Monday, December 3, 2012

The Swedish Theory of Love

I've spent some time this evening reading stuff by religious conservatives about individualism and family life. I find much of this surreal, especially since I know some of these conservative authors who are worried about the decline of family life have no children, and over here in my agnostic corner I have five. In Europe and America there is a relationship between religion and child-bearing, but it is not nearly as big as you might think, and fertility has fallen nearly as fast among Mormons as among atheists. But, anyway, I do find the topic interesting.

From one of these pieces I learned that the Nordic governments have lent their names to a report authored by some sociologists on the "Nordic Way." The point of the report is to argue that Scandinavians are not leftists in any simple sense. Rather, they put a very high value on personal autonomy, and they value the state as a way of guaranteeing their autonomy. Thus, state-sponsored medical care makes them free of their employers and families when it comes to their own health; close regulation of hiring and firing by private businesses makes their careers (as they see it) more dependent on their own efforts and reduces their need to curry favor with their bosses; and so on:
Though the path hasn’t always been straight, one can discern over the course of the twentieth century an overarching ambition in the Nordic countries not to socialize the economy but to liberate the individual citizen from all forms of subordination and dependency within the family and in civil society: the poor from charity, the workers from their employers, wives from their husbands, children from parents – and vice versa when the parents become elderly. . . legislation has made the Nordic countries into the least family-dependent and most individualized societies on the face of the earth.
Which is a very interesting perspective on the whole arc of modernity.

And now we get to the amusing part, because this document suggests that there is such a thing as a “Swedish theory of love”, which asserts that
authentic relationships of love and friendship are only possible between individuals who do not depend on each other or stand in unequal power relations. Thus autonomy, equality and (statist) individualism are inextricably linked to each other.
Which I find as romantic as, I don't know, prison food, or root canals.

1 comment:

leif said...

the implication that what most consider love is inauthentic is disagreeable. but i think there's still some truth in this if we unpack it a bit. if one is 'stuck' with a spouse for whatever reason -- children, income, medical coverage, strict family traditions just to name a few -- i reason it's likely that the love that bonds the couple could become admixed with feelings of resentment, unwanted duty and a dread of separation.

i'm not saying that it's not still love in its 'complex' form, but rather if the couple (let's just take it in the simplest form) had no such dependency on each other, i think the love they feel would likely be less encumbered, less of a requirement and more of an end unto itself.