peter turned to the driver. The driver said he could lend him the money he needed and gave him his card. The two of them had never met before. Peter told me he was astonished for two reasons.
First, he couldn’t imagine a similar outcome in his own country. Taxi drivers are believed to cheat customers. Second, it was contrary to the explanation he had come up with for the spread of gated communities. Surveys support the idea that residents do not stay behind walls and fences because they are afraid of serious crimes and acts of violence: the rate of serious crime is no higher in Poland than in most other European countries, and so Poland, by all standards, is a fairly safe country. The risk of being physically offended isn’t higher in Poland than elsewhere. On the other hand, people have no trust in social relations that go beyond close friends and relatives. They lock their gates and they hire guards, and they even enclose undeveloped lots, because they have, for historic reasons, it seems, no trust in authorities, especially the police, and tend to regard any stranger as a potential swindler, a taker of bribes, or a secret agent. For this, Peter cites analysis made by the great Polish sociologist Piotr Sztompka. And that, perhaps, was a finding that he would have expected. The generosity of the taxi driver, however, remains unexplained.
Trust, or what political scientists sometimes prefer to characterize on an aggregate level as “social capital”, has been used as a theoretical tool to differentiate between countries and societies when it comes to their overall performance, not least in macroeconomic terms, the legitimacy of their ruling elites, the general well-being of their inhabitants, and the democratic credibility of their institutions. A high degree of distrust would result in low figures in all these categories. Higher degrees of trust, on the other hand, would make societies more likely to advance further along their current path — towards more progress, more efficiency, a stronger rule of law, more social welfare, etc. That is a proposition that political scientist Bo Rothstein has been making repeatedly. A state of accepted “legal corruption”, conducted by a law-breaking elite which dictates the rules of the game solely to their own benefit, would be a loss of “social capital” and eventually lead to the “self-destruction” of stable social relations, Rothstein argues — most eloquently in a book from 2011, The Quality of Government: Corruption, Social Trust, and Inequality in International Perspective. The collapse of social relations would in turn make such things as group solidarity and common moral standards a mere illusion. Instead, “Grab what you can” would be a quite rational behavior as long as social distrust and corrupt inclinations are the norms of everyday life.
A reasonable assumption is that transitional societies, those in the process of shaping new institutions and electing leaders without much experience in central or local government, may be extremely sensitive to the balance of trust and distrust. As a “newborn citizen”, how far can you rely on anybody outside the private sphere? To what extent are people, under uncertain circumstances, prepared to invest confidence in public matters? If you can’t predict anything, because a promise is worth nothing, if there is no honesty among fellow citizens and an atmosphere of suspicion prevails in the hearts of ordinary people, what then can you hope for, or strive after? As Piotr Sztompka has remarked, whatever remained of civil society in Poland after ages of foreign rule, and then dictatorship in the name of socialism, inevitably became a “civil society in conspiracy”, with a legacy of hostility and alienation in the relations between state and citizens. “Any deeper association with state institutions, politics, regimes — like taking governmental office, accepting a seat in the parliament, enrolling in the ruling party — was considered as polluting, stigmatizing, something akin to treason.” The legacy has been a private-mindedness, the retreat to what Sztompka calls “private, imaginary enclaves”. And this collective mood then continues, and flourishes, in the enthusiasm of surrounding oneself with walls and fences.
Well, that may be an exaggeration. Most Poles don’t, of course. Nevertheless, there seems to be an acceptance of enclaves of middle-class affluence, even by those who can’t afford them. I am not particularly familiar with the Polish case — I’ve referred to Piotr Sztompka, and to Peter Johnsson, my friend and colleague, who has written extensively on Polish history. But these findings point to a dimension of conflict: What kinds of action and behavior are tolerable, and which are not, if a society is to achieve and maintain general trust? How much mistrust and dishonesty is bearable if we want to lay a viable foundation for economic development and social harmony, and if we accept these as desirable goals for our common endeavors? In other words: do we need to be a bit intolerant, of both deeds and ideas, in order to secure trust and confidence in human society?
I assume that trust and confidence are not innate qualities: they have to be learned, as well as trained and practiced. If they are not to be invented anew all the time, they had better be institutionalized, in one way or another. Which brings me, once more, to the Scandinavian political scene, and to the “Swedish model”, if there ever was one. Very briefly I would like to outline for you what, in my opinion, can be taken as the four basic pillars of such a model with regard to trust and tolerance — which is, in essence, a model of how modern society is being built, although not the only conceivable model. The pillars, or components, are: one, transparency — which we’ve already dissected a bit; two, bureaucracy; three, organization; and four, negotiation.
But first: What more specifically does “modern society” mean? The underlying question in my presentation has been: How can you simultaneously build up tolerance and trust in relatively modern milieus, where the principal rule for solving political and social conflicts is peaceful deliberation and not violent confrontation, and where decision-making is generally the result of rational calculation involving many parties, and not of subduing by way of rank and privilege? We can think of the transformation of a feudal society, where obligations are taken as given (and can be mutual, but are fundamentally and constitutionally unequal), to a society where it is the obligation of every capable person to promote and uphold trustful relations, and where trust follows not from occasional acts of choice, in the market or at the ballot box, but from a chain of inherent control mechanisms, of checks and balances. In institutional terms, this transformation seems to take place when the warrior gives way to the civil servant as the principal symbol of state power. Historically, this transition from duty to trust seems to correspond with a shift of social paradigm. The salute is replaced by the handshake, the bow by a look from eye to eye. A sensitive question here, it seems to me, is: how much deviation from and violation of what are generally considered to be binding norms can be accepted in a society where trust among all is supposed to constitute the central element in solving actual or potential conflicts? To put it bluntly: tolerance of broken contracts and betrayed confidence must certainly have its limits.
Having said that, I want to return to the four pillars.
First: Transparency, openness. Scandinavian countries use to score highly in transparency indices. In 2009, Sweden was ranked third and Finland fifth in one international survey. The same goes for prosperity indices, which measure not only material wealth but also social and political parameters, such as health, freedom, security and “governance”, which is a code name for the relative intolerance of corruption and bribery. The same year, a London-based think tank placed Finland on top and Sweden third from the top, with Switzerland in between, on such a prosperity index. No one would deny that abuses of trust are present in the countries mentioned; in my own, a number of flagrant scandals in local governments, including criminal behavior, have been disclosed in recent years. But a long tradition of transparency and constitutional guarantees of access to official documents, as once codified in the Freedom of Information Act of 1766, reduces the opportunities for officials to hide or disguise misconduct, and that certainly functions as an important restriction. You have to enrich yourself in other ways. Running public affairs like your private business is more or less out of the question.
Second: The quality of bureaucracy. There is some striking evidence for the proposition that Swedish civil service — and I believe this goes for the other Scandinavian countries as well — entered a stage of professionalization in the early nineteenth century. Bureaucrats were increasingly hired and promoted according to merit — diplomacy being the last branch to recruit primarily on the basis of noble birth and good connections. This breed of bureaucrats internalized a spirit of honesty, decency and trustworthiness. They usually had a university education, were trained in law, moral philosophy, technology, and history — later in political science and economy — and most of them had absolutely no sense of the value of political debate, not to talk of mass democracy. The bulk of them were independent of governmental power and could be dismissed only by the due process of law. Some of them would occasionally take a seat in the government. A few top officials, provincial governors for instance, were the king’s trustees (förtroendeämbetsmän); they enjoyed more prestige but they could be removed from office at any time.
Third: Organization. Also beginning in the nineteenth century, Swedish civil society became organized from below through a set of voluntary associations which later came to be known as “people’s movements” (folkrörelser). They elected their own representatives, and removed them when they lost trust or confidence in them. These representatives were initially, and at least internally, called “trustees” (förtroendemän). People elected to political office were also regarded as “trustees” (förtroendevald). Of course there were bosses who managed to monopolize power and manipulate opinion, but they were not outsiders and had once gained the trust of the rank-and-file. They actively had to ask for support; on occasion they could lose it. And in order to remain on top, they had to be at least moderately successful on behalf of their principals. They could not refer to any other authority.
Success in this system — and this is my fourth pillar — depends heavily on negotiation. All parties have their counter-parties. Almost all citizens — employers and employees, producers and consumers — belong to opposing blocs with conflicting interests; and if you don’t have an obvious adversary, the state is happy to step in as one. The goal is to reach an agreement or a compromise. No one is perfectly satisfied with the outcome, perhaps, but everyone has to stick to it. You would have made no compromise at all if you had reason to suspect it wouldn’t be respected. Trusting your adversary, whom you may have many a good reason to despise, is a cornerstone of this system, or model. What you can’t tolerate is that your adversary behaves disrespectfully, that he deceives you. A Finnish historian, Henrik Stenius, has suggested this feature as the very essence of a Scandinavian, or Nordic, model: “the trust in societal solutions, which have the backing of the state as well as of the municipalit[ies] and voluntary associations.” He should have added: big business.
Now this mode of sitting together, discussing, arguing, negotiating, perhaps quarrelling, making decisions, forms part of a European legacy. Max Weber, the great social thinker and scientist, in his comparative studies of cities found a profound difference between the Asian city and the European city or municipality. The Asian city was basically a military creation, built for warfare. European cities were communities of people who had come together either to escape feudal bondage, or to take part in economic, non-agricultural activities, or both. They were built on consent, not coercion. In the Classical age, political matters formed the core of the common interest, whereas in the medieval town, economic affairs may have been more important. The unifying factor, where every member of the community — be it a guild or a religious fraternity, be it a stock exchange, a trading company or a tavern — where every recognized and respected member of the community had his place, was the common table. Weber talks of a Tischgemeinschaft, where you can eat and drink and pray. At the table people, or rather the male population, got to know each other, have faith in one another. They exchanged rumors and shared secrets with each other, they established bonds of friendship. The men around the table were forced to behave decently and respectfully, at least moderately so, otherwise the community as such would perish and the powers of the outside world would intervene in their business. The meal became a seal. Those who were not invited — Jews or Moslems for example, due to self-imposed food restrictions — were obliged to mind their own business, with some-times detrimental effects for the cohesion of society as a whole.
Coming together, sharing bread and views, wine and troubles, without risk of being beaten, but with the prospect of enhancing one’s knowledge and wellbeing — what is this, if not tolerance? Discussing without risk of being cheated, since everyone around the table, indoors or outdoors, is supposed to deliver not the first argument that comes to mind, but the very best argument, not in order to be heard by all, not in order to be honored, but because it will promote the interests of the wider community — and what is this, if not a true expression of trust? It wouldn’t be totally wrong to see an Eranos conference as a Weberian Tischgemeinschaft. I shall end by picking up two questions of contemporary significance that might serve as food for further thought and discussion.
One: In civilized societies, societies that cherish pluralism and pay tribute to the value of conflicting parties, is “hate speech” to be tolerated — that is, assaults on religious, ethnic, sexual groups or minorities? Swedish legislation says, unconditionally, “No”. You mustn’t permit manifest intolerance, as far as identities are concerned. I myself have been reluctant to swallow that message. I mean, who defines intolerance? Is it the plurality, or the minorities themselves? Or a committee of ethical experts? And who decides what’s hate and what’s pure prejudice, or innocence? Second question: Can you expect trust from someone who in his or her eyes is not trusted, perhaps even humiliated, by you? I am thinking of people who are by the majority treated as second-rate members of society, left out for good or bad reasons, with no prospect of raising their conditions of living and their general status, not being integrated in the institutional framework, for instance on the labor market, without ever having permanent employment, doomed to casual labor and material insecurity during their entire lifespan – to be more precise, that international class of trash-workers, to be found in both developed and less developed countries, which Guy Standing, a British social scientist, has termed “the precariat”. We may tolerate the existence of them, sure, not least in our own interest, but what incentive do they have to trust us? And what if they turn into rebellion: will we still handle them with tolerance, or simply look at them as terrorists?
- Verena Dohrn, Reise nach Galizien: Grenzenlandschaften des alten Europa. Frankfurt am Main 1993: Fischer, p. 93 ff.
- Isaak Babel, Tagebuch 1920. Translated from the Russian, edited and with a commentary by Peter Urban. Berlin Friedenauer Presse 1990, p. 77.
- Joseph Roth, Berliner Saisonbericht: Reportagen und journalistische Arbeiten 1920–1939. Edited and with a preface by Klaus Westermann. Cologne 1984: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, p. 23 ff. Roth wrote for New Berliner Zeitung — 12-Uhr-Blatt.
- Martin Pollack, Kaiser von Amerika: Die grosse Flucht aus Galizien. Vienna 2010: Paul Zsolnay. See my review of this book, “Exodus from Galicia. Inferno of the swindlers and the swindled”, in Baltic Worlds IV:3 (October 2011), pp. 34–35. See also Pollack’s Galizien: Eine Reise durch die verschwundene Welt Ostgaliziens und der Bukowina. Frankfurt am Main/Leipzig 2001: Insel.
- The Collected Stories of Joseph Roth. Translated and with an Introduction by Michael Hofmann. New York/London 2002: Norton, p. 138 ff.
- Larry Wolff, The Idea of Galicia: History and Fantasy in Habsburg Political Culture. Palo Alto 2010: Stanford University Press, p. 27 ff.
- Joseph Roth, The Tale of the 1002nd Night. Translated by Michael Hofmann. New York 1999: Picador, p. XXX. [[Jewish Library in Stockholm!]]
- There is a huge literature on Weber and die Landarbeiterfrage, the agrarian question. For an overview, see Michael Sukale, Max Weber: Leidenschaft und Disziplin. Tübingen 2002: Mohr Siebeck, Chapter 3, “Agrargeschichte und Agrarpolitik”.
- Alistair McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Oxford 1998: Blackwell, pp. 214–215.
- Tankar om borgerliga friheten: Originalmanuskriptet med bakgrundsteckning/Thoughts on Civil Liberty: Translation of the Original Manuscript with Background. Stockholm 2009: Atlantis. The translator has preferred “liberty” to “freedom” as an equivalent to the Swedish keyword “frihet”. But “liberty” is generally assigned a far more restricted meaning than the author had in mind. It has to do with civil or human rights, whereas “freedom” alludes to a new balance of power in society — in this case, a change from aristocratic rule to civic rule, although not yet to majority rule.
- See Jonas Nordin, ”Forsskål lade grunden för det fria ordet”, in Svenska Dagbladet, 2013-07-11.
- “Memorial om tryckfriheten”, in Anders Chydenius, Samlade skrifter 1, 1751–1765. Edited by Maren Jonasson and Pertti Hyttinen. Helsinki/Stockholm 2012: Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland/Bokförlaget Atlantis, p. 366. In the original: “Friheten i en Nation bewaras intet blott genom Lagarna, utan igenom Nations lius, och kundskap derom, huru de handhafwas.”
- Ibid., pp. 369–370. In the original: “Att af menniskior wänta ett så fullkomligt yttrande, att det ej tål motsäjelse och ändring, är aldeles fåfängt. Är yttrandet orimmeligt, så finnas de snart, som vederlägga det. Är det byggt på sanning, så står det oöfvwerwinnerligt, och ingen fästning kan prisas högre, än den, som uthärdat de svåraste belägringar. Är målet twetydigt, så måste sanningen utletas igenom skriftwäxlingar. Nekas det, så kan det ej flyta af annan källa, än räddhoga för sanningens dag. Och ingen ting kan hedra oskulden mera, än då hon får lägga sina skiäl för allmänhetens ögon. Läses det onda, som blifwer tryckt af flere, än som kunna höra ett tal, så läses det därpå gifna swaret af flera, och gifwer en fullkomligare öfwertygelse, så att härutinnan är en fullkomlig reciprocitet. Osanningen skämmer ut sin uphofsman, men gagnar Nation, i det at sanningen grundas, och får fästa bättre rötter.”
- See Juha Manninen, “Anders Chydenius and the Origins of World’s First Freedom of Information Act”, in Juha Mustonen (ed.), The World’s First Freedom of Information Act: Anders Chydenius’ Legacy Today. Kokkola 2006: Anders Chydenius Foundation, p. XXX.
- Robert Wokler, “Der besondere Charakter der ländlichen Aufklärung des Nordens”, in Bernd Henningsen (ed.), Das Projekt Norden: Essays zur Konstruktion einer europäischen Region. Berlin 2002: Berlin Verlag, p. 65.
- Anders Burius, Ömhet om friheten: Studier i frihetstidens censurpolitik; Skrifter 5. Uppsala 1984: Institutionen för idé- och lärdomshistoria, p. 245.
- Anders Lanaerus, Försök om europeiska och i synnerhet svenska folkets seder och beskaffenhet, Stockholm 1788, quoted in: Svenska Akademiens Ordbok, column T1895. (In the original: “Det ordet Tolerance har blifvit liksom det symbolum, hvarmed vår nya Verld vill utmärka sit uplysta Tänkesätt och inbillade företräde för den gamla Verlden.”) See also Janne Charlesen, Karlshamnsprästen Anders Lanaerus: diktare och siluettkonstnär; Karlshamns museums skriftserie 3; Särtryck ur Carlshamniana 1993. Karlshamn 1993.
- See, for instance, Arne Jarrick, Den himmelske älskaren: Hernnhutisk väckelse, vantro och sekularisering i 1700-talets Sverige. Stockholm 1987: Ordfront, passim.
- In the original, with italics: “kristne ej alene kan, man bør avsky og mandelig bekaempe.”
- In the original: “en ligegyldighed for meninger, som angå menneskets højeste anliggender, der forbyder att hade og avsky og fordømme hvilken som helst mening det måtte vaere.”
- In the original: “dårskab at forlange af en gudfrygtig mand, at han skulle vaere tolerant mot gudsfornaegtelse og gudsbespottelse.”
- Thomas Bredsdorff and Lasse Horne Kjaeldgaard, Tolerance – eller hvordan man laerer at leve med dem, man hader. København: Gyldendal 2008. All my Grundtvig quotations are from this book.
- In the original, with italics: “Jeg mener nemlig, øvrigheden gjorde vel i at betragte enhver gudelig forsamling, den ej selv har foranlediget, som en selskebelig forlystelse, hvori en del af folket søger sin opmuntring och vederkvaegelse, mens andre søger deras vid skuespil, kortspil, strengeleg, geastebud, eller hvad andet menneskenes børn kan forlystes ved att nyde i faellesskab.”
- Ronny Ambjörnsson, “Därför trivs religionen bäst i sekulära samhällen”, in Dagens Nyheter, 2013-04-22.
- Fredrik Böök, a prominent member of the Swedish Academy and his country’s leading literary critic during the first half of the twentieth century, traveling in Transylvania in 1931 simply stated it was ”one of the original places of religious freedom” and that ”the idea of tolerance […] did triumph up in the mountains”. (Resa till Ungern. Stockholm: Norstedts 1931, p. 173.) – See also Judit Pál, ”’The Struggle of Colours’: Flags as National Symbols in Transylvania in 1848”, in Anders E. B. Blomqvist, Constantin Iordachi and Balázs Trencsényi (eds.), Hungary and Romania Beyond National Narratives: Comparisons and Entanglements. Oxford et el.: Peter Lang 2013, pp.100-1.
- Peter Johnsson, “Gated Communities: Poland Holds the European Record”, in Baltic Worlds, vol. V:3–4 (December, 2012).
- Bo Rothstein, The Quality of Government: Corruption, Social Trust, and Inequality in International Perspective. Chicago 2011: University of Chicago Press, passim.
- See for instance János Kornai, Bo Rothstein & Susan Rose-Ackerman (eds.), Creating Social Trust in Post-Socialist Transition. New York 2004: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Piotr Sztompka, “Mistrusting Civility: Predicament of a Post-Communist Society”, in Jeffrey C. Alexander (ed.), Real Civil Societies: Dilemmas of Institutionalization. London 1998: SAGE, pp. 193–194.
- www.transparency.org/policy_research/suveys_indices/cpi/2009/cpi/2009/cpi_2009_table ; visited 2010-04-05.
- Four case studies are presented and discussed in Erik Wångemar, Tillit och korruption: Korruption, maktmissbruk och bristande tillit i svensk lokalpolitik 1963–2011. Stockholm 2013: Santérus.
- Rolf Torstendahl, Bureaucratisation in Northwestern Europé, 1880–1985. Domination and Governance. London & New York: Routledge 1991, pp. 225-7.
-  Sveriges konstitutionella urkunder. Stockholm 1999: SNS Förlag, pp. 228–230. (“Konungen må dem entlediga, när Han pröfwar Rikets tjenst det fordra.”)
-  Henrik Stenius, “The Good Life Is a Life of Conformity: The Impact of the Lutheran Tradition on Nordic Political Cultrue”, in Øysten Sørensen & Bo Stråth (eds.), The Cultural Construction of Norden. Oslo 1997: Scandinavian University Press, p. 171.
- Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology. Ed. by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich; transl. by Ephraim Fischoff. New York 1968: Bedminster Press, p. 1242, pp. 1343–1347.
- Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. London: Bloomsbury Academic 2011.