From a late-July 2021 interview with Niall Ferguson by prolific economics blogger and sometimes-professor Tyler Cowen. The interviewee just throws a series of questions with little framing or fluff or sidebar-ing and Ferguson has to deal with them as best he can. (As usual the British are better at this kind of thing.)
I want to highlight his answer on libraries but I’ll add in the preceding and following questions for the feel of how the interview went:
COWEN: What’s your favorite bridge in Glasgow?
FERGUSON: There’s a bridge over the River Kelvin near the school where I went, Glasgow Academy, which might be boringly called the Kelvin Bridge. I forget its name, but it’s a lovely spot. Glasgow’s a rather beautiful city. You might be surprised to hear me say that, but the area around the university and the place where my school was has the River Kelvin. That bridge is one that I associate with, yes, walking to and from school in all weathers.
FERGUSON: Yes, libraries are really a crucial part of my life because, without the public libraries, I would not have been able to read as much as I did as a kid. If I hadn’t been sent to the Mitchell Library as a schoolboy, I wouldn’t have understood that history was this unmanageable quantity of data. I remember seeing the shelf of books about the Thirty Years War. I’d been asked to write an essay on the Thirty Years War. I went to the Mitchell Library, and there were all the books on the Thirty Years War. And it hit me, “Oh my God, there are just hundreds of them.”
That was when the challenge of history suddenly gripped me, that there was this vast, almost unmanageable body of literature to read on any topic. So, libraries, yes. Libraries are better than Google. Very important because libraries sort the material in a way that is honest, and Google sorts it in a way that’s designed to sell ads to you.
I think libraries — they are sacred places. Isn’t it funny? Think back: The way that print evolved as a technology produced an enormous amount of content that was not selling ads, and libraries ended up as the organizing institutions of information with a system of cataloging that wasn’t designed to do anything other than get you to associate the book you were reading with the other books that were related to it. I think library cataloging systems are a much-underrated contribution to our civilization.
COWEN: If we look back at the great thinkers of the past and ask ourselves who produced the strongest defense of liberalism — liberalism in the broad sense of that word — it could be John Stuart Mill or Hayek or Burke or Tocqueville. For you personally, who is it?
FERGUSON: Tocqueville —
FERGUSON: — has always resonated with me much more than Mill, and more than Hayek too. I think that’s partly an Oxford story. As an undergraduate, we were required to read Tocqueville’s L’Ancien Régime in French in our first term. My French wasn’t that good, so it was quite hard work, but the conversations about that book that I remember having — not only with my tutor, Angus Macintyre, but with my near-contemporary, Andrew Sullivan — were very seminal.
The realization that Tocqueville’s idea of liberty is something that has to be protected by nonobvious means, by things that you might not, as a liberal, even approve of — that’s a fascinating insight. Then, when we read Democracy in America, it became even clearer what Tocqueville’s project was, which was to show why France had failed to be or could not be the United States, and why American liberty had a very distinctive set of institutional supports.
To highlight the core of Niall Ferguson’s off-the-cuff defense of libraries:
Libraries are better than Google. Very important because libraries sort the material in a way that is honest, and Google sorts it in a way that’s designed to sell ads to you.
I think libraries — they are sacred places. Isn’t it funny? Think back: The way that print evolved as a technology produced an enormous amount of content that was not selling ads, and libraries ended up as the organizing institutions of information with a system of cataloging that wasn’t designed to do anything other than get you to associate the book you were reading with the other books that were related to it. I think library cataloging systems are a much-underrated contribution to our civilization.
Ferguson is twenty-some years older than I but I have had many of the same thoughts. I have also often chewed over the idea of what we can date the start of the Internet Era. In the sense we now understand the Internet, I think this may be 2010 or so. The Internet Era as we understand it exists in the 2010s without doubt, but not quite in the 2000s, and definitely not in the 1990s—even if the technology existed.
Ferguson, as a prolific academic and by the 2000s or so certainly qualifying as a transatlantic public intellectual, no doubt was an early adopter and for him the Internet Era began some notches earlier than for the median person, but that still doesn’t change the fact that the infrastructure was not there. However may notches earlier he “adopted” than the median educated Western person, he encountered the Internet Era as an adult, certainly in his thirties. I therefore expect many would dismiss his defense of libraries as that of someone simply spinning his top in nostalgia for his 1970s-era childhood and adolescence and 1980s-era young adulthood, and 1990s-era early careerhood.
What does it say about me that I have had many of the same ideas?
The mass shutdown and/or severe restriction on libraries has also been one of the highly disappointing things during the Neverending Flu Virus Panic of the past two years, which dug in deep into something political and therefore found fuel for its fire. What were they thinking? Even major research libraries were simply folded up and closed indefinitely, with no access of any kind. This was true even of my graduate school library and many others. The Library of Congress finally reopened in June 2021 but remained subject to difficult and annoying restrictions disruptive to any productive work.
One of the reasons they were able to get away with closing libraries — and by extension most other places — is the weakness of true commitment to the Niall Ferguson view of libraries as sacred places. Even those who administer libraries, in many cases may just view them as elaborate museums, and if you want to do some kind of research, there’s all this available on the Internet so stop your whining. I could write much more on this.
The US-backed Afghanistan government turned out to be even more kleptocratic, and even less competent, than expected. Crossing the hurdle of being even less competent and reliable than already-low expectation is something like an Olympian-like effort, but they did it.
This story now dominates the US news and as best I can tell has totally pushed out the endless, tiring flu-virus news they decided to keep dumping on us for whatever reasons they have for that.
And the question “Who Lost Afghanistan” has suddenly entered US discourse in the 2020s, a rather shabby end to a twenty-year project that was misguided probably from the start and astonishingly costly — several trillion dollars, all tolled.
The regime rapidly’s “folding” process happened between about mid-July and mid-August 2021 and was a fait accompli by about August 5.
A full defeat it was, without any apparent kind of fight. No battle of Kabul 2021. No counter-attacks. No defensive perimeter. Nothing. I expect that any US state, Canadian province, or Mexican department’s national guards could have done better that the entire national army of Afghanistan. The response was so laughably noodle-armed as to be not worth the effort of writing about. Even a full account wouldn’t run very long because there was just no action to speak of. Any would-be write of a military history of the fall of Afghanistan in mid-2021 will come up short of material and have to either pad it out dishonestly or abandon the project.
The start of the unraveling aligned precisely with the US pullout. A symbolic trigger to press the advantage. A symbolic trigger to push on the barn door of this shabby looking farm. A rich man from the Big City had taken pity on the shabby farm and donated all the money to build up the barn. Surprise! The barn door was completely rotten, and off its hinge, and all it took to get in was to push lightly. Why not push it open and walk in? The barn is now ours.
The final end for this regime, its backbone and what prestige it had entirely sponged off its patron, came with chaotic scenes out of Kabul. Those scenes themselves don’t matter much even though they may be the lasting imagery of it all. They just punctuate the general news of the full regime collapse within weeks.
The Soviet-backed regime did much better in the early 1990s and after not only its patron’s withdrawal in 1988-89 but its patron losing its entire sphere of influence in Europe by the end of 1989 and itself breaking up and falling into deep economic malaise in the 1990s. I’ve got to hand it to the Afghan communist regime of 1979-1994 or so, history proves you were more honorable in at least a staying-power sense than the kleptocrats of 2021. The kleptocrat-in-chief (president) and his inner circle were last seen fleeing with helicopters full of cash to an unknown destination.
I don’t really see any way around it: this is a major blow to US prestige, and it has all the political class dropping from regularly scheduled flu-virus talk to almost in unison express shock and outrage.
I heard someone describe the fall of Afghanistan with these words:
“The fall Afghanistan is one of the most catastrophic failures in the history of US foreign policy“
The statement can be interpreted one or both of two ways:
(1) It was a mistake to waste enormous resources on a twenty-year effort at “nation-building” there, almost as if it were a game. Committing to Afghanistan in the first place was the foreign-policy failure. Blame here is shared by several dozen, hundred, or thousand people in positions of real power and influence, between September 2001 and mid-2021 in the US executive branch, “intelligence community” (as the de rigeuer phrasing has it, military bureaucracy, State Department, and also foreign-policy academia and think tanks and the like.
(2) The rapid, unconditional, pre-announced retreat clearly undermined whatever morale and fighting spirit the US-backed regime forces had; the refusal to re-intervene to save the US-backed regime ensured its defeat.
The second is a micro-failure. The first is a macro-failure.
And what a macro-failure! By one calculation (Brown University “Cost of War” study, updated to April 2021) the whole Afghanistan project came at a cost of $2,600,000,000,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars borne (in principle) by the US taxpayer. That amounts to the astonishing sum of nearly $1000+/annum/US taxpayer — effectively a yearly “Afghanistan tax” for 20 years!
That de facto “Afghanistan tax” was never subject to some kind of popular-vote approval. If it ever had to be approved as some kind of nationwide ballot referendum (as has to be done for extra money requests for parks and schools locally), it likely would have failed and the whole thing averted.
Imagine what that $2.6 trillion ($2600 billion) could have done over these twenty years, what kind of grand capital projects, civilization-advanding projects. A North-America-wide high-speed railway network? A network of Moon colonies with a forward base on Mars by now?
I also recall in the context of that staggering sum ($2600 billion) the whole political deadlock over the border wall in 2017-18. It was comparative table scraps in the $20 billion range. Its opponents claimed it was too expensive and the whole deadlock shut down the government for a time as everyone played it for full drama. Fully funded, built, and maintained, a border wall would have come in at around 0.5% of the final cost of the Afghanistan project.
I sometimes put myself in the spot of an observer from the 2100s or 2200s uncovering in archives news and commentary on events of my time, the 2000s, 2010s, and now 2020s. People one or two centuries hence will tend to have some big-picture idea of our time but most of the details will have eroded away by Time. What picture will they reconstruct of our time? It seems to me they’ll see the priorities of our time as too bizarre to properly understand. A long intervention, without clear purpose, in one of the world’s strategically least important places, gets extremely lavishly funded, year after after year for twenty years, usually without serious opposition except by some wingnuts on the far-left or libertarian-right. But a border wall project to stop a very real problem, at 0.5% the cost of the aforementioned distant-and-pointless-intervention, triggers a several-year-long political-hysteria.
Even if the US spends not another cent on Afghanistan (saving also on the cost of those giant Black Lives Matter and Gay Pride replacement flags for the embassy), the sunk cost of $2.6 trillion will continue to increase, given that (a.) the US gives its highly paid soldiers lavish lifetime benefits by law, and (b.) the entire thing was financed on debt from the start which requires interest payments and we no one seems to care about budgets anymore, or debt, or even inflation (now sustained at over 5% for four months and running, unprecedented since the so-called Volker Disinflation and the “Whip Inflation Now” campaign which succeeded at the cost of the early-1980s recession; the economic disruptions of 2008 cause a three-month 5%+ inflation run). I think the cost may run to something in the $4 trillion range when all is said and done.
There are lots of indirect costs. Unclear is how many refugees the news and dramatic imagery will net-add to Europe and the USA, such refugees of which, if taken in (if anyone tries to “pull a Merkel”), will all have to be cared for and impose real social pressures. The Afghanistan debacle is headline news in Europe almost as much as in the USA I think specifically because it could be the trigger for a 2021-22 migrant crisis, a major political headache.
The whole thing looks bad for everyone involved.
As for the US-backed regime, it looks rather like all along it rested upon a giant, shiny, but brittle tin pot.
Some defenders of the US government’s actions in 2021 will say (1) guaranteed (2)– the macro-mistake of entering into a long intervention and nation-building project guaranteed a chaotic final end when it all unraveled — be it in 2005, 2010, 2015, 2020, 2025, or 2030. Someone was going to have to do it.
The ousted kleptocratic regime’s defenders, if any, will point more to (2) — the US mishandling its disengagement. For other reasons this is also the sustained line of attack on the president personally by even most of those (the majority) who agree with the decision to end the twenty-year involvement.
Many are no doubt more interested in the symbolic value here.
I was on a long, multi-leg airplane journey subject to several delays August 13 to 15. The delays especially had the silver lining of giving a better ability to chat with other passengers in the same situation. The news began becoming a flood that Afghanistan was “falling.” One, whose name I later learned was D. L., was talking all about the imminent fall of Kabul on the morning of August 15 (US time) at the Dallas airport, having updated himself during our August 14-15 overnighting at our airline-provided hotel for a canceled flight.
There was a large portion of US military on our flight, probably no more or less than any other time but much more noticeable on airlines in an era when international travel is still so disrupted, barriers imposed by government policies guaranteeing much lower passenger totals than usual. The military people are usually not the most impressive, though I know they are all competent for having passed the entrance exam to a fair standard. But they are
(on conv with Korean guy in his mid-20s)
The Afghanistan case itself demonstrates an important principle: more important than balance-of-forces calculations on paper. People have long recognized this. We borrow the French phrase esprit d’corps to refer to this, and the entire concept of “morale” is something similar, another French borrowing/repurposing.
I don’t know that the US has looked as weak at any point in my lifetime than it does in mid-August 2021, following events of the past several years but especially the past 18 months. This has been a terrible period, the 2020s even 15% in the books now look like the end of the American Century, but maybe the middle part of the decade will turn things around a bit.
As I’ve observed the news on Afghanistan, I get thinking on the same lines some were no doubt thinking in 1988 an 1989 when Soviet forces ended their ten-year intervention in Afghanistan, widely interpreted as a defeat for the USSR. The Soviet-backed regime ended up looking like a tinpot and lost control to the Taliban by the mid-1990s, who led Afghanistan on the path to being the world’s worst large nation outside Africa on lots of indicators before being bombed out in late 2001.
The USSR still looked powerful enough during the pullout of 1988 and early 1989, with the last of their forces crossing back into the USSR in February 1989.
So powerful did they look that (famously) few predicted the events of 1989 (starting about mid-year), 1990, and 1991, when the USSR lost its entire network of so-called “satellite states” — the ex-satellites in Europe mostly turning anti-Russian — then itself dissolved, with the USSR’s legislature voting itself out of existence in the end of 1991 bowing to national independence movements in the constituent Soviet republics, maybe the most important of which was Ukraine, where public opinion shifted strongly towards independence and a full severing of political ties with Moscow between mid-1991 and late-1991.
I don’t know enough about the Soviet dissolution process to know what the scholars’ consensus is on the role their Afghanistan war played in the events of mid-1989 to late-1991, but I do know the process is all traceable to below-the-surface events happening mainly in the USSR in 1987 and 1988, protest movements on various grievances. The Gorbachev decision to withdraw I presume was public knowledge by mid-1988, and so reinforced the ongoing protest-movement energies in the USSR proper, which later cycled out towards the satellites starting in mid-1989 and brought the whole shaky edifice down. Chronologically, the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan does not pre-date the breakup process but is right in the middle of the first phase of it, even if few actors or observers, either domestic or foreign, understood what was going on at the moment.
In other words, the USSR’s Afghanistan pullout signaled weakness and serious internal ‘regime’ problems and probably had symbolic or even metaphorical value at the time.
All this seems similar to the 2021 case for us, with the exception that at least the Soviet-backed left-wing quasi-Marxist regime they left behind had some kind of staying power and loyalty of at least enough people manning the oars of that regime that it lasted years and fought reasonably honorably.
The disgrace with which the US-backed Afghanistan government folded up, in most cases apparently preemptively surrendering or evacuating to the Taliban who simply walked in, is much more embarrassing, really, that the orderly Soviet withdrawal. A direct parallel would be the US-backed regime lasting to the mid-2020s before the final collapse, perhaps with the US embassy flying the Black Lives Matter and Gay Pride flags (the latter now mandatory at all US embassies) to the end.
The outrage, shock, and anger across the entire US spectrum at this humiliation (there is no other way to interpret it, with even the spin-doctors — whose job it is to give finely crafted talking-points to defend everything and anything the government does or says — looking a little ridiculous and the hearts not in it.
Another parallel with the 1980s-USSR is Andropov or Chernenko. Those were the aged, old-line Communist party-machine men who wound up percolating up by after Brezhnev died of old age. Both Andropov and Chernenko looked feeble during their brief tenures, before both dying of old age, one after another. It was embarrassing. After the third aged premier died within two and half years. Brezhnev died in late 1982; Brezchnev’s successor Andropov died in early 1984; Andropov’s successor Chernenko died in early 1985. Following this three-man string of elderly premiers, in came social-democrat reformer Gorbachev, a comparatively young man in his fifties at the time.
The whole thing looked like a farce: this supposedly global titan, the superpower USSR, either the world’s leading power or a near-competitor with the leading power depending on whom you asked in the 1980s, being nominally led by figures like those (Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko) in the late 1970s to 1985 (pre-Gorbachev). That is exactly the era in which the Soviet security commitment to molding a Marxist Afghanistan was made. Of course it revived a generations-old Russian play for Central Asia dating back to the mid-19th century (at one point called “the Great Game,” a name which for some reason stuck and is recognizable today). Do people see current US president as a figure like Andropov or Chernenko? Is this better or worse than how they saw the Orange Man?
PRC-China money will soon start pouring into Afghanistan (adding another buckle on the Belt and Road mega-project?). Unfortunately, therefore, we are going to be subject to years of “Who Lost Afghanistan?” talk in the USA. The opening salvos were fired early on.
I mentioned above that the Afghanistan debacle contributes to the US looking as weak as I think it ever has in my lifetime. Who is in our out of a presidential palace in Kabul matters much less than the symbolic nature of it al. Maybe after a few weeks, months, or years this will seem less true that it does as I write (August 17).
The last 18 months in general have made the US look weak and perhaps morally undeserving of leadership. The realities of wealth and power-inertia being what they are, the US will still have power a while yet to come, but I don’t think the US any more can claim moral leadership.
— Early spring 2020: An in-retrospect, frankly crazy-looking Panic over a rather modest flu virus by world-historical standards of these things.
I am not alone in noticing that absolutely none of the Taliban wear masks out of fear of the said flu virus. None. Not even a token mask here or there. Just none. They know they are making history and what time do they have for silly mask stuff?
The initial Panic over a flu virus was embarrassing in and of itself, but it may even have passed, looked back on as an embarrassing mistake. But then is when forces from above intervened and made the Panic basically mandatory, institutionalized the Panic, with lots of transparent power-grabbing going on long after the people instituting the rules stopped personally panicking.
— Late spring and summer 2020: Elite-led and elite-encouraged protests against the United States itself (the country of which said elite nominally leads), against all US police, and at core against the US historical majority-population itself (or at least half or two-thirds of it — the Middle America component).
I thought at the time, observing the protests of the end of May and early June 2020, that people will look back on it as a kind of “color revolution.” Ours was strange in that instead of being nominally patriotic and on behalf of the people, it was a top-down, quasi-mandatory cultural-political policy of hatred of the core of the nation itself, root and branch.
Real moves to dig in with a new ethnopolitical caste system followed rapidly, by which one section of us (including this writer) are designated Evil. Naturally the Evil component of the nation is to be contained and disempowered where at all possible. The system was already well-enough visible by the 2000s in some areas at least, and unmistakable by the 2010s; signs of it were clear already in the 1990s, and even earlier on the fringes. As I told a friend at the time, who I suspected sympathized with the protests/riots and therefore phrased my reaction carefully, these things (images of mass arsons, rioting, thousands of smashed windows, scenes of uncontrolled mass looting) are a terrible blow for the USA’s image abroad. He angrily replied that that was not the case because the real damage to the USA’s image was Trump.
— The rest of 2020 and into 2021: The return of the a flu-virus Panic and signs a public-health would be used as a wedge with which to take more control (for the collective benefit, of course).
Rather than backing down they chose to dig in. They could have deescalated, admitted the mega-error that was the whole flu virus panic of early spring 2020 (we soon knew with certainty that the actual threat was about 1/100th of the level claimed, and in line with previous severe influenzas in recent decades — usually about two per decade since the 1970s — of which we took no notice). They chose to institute a quasi-permanent Panic-pushing regime around the same flu virus.
Each of these things is a political failure to a great degree, and they all combined to make the US look weak, as did several years (late 2010s) of constant political squawking at such a fever pitch that all our satellites in Europe and many other places could not ignore it.
I kind of understand why they did the whole Permanent Pandemic thing (and they had created a large domestic constituency of people terrified of a flu virus), but there is one thing that shows this kind of reckless and crazy action — full-on flu-virus demagoguery by what are supposed to be the world’s leaders — was a sign the US had lost the right to moral leadership:
The world followed a US pied-pipe into the flu-virus panic in 2020. Many of the “students” quickly exceeded the “teacher” here and made even more brutal virus-lockdown etc. policies than the US. Some of the “students” who jumped the gun no doubt would have deescalated and dismantled their domestic Panic-regimes if the US had absolutely refused to indulge in the temptation and had maintained a Sweden-like line of staying fully open like any other flu wave, an being done with it quickly. So the whole mega-fiasco of the Flu-Virus Panic of 2020-21-22 is more the USA’s fault than any other single actor, with the possible exception of China. But we didn’t have to copy their wacko “lockdown” policy. That we did makes us look weak, but that our political and thought leaders dug in and made the Panic regime permanent is an unmistakable sign, to me, that something is wrong.
All this relates to the Afghanistan debacle of July-August 2021. I am sure I am not along in sensing, in the rapid collapse of the Afghanistan regime, a metaphor for the state of its sponsor and benefactor.
The metaphor is with the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, when they abandoned a ten-year nation-building attempt there. I don’t think anyone argues Afghanistan brought down the USSR (it was a piece on Zbigniew Brzezinski’s great-game chessboard), but it was symbolic of serious domestic problems in both the Soviet state and its network of allies.
The Soviets must not have had a long debate on their own “Who lost Afghanistan” Question because the quasi-communist regime they left behind outlasted the USSR itself! It seems to me our own “Who lost Afghanistan” Question is so very uncomfortable for our policy-shaping, agenda-setting, and media elite because the answer is so uncomfortable, especially because of how much worse it looks than the USSR’s orderly pullout in 1988-89.
I visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki in March 2015. Living in Korea at the time, I was in the process of transferring visas, which at the time meant one needed to physically leave Korea to get a fresh 90-day visa, which as far as I know can be done by all the rich-country passport holders, certainly the US, Canada, EU, and Australia. So anytime a visa status would change people would have to leave. Realizing I had one coming up, I planned a two-week trip to Japan to take full advantage of it.
Hiroshima has a large park near the atomic blast site which they call the Hiroshima Peace Park. Nagasaki has something similar but smaller.
I wasn’t thinking about it at the time but I was there in the seventieth anniversary year (1945–>2015). Now the eightieth anniversary year is in sight (2025). What is the legacy of the atomic bombings now?
For one thing, there is a direct line between the bomb’s explosion and the geopolitical picture of today’s East Asia. The Emperor of Japan announced by radio (at noon Tokyo time, August 15, 1945) the surrender and the immediate release of most of the overseas territories Japan had acquired over the past fifty years, including the long-held possession of the island of Taiwan, all the possessions on the mainland of China, the entirety of the Korean peninsula whose fate was to be cast to an open geopolitical open sea, and many of the islands of the Pacific transferred to US administration as spoils of war, and of course the evacuation of all conquests since the expansion of the was in December 1941.
The entire justification for the atomic bombings, and to a lesser extent to the policy of firebombing cities in Germany, German-aligned Europe, and Japan proper, was to induce a non-negotiated peace, full surrender and full-occupation, a radical aim in any war. The Hiroshima atomic bombing’s defenders say it was necessary to ensure a swift and full surrender, allowing for a total occupation and reestablishment of Japan on neutralist and US-friendly terms, to be a weak power in military terms and a jumping-off point for US power in the West Pacific.
In retrospect, the way 1945 geopolitically played out was a net negative. Too much changed, too wildly, too fast, in directions too unpredictable. Several of these problems with us trace indirectly to the atomic bombing and the policy of full-occupation, immediate dispossession of all Japan’s territories, and a rapid carve-up of all its overseas holdings. Those arguing for giving some of these places something like protectorate status for a period were shouted down in the excitement of the time.
As I think over the vast sweep of US foreign policy in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the West Pacific since the 1940s, this full-occupation-and-puppetization-of-Japan decision was the bedrock on which everything since rests, and the atomic-bombing was simply the application of the full-occupation policy. I don’t know how it could have gone better.
A lot of memorials of Hiroshima are pacifist in nature, of course, with the message being that violence is bad, bombing of civilians is very bad, and atomic bombing is very very bad. But dropping a bomb under orders is just an act, one of millions, billions, trillions of acts, in war. Less often have I seen any critique of the policy behind the act. Not the decision to drop the bomb or not, but the decision for full-occupation that made the atomic bombing a logical tactic.
In the mid- and late-2010s I started to drift into the “policy” world in graduate school and then at a job and in general in “policy adjacent” circles. Earlier I had been an interested observer but in getting close to the action you realize what an enormous establishment the “security state” is, but how largely incurious the whole of it is. For twenty years there were hardly any voices against leaving Afghanistan, one of the least important places in the world for US interests and a well-known graveyard of empires. A lot of these ossified attitudes in Washington foreign-policy circles are simply coasting on a path-dependency and inertia that dates to 1945.
I’ve lately been riding the Washington Metro (the much resented, decidedly second-rate, but often adequate, rail transportation system) most days of the week at least once, sometimes twice.
It’s not as bad as it was a few years ago. Many of the old problems are still there and the system remains something of a disappointment, and at times an embarrassment. Certainly it is those things to those who have seen what other countries/places have done. I feel confident I’ve written on this topic before on these pages.
What I want to record here is on masks in the Metro, something unheard of before March/April 2020. I mean to try to coherently record some sociological observations here, so we’ll see if I can stay disciplined and do so.
First I should state my position clearly.
The “Covid Mask“:
A dehumanizing symbol of submission…
A psychological (re-)enforcer of destructive Flu Panic and vector of the Panic Pandemic…
A sign and symbol of social dis-cohesion, of atomization…
Even a form of moral cowardice, absolutely not the stuff of which greatness is made…
A magic amulet-like item useful for social signaling and little else (studies show no evidence of any benefit; blocking normal access to oxygen, though, does happen)…
In case any of that was too ambiguous, count me as against masks.
I was against them from, approximately, the start.
But as I write these words (this post was written/revised between July 20-22, 2021), the nightmare of living in dystopian Covid Mask World feels nearly entirely gone, in even the most pro-mask parts of the USA. I see almost no one in masks in public places outdoors anymore.
When one does see a masked visage on the street, it most often seems to be an East Asian. Not exclusively, but on a per capita basis they’re way out in front. And they look highly isolated now, just as they did before the Panic really got into gear.
There was a kind of unstated consensus that the wearing of surgical masks for some general fear of flu or cold viruses in public was a sign of some kind of social pathology. This quickly disappeared, but seems to have somewhat recovered. I was in Japan for a time in 2015 and saw a few of the masked-in-public people. There might be one on a full subway car, or one or two visible as you look over a very busy street from above. It was not a general practice. And in my time there I got the feeling that those Japanese who worse surgical masks outside were: (1) usually women, (2) in many cases clearly trying to conceal themselves from others, to hide, to be anonymous—for the high-riding mask was usually paired with a low-riding cap.
Masks in the big blue urban centers in the USA are even largely gone even from indoor places, but still far above the former rate of ~0.00%.
The tide turned somewhere back there in April/May and the entire Flu Panic regime was rapidly rolled back.
I’m trying to think, but I don’t think any stores even maintain an illusion of a mask rule anymore. The last of the major disruptions in for-profit businesses were gone by May/June, with a few stragglers reentering the world in early July. A few McDonalds still don’t allow dine-in as of early July, one tangible example of lingering disruptions, but a big one I pass regularly that clung bitterly to the shutdown model finally reopened June 13; but rival Burger King had been basically fully open for dine-in since at least June 2020.
Businesses serving paying customers, those who have multiple options for rivals, exist under market pressures and must cater to customers. Non-business monopolies do not need to do any such thing. Non-market monopolies can impose whatever rules or ways of doing things, be they ridiculous or humiliating or capriciously arbitrary or even malicious, that they want. (Cf. any Department of Motor Vehicles).
The only places I think you still see these mask rules are in such monopolies. That generally includes anything to do with governments. The Metro is a monopoly player and is quasi-government run.
This whole thing–the social phenomenon of the Flu Virus Panic–is, of course, big, a big deal to our culture and politics, some say the biggest such thing since 1945. Simple narratives are crammed through the avenues of opinion-shaping one one side or other, but the whole thing is highly complex. They’ll be studying this thing for years across lots of disciplines, how it happened and how it got such staying power.
I underpredicted the strength, and staying power, of this thing in spring 2020. I overpredicted its staying power a year later in early 2021. I don’t want to believe the Flu Panic people who demand crude, no-exit-strategy sledgehammer options will be back on top, when flu season comes again in a few months. I see worrying signs that they will be back, but maybe not.
In any case, I’ve been interested in signposts for this, basically from the start, and that is where the Washington Metro comes in.
There is a posted rule in Metro (“federal law requires you to wear a mask while in the…”). And signs of the old Flu Panic regime still linger in the system. But lots of people are now ignoring the mask rule on the trains and stations with impunity.
My observation, from a large sample of observations by now, suggests that if you enter the Metro system, wherein it is still nominally mandatory to obediently don the “Covid Mask,” you will see something like the following mask rates at any given time:
10% to 30%: No mask at all. In some of these cases, the person probably does not have one on him/her; in others, the person is still “carrying” but did not want to wear it and did not take it out;
10% to 30%: Have a mask but it’s just for show. A mask is visibly attached to the person in some way, hanging somewhere on or near their face, but NOT actively worn at any given moment;
40% to 80%: Loyally wearing a mask. The ruler followers.
A common type of non-masker is a relatively young, professionally dressed male. That type of passenger is much more likely to be conspicuously non-masked in Category 1 than tourists (to the extent there are many of them). All else equal, males are more likely than females to be free of a mask. All else equal, Blacks are more likely to be without a mask than Whites. Come to think of it, this latter one I suspect may shield the non-masked whole from any attempt at crackdown (the concept “disparate impact” comes back to bite…?)
There is flexibility between these categories, which is where one particular interesting sociological observation comes in.
I notice that tipping-points occur locally with masks on the Metro, via the “demonstration effect,” and can tip the ratio at any given moment.
An illustrative example:
Seven passengers are in one end of a train-car within peripheral vision of each other, aware of each other. Two of the seven have no masks. Five have masks. The two with masks show no sign of being ashamed of not wearing masks and content about it, breathing free. Of the five masked people, some don’t want to wear the masks but feel they have to, or are frightened to break a rule, or think another person might yell at them, some set of fears. Observing the non-masked passengers are not being attacked, insulted, accosted, or arrested, soon one or two or three of the five originally masked passengers either take off their masks or transition to the “Mask just for show” category. The ratio of 5:2 Mask:NoMask soon flips to 2:5 Mask:NoMask. Then a few more people board the train-car, all loyally masked, and one or all of the “defectors” tip back into the Masked camp, perhaps afraid of being yelled at by a Volunteer Mask Enforcer, calculating that their chances of unwanted problems have just done up and it’s not worth it; they slink back into East Berlin, leaving their heartier fellows who breached the Wall to their own devices.
Decisions are socially influenced. Everyone knows it but sometimes we get these beautiful little natural experiments to show it and see it.
Metro which nominally mandates masks but never enforces the mandate, and by now the wider-social pressures are much relaxed and few wear them outside anymore, and in the right conditions the number of mask-wearers can plunge, even under a system of stated penalties for failure to comply.
We are seeing here a modified free market at work, one which could have kicked in from the start, if they’d dlet people making their own decisions and adapt, which eventually they did (had to do) anyway. A very large part of this whole debacle and International Flu Panic Response Quagmire an endless social and economic damage could have been averted.
I have seen no real effort in the DC Metro system to enforce masks at all, in June/July 2021. I myself have foregone some potential rides in the second-rate world of the DC-area subway, in the recent past, because I didn’t have a mask with me and felt annoyed or morally offended by the practice. I realize now that this one-man boycott was not necessary, for I have seen not a word spoken to any of the rule-breakers, and after I realized this I, too, have decide to stop wearing masks in the Metro system.
It’s not like Korea. A 1990s-era guidebook I once read described South Korea as “a democracy with authoritarian overtones.” In Seoul, teams of police (?) strut through train cars inspecting passengers confronting people who fail to wear their masks to some perfect standard, demanding these people adjust their masks. Basically that’s the kind of scene you’d get in an dystopian nightmare-world. And a lot of good it did: Their major social and economic disruptions continue without a clear exit-strategy, and no political courage to simply reject the Panic and apologize for the whole thing. They are totally quagmired in the system they created.
Lately I’ve heard Singapore has taken steps to reject the Panic model and treat “Covid” as any other flu, dismantle the entire Anti-Covid dystopia-lite apparatus.
Top-down edicts work better in Singapore, of course, than a place like Washington DC or any other of the USA’s “big blue cities.” It may be one reason why there is no enforcement of the ostensible mask mandate in the Metro is that they think they simply can’t do it. And this means the entire thing is something of a giant with feet of clay, and people’s individual decisions drive the whole thing more than government edicts.
These personal choices exist over a baseline in which the stale leftovers of the Flu Panic regime’s marketing campaign are still visible, like “Workers of the World, Unite!” signs in shop windows you pass as you creep up to the Wall to observe those who have breached it and are on the other side.
A picture I took a few days ago, a pretty good example of the kind of marketing campaign I mean:
The forces of the Panic itself linger, but it was clear they were essentially out of power even in the USA’s “Big Blue” areas. The old slogans look weak now.
Here is another, taken on the same day:
The most ridiculous-seeming of all were the leftover posters warning passersby at the MLB stadium that “Covid-19 is a VERY DANGEROUS disease!” etc., as dozens of maskless people walk almost every minute, at close quarters to each other, for hours. (The Washington Nationals organization lifted its attendance-limit on June 9, and signaled it would be doing so weeks earlier.)
All this makes me wonder where things stand. In 2020 we saw the rise of a hardcore and ultra-committed Flu Panic coalition. You still hear from them but their influence, their hold on power which was once so impressive/terrifying, is shown now to be now pretty weak, even in monopoly-controlled spots that still cling to the old slogans, such as the Washington DC Metro system. Are they waiting for the next flu season to strike back in force?
There are signs that some in the old coalition want it to be over. As for Metro, they are running commercials on TV boasting about how they are doing super-special cleaning measures, i.e., public-health theater.
But those sticking to the Flu Panic coalition are still too numerous, agitated, and influential to just roll it all back by a one-time decree (hence the Flu Virus Panic “Quagmire”). This is all the more so when flu season comes again. Even now, a lot the news-commentary squawkers are spending much time on flu, even in mid-summer when there is seldom much flu at all in the climates typical of the USA.
Some may not remember that masks were not particularly a feature of the early stages of the Panic Pandemic in the West, but only gradually rolled in. The mask mandates were surprisingly late on the Panic’s timeline.
I think masks survived specifically because they were such a clear way to overtly signal obedience to the Virus Consensus (which was, roughly: “Panic now, ask questions later or never; dissent is unpatriotic; and to hell with the consequences of the lockdowns”).
The phenomenon I’ve observed on Metro, of some people consciously choosing to ignore the rule and of social tipping-points being observable within the dynamic environment of a train-car, I think fits with that.
The Welt is reporting 1,300 people are missing. The number of dead in west-central Germany is over a hundred confirmed, and dozens more dead in Belgium. Many of these deaths are people in care facilities unable to easily move under their own power and when the flood came they were goners. A few rescue workers, of various fire departments, were also killed.
At about the same time South Africa had a man-made disaster of mass looting, but I aim now to stick to non-man-made disasters–though of course many will reply that major floods are also man-made, because of human-caused Climate Change. So it gets complicated. In any case, the agent of destruction is rain, which is not a human hand (as in the looting and arsons in South Africa), so that’s the line I’ll draw for now and revisit the Climate Change thing shortly.
There were big floods in Germany and the Czech Republic in 2002. In the annals of European history, major floods on basically this scale (like 2002 and 2021) are recorded several times each century. Of course people alive at any given moment think theirs are special. How will this 2021 flood rank? Probably not the worst of the century. But human psychology is such that many want to believe “we have never seen anything like this.”
I learn, in connection with someone’s commentary on these July 2021 floods, that the very worst recorded floods in central European history were back in 1342, when entire cities were inundated.
There were actually a series of floods over two years (1342-43). The flood and immediate aftermath may have killed some number in the high tens of thousands, those being the direct deaths. Given the economic damage from the floods, probably some number in the high hundreds of thousands died indirectly in the coming year or two or three, and it is said two straight terrible harvests were recorded, as the flood had damaged soils in addition to all the other damage it did to major centers of commerce. Then, in 1349 and 1350, the Pest arrived at these same places, known to us as Bubonic Plague or the Black Death.
Whereas the floods of 1342 might claim a total in the high hundreds of thousands, the Plague by the early 1350s could claim into the millions. It’s a tempting conjecture to think that the floods of 1342 (and others in 1343) softened up parts of Europe for the Pest, when it made its first appearance in Europe a few years later.
I had never heard of the Flood of 1342 before today. It came down on a still Malthusian Europe (existing within the “Malthusian Trap”), and was one of several disasters and mass-death-and-disruption events which a long-lived person of the day would live to see, even if 1342 were particularly incredible, reaching twice the high-water-mark as some of the major floods of our era.
We post-Malthusians expect it as our birthright to be forever immune from Nature. We are too good for it. We are geniuses, for we have broken free from Malthus and are masters of our destiny. When natural events do occur, many are willing to embrace a new kind of religion to explain them.
We usually assume pre-modern people thought floods or the like were God’s punishment, and while many still today believe some version of that, the most dynamic type of Western and Westernized person scoffs at the idea, but readily embraces Climate Change, almost replacing the God’s Punishment on Sinful Man idea with close versions of the same using climate-change talk. I could have predicted the kind of stories that are now coming out on the German floods: Some variant of “Climate Change Caused Floods in Europe” is all over.
Lots of people readily believe this (of course wildfires, floods, or earthquakes are caused by Climate Change; what are you, some kind of bigoted nut of little faith? Repent! The end is near!).
There is little need for any persuasion, somehow wanting to believe and not voicing doubts, which are telltale signs of a religion. This is all still true even if/when climate change is “real,” which is the tricky part of talking about this. It seems extremely likely to me that our activities could/would raise global temperature, but the existence of a general civic religion around such a fact is separate.
In brief searching for 1342 flood material, I see someone graphed out major flood events on the Hungarian Danube from 1200 to 1500, long before anyone started burning coal anywhere:
The Big One of 1342 was preceded by earlier ones, and in general it looked like all of a sudden enormous Climate Change was upon the world in the 1340s. Again in the 1390s-1410s there seemed to be floods all the time. Other times years would pass without one.
In my long search for why people so readily embraced destructive Flu Virus Paranoia in 2020, and how the erection of a new state cult around a Forever War Against Flu Viruses came about, I came to think it must be something deeper than a few conspiracy-theory-like rumors and grainy videos of people in hazmat suits in the Chinese interior followed by a mad-scientist’s crazy bell-curve projections of Millions of Deaths. Those things, and the other features of the early Flu Panic, were basically exposition, or at best weak plot points, lifted from any number of Killer Virus or Zombie movies (people are often turned zombie by a virus, after all).
There had to be predecessors to the astonishing social phenomenon to witness of society embracing Flu Virus Paranoia and willing to deal large-scale damage to their own fellow citizens to placate the Flu Virus gods. Was Climate Change was one of these predecessors? I reluctantly conclude that signs point to yes. It was far less successful than the Flu Panic of 2020-21, but at core there are some important similarities. Both sides may overplay their hand but put religion-like certainty into not just the rightness of their positions, but the moral rightness, and the moral need to crush naysayers or skeptics. Certainly this was true of the “Covid” Panic.
Flooding news reminds me of is my beloved old job, a job I walked away from in my early twenties because I was worried I would get too comfortable and never leave, and felt I had something out there to accomplish, somewhere.
Sometime back there I worked in mapping. One of the big tasks was creation and maintenance of flood maps for insurance purposes and for disaster-planning purposes, so flood news sometimes brings back those memories. FEMA was one of the clients for some of the projects.
There was a lot of money in this flood mapping. The ultimate source of the money I think was taxpayers, for when the client was not FEMA (“federal” tax dollars) they were invariably local or state governments. I didn’t like to think about that part, and instead focused on doing the task as best as we could do it.
At the time we were making maps using the best new techniques, which meant basing them on the fieldwork of a laser contraption known as LiDAR. It was a fun job, I excelled at it, the level of office politics was minimal, and most people seemed happy. I got to listen to audio books much of the day when deep into the map tasks.
I can’t have been the only one to have had the sneaking suspicion that all of our work might be for nothing, if the global warming / climate change people were right. We were drawing ten-year flood lines, fifty-year flood lines, hundred-year flood lines, and what if none of it was applicable to the 21st century?
If I had stuck around there, or if I had successfully gotten my job back after leaving for Korea the first time (the recession of 2009, which lingered into the 2010s, disallowed that; they’d have loved to have had me, as I heard from the directly) I’d have gotten to some position of responsibility there, but as it was, I had little.
I’d love to revisit those maps now, and spot-check how many times flood waters hit the various thresholds (10-year flood line, 50-year flood line, etc.) since we made those maps.
Come to think of it, I wonder how the concept of flood-lines are even handled, now that Climate Change is rather more powerful than it was. The thought that flood-mapping may be a giant wasted exercise in such changing conditions is not a hard insight to make.
This is a wide and deep review of Norwegian politics and the many political parties active in Norway today.
There is a general election in Norway coming up, September 13, 2021 — which is a Monday and not a public holiday. Norway has high voter turnout, despite the lack of voting-day being a holiday, and has averaged 76-78% turnout in the past several elections. Unlike many countries, Norway shows no downtrend in turnout in the past thirty years, though in the 1980s turnout had been a notch higher at 82-84%.
What follows here has evolved into a full overview of the Norwegian political system, its political parties, and its entire political culture, as seen by me and as I now understand it, focusing on the present but drawing on the world of the 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s.
This started as a set of notes on Norwegian politics. I knew some already but lots of gaps in my knowledge have been filled in from reading and research inspired by getting started, and driving it to be what it is now.
The weeks before a general election is the absolute best possible time to do a project like this. Election (years) are important signposts for political parties and the entire political culture, when people pay attention and when open politicking and campaigning is much more normalized and general than normal. Doing this before the election rather than after also prevents outcome-based narratives from dominating.
First, a section on the mechanics of Norway’s system, which I admire and find preferable in many ways to the US system. Then:
An overview of their party system as it now stands, as something a like a ten-party system. There is a top-tier of three big parties, a second-tier of several medium-sized parties, and a third-tier of small parties still competitive enough to plausibly win some seats but not guaranteed to win any. A fourth-tier is also exists of parties far too small to mean much, but which still may have some importance in the overall scheme and which can occasionally be “promoted” to the third tier. In the first three tiers there are about ten parties.
An extensive profile of each of the ten parties, taken one at a time, including with international comparisons and analogies a, and mention of several of the fourth-tier parties in cases of interest.
Each party’s range of outcome-possibilities in 2021 as measured in range of seats they might get. Seats won in September 2021 are to be held four years, bringing us to 2025.
Several cases of analyzing real political sloganeering and campaign material but out by the parties, showing how they represent themselves to their own people and potential voters. In general all this combines to present a rich portrait of each party, or so is my goal.
A final section on the Corona-Flu-Virus Panic of 2020-21(-22?) — a phenomenon which, if ignored, makes no political analysis of the early 2020s worth much. It had a curious effect on the Norwegian party system. The ruling party, the Right-leaning Conservative Party (Høyre), mandated lockdowns and oversaw some major disruptions to society, then apologized for the lockdowns and disruptions, but then realized it had become more popular for it all, rose in the polls to new heights, and had a political incentive to continue the disruptions, especially with an election coming. This breaks with the expectation of a US-only observer, who may think of Lockdownism and associated disruptions, rules, mandates, and hassling as a political project of the Left and one which is resisted, in fits and starts, by (some on) the Right.
In the comments section, a few substantive followings-up on some of the content here.
Norway’s national legislature, the Storting, is elected proportionally based on 19 electoral regions
Norway has proportional representation within an electoral-district-based system. Most electoral regions each have a population in the low hundreds of thousands, except for Oslo and Akershus (the region surrounding Oslo) which have resident populations above 600,000 each, combined total now above 1,300,000 or 25% of the national population.
Norway’s political system has evolved mechanisms to limit Oslo from potentially dominating the politics of the whole nation.
The big difference with the US system is the method of allocating seats: None of the seats in the Norway Storting are directly elected in the US style of a head-to-head horse race (in which, for example, a 46% recipient takes the seat, a 44% recipient gets nothing, and a third-party with 10% also gets nothing. In the Norwegian system, if a given electoral region has 10 seats, that same vote-spread would come out as follows: The 46%-party would take five seats, the 44%-party would take four seats, and the 10%-party would take one seat. Representation proportional to support among voters.
A total of 150 Storting members are “directly” elected in this way. In the 2000s, a reform introduced a bonus of 19 seats, one for each of the nineteen electoral regions, for a new grand total of 169 Storting seats. The 19 bonus seats are allocated to parties which get over 4% of the total national vote. This “4% hurdle” is all-important to the small parties, generally determining whether a party will get several seats (e.g., at 4.1%) or possibly none (e.g., at 3.9%). The way to get seats is either do well enough in one or more electoral region(s) to win one or more seat(s) directly, or demonstrate substantial enough national support (4% or more) to take some of the bonus, “adjustment”seats.
Greater Oslo (i.e., Oslo and Akershus) elects 33 of the 150 direct seats to the Storting. This is 22% of the direct seats, somewhat below their total national population-share, because the system was designed to give greater weight to rural areas to counteract the privileged and potentially dominant position of the residents of the capital and only major metropolis. The bonus-seat mechanism further reduces Greater Oslo’s power in the Storting, for each region gets one bonus-seat, meaning Oslo City and Asekerhus region add two making 35 grand-total seats, over a grand-total Norway-wide seat count of 169, or 20.7% of total Storting seats. If seats were allocated rigidly based on resident-population, Greater Oslo would control at least 42 of the Storting’s 169 seats and not the actual 35.
Hedmark is a rural area of the kind favored by the system. It is also the source of fully one-quarter of my own personal ancestry (half of my father’s). Hedmark elects seven representatives to the Storting for its 193,000 people. This is higher than it “should” be based on population, because the system assigns the number of seats each region is to get based on a formula weighting both population and land area. If it were strictly on population, Hedmark would get only 6 seats and would be at real risk of falling to 5 seats at the next adjustment as Oslo and some other big areas continue to grow. Hedmark itself doesn’t have any large cities; its largest is Hamar, pop. 32,000.
The electoral system by which rural areas are favored is a bow towards Norway’s traditional rural character and the concern that Oslo could swallow up the country’s politics.
Norway now has a competitive, multi-party system in which even the little guys have a real shot at representation and ultimately influencing the government. This makes systems like Norway’s, pound for pound, more interesting to me than the USA’s in many ways. I assume people in Norway tend to (or, at least, the system tends to impel them to) vote for what they want/like, rather than cramming themselves into one of two huge-tent boxes (in the USA’s case, the “D” or “R” teams), or being sullen Nonvoters, entirely detached. I have long envied these systems. You get to cast a positive vote for people/parties/agendas you want rather than a negative vote for people/parties you dislike less. The latter is the US system. (In recent years I have developed a greater respect for those who consciously choose not to vote, if out of principle and not laziness.)
The counter-argument is multi-party systems are too confusing, with “too many” competitive parties, often something like five instead of the two-party-duopoly US model. Sometimes these multi-party systems can have many more still — Norway today has a roughly “ten-party system.” Too confusing, huff the naysayers will say. Even in a system like Norway’s, there are still minor protest parties which often end up getting similar aggregate shares of the vote as the “throw your vote away” US third parties usually get.
The larger number of parties makes for a responsive system which is specifically the attraction. Put another way, what is the point of a democracy under a two-party duopoly in which rivals are crushed by the system?
All political parties are run by “political machines.” More parties means a more vigorous competition and a system in toto more responsive to people’s views and needs and to changing conditions. If all political parties are little oligarchies, it’s best to have more of them to displace one another and keep the pressure on against a permanent political bureaucracy unresponsive to the people. Is this not preferable to a system in which monopoly (or duopoly) power can easily crush people–rivals, competitors, dissidents, or anyone it choose. Expressed in a slightly different way, a two-party duopoly system seems to share many of the negative traits of a one-party system.
The effective coalitions which make up the two parties in the US are always shifting, but the shift is often out of view because the two “tents” are too big to see what’s going on. The whole two-tented affair is stage-managed pretty slickly. The US political party system shifts when one party gets hijacked by either a single demagogic figure or by a cabal of agenda-pushers, or “special interests,” or ideologues. This is all part of the process, you say. Within a two-party duopoly system continental in scale, with major global ties and commitments, and with a resident population something approaching 350 million, most people never see the process going on. In a multi-party system the shifts would all be much clear and more in the open.
The risk of self-serving rule-bending with impunity, including the likes of election fraud, I presume also tends to increase when mega-parties are involved. Fraud is likeliest when a single-party de facto political monopoly or near-monopoly runs the show, as in the well-known cases of election fraud done by Mexico’s PRI in his era of hegemony. If a system balance by relatively smaller parties co-runs the show, each able to watch the process and keep an eye on others and none totally dominating in any particular area, the whole system is more likely to institutionally balance itself, in theory or in principle.
Few people long accustomed to the US system or US-style systems seem to “get it” that our system is a rather ridiculous anachronism to the horse-and-buggy era when running elections was a major logistical problem. In many cases, US-accustomed people are immediately suspicious of proportional-representation systems, sensing some kind of trick afoot which they can’t fully figure out but the trick must be in there somewhere. (I once asked an international-relations professor of Korean origin [born ca.1979] whether Korea might do well with a more proportional representation system and getting rid of the winner-take-all presidency position which seems to cause so much headache. She rejected the idea out of hand, saying Koreans need, and would demand, a strong leader and that’s that.)
An extension of these positive features of a Norway-like electoral system is that when big elections come up in such systems (as Norway’s), it creates an opportunity to learn a lot more than one could learn from an equivalent level of “D vs. R” analysis in the US system. The US system requires teams of gurus to interpret poll data and other things to see what’s really going on, since D vs. R is so uninformative on its own. Much of the gurus’ work is done automatically, in the open, and above-board in a multi-party system.
The greater insight doesn’t come free and requires some work at least. Just as democracy itself is supposed to imply greater responsibility place upon the citizen, A ten-party system is not as intimidating as it seems.
ON NORWAY’S POLITICAL PARTY SYSTEM
Norway today has something like a “ten-party system,” along the following tiers:
Top Tier (FIRST TIER): Three big parties, often known by their acronyms, H, Ap, and Sp.
H (for Høyre, the party name; uses the English name Conservative Party) traditionally leads a “blue” coalition of the Right;
Ap (for Arbeiderpartiet, Labor Party) traditionally leads a “red” coalition of the Left;
No one is quite able to pin down the third big party, Sp; the party’s name in Norwegian (Senterpatriet) conveniently means “Center Party”;
In the 2000s/2010s, another party, the FrP, was one of the big players, FrP, but is now looking to be clearly relegated the second tier in the early 2020s at least;
All three big parties (H, Ap, Sp) are making a bid for the prime ministership in 2021i.
SECOND TIER: Three moderate-sized parties who will definitely have seats/influence: FrP, SV, R;
FrP (Fremskrittspartiet, Progress Party), long considered the most right-wing party in Norway;
SV (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, Socialist Left), a socially left-wing party with Marxist origins;
R (Rødt, Red), a party with recent, left-wing radical, class-war, redistributionist origins. The “Antifa” party. recently moved up to the second tier after years on the third tier.
THIRD TIER: There are around four third-tier parties too small to be securely counted on to get seats, beyond perhaps one or two here and there. They are: V, KrF, MDG, DEM.
V (Venstre, Liberal), a centrist party willing to cooperate with both “red” an “blue”;
KrF (Kristelig Folkeparti, Christian Democratic Party), traditionally conservative-leaning of the Christian-Right but since 1990s transitions away from Right;
MDG (Miljøpartiet De Grønne, Green Party), holding to its roots as one-issue party claiming to be neutral or centrist on all matters except environment and green-politics, but this calculated neutrality may not survive contact with a significant presence in the Storting, which it will probably get for the first tie in 2021.
DEM (Demkoratene), a challenger to the right of the FrP which conducted an ideological purge in 2020 an. DEM calls itself National Conservative and and interest has been surging since Dec. 2020.
The 4% threshold looms large for the third-tier parties. Any or all may fall short of the 4%-threshold and get few seats, or none at all. With a split parliament, the action on the third tier may be decisive and key to government-formation.
FOURTH TIER (negligible parties; political clubs; or single-issue parties): There are many other small parties, with a support base numbering in the thousands at most. Generally these are of a type recognizable across the Western European countries — single-issue parties without real hopes of taking seats, the occasional joke party (a form of ironic protest vote, such as the old Pirate parties, though some of their advocates began taking it all seriously when they started getting serious vote-totals), or certain single-personality-driven pseudo-parties.
There are a few among the fourth-tier-parties which aspire to replace one of the parties in a higher tier, often founded or joined by defectors from a big party. On the Right these include the PDK (Partier de Kristne), the Capitalist Party (Liberalistene), and Alliansen. On the Left these include Feminist Initiative, Sentrum, the old-line Norwegian Communist Party, and (arguably) the Pirate Party.
In general, any the parties can be promoted to a higher tier or fall to a lower tier at any time, though some parties have long-term bases with both support-ceilings and floors. The 4%-mechanism was introduced in the 1980s and expanded in the 2000s which encouraged the growth of third-tier parties who would otherwise have little real chance of gaining seats.
The 169-member Storting is not necessarily led by the head of the largest party but by the person who can negotiate majority support and election–as prime minister (statsminister)–by a majority of Storting members. In principle the prime minister could be any of the 169 elected representatives, but in practice the “prime minister candidates” are traditionally the the leaders of either the Ap or the H parties. This is not an iron-clad rule and second-tier parties have also supplied PMs.
Political traditions and political culture in Norway relevant today are broadly recognizable as similar to those of other Western European countries, though some are of greater or lesser importance in Norway than elsewhere. Some strains in Norwegian politics are without obvious analogs. Those familiar with the US Upper Midwest’s political history will recognize these. The unique-seeming Scandinavian political strains date back to the era when mass-electoral-democracy first emerged in Scandinavia in the late 19th century and overlap with some political strains that came on the scene in the US Upper Midwest. Obviously the tie-in is Scandinavian settlement there. This includes my father’s ancestors, for many generations in north-central Iowa.
The two traditional para-groupings of the parties tries to put them into Right-leaning (“Blue”) and Left-leaning (“Red”) big-tents. This doesn’t quite work in complex, multi-party coalitional systems, or in 21st-century Norway at all. The tendency is still there, though, and a lot of people demand simplified narratives.
Norway has not really indulged in long-run “cordon-sanitaire” politics by which a consensus forms to rigidly exclude one or more significant political parties, from any coalition negotiations and any hand in government at any level. The most right-wing party on the national level in Norway, the FrP, was in the government from 2013-2020. I compare this to the Germans, who would rather trigger major political crises and take the risk of being seen to trample on democratic principles than cooperate with the AfD (their version of the FrP, roughly), such as in the Thuringia case, which I wrote in early 2020 (Post-383). Starting in 2021 there is talk that the “Red Party” might get the exclusion treatment, but talk is cheap when jockeying for position before the race really begins.
Having a handle on the bird’s eye view, I’m going to record here some sketches of the parties individually, this time split into Blue (Center-Right and Right) and Red (Center-Left and points Left) terms.
I am an interested, outside observer. I am not able to read or understand Norwegian well, I have never been to Norway and do not even really know any Norwegians. These are weaknesses but still I think I have some insights into these things and have followed Norwegian politics occasionally and have strong familiarity with German politics.
Given how much Norwegians pay attention to US politics and make various judgements on it, it’s only fair I do the same.
I think I have insights by merit of proxy experience in Germany and closer acquaintance with its politics, and in general European politics-following. In the late 2010s this included some study at the graduate level in the late 2010s, in which capacity I interacted on the margins with some well-connected people. I got research credit on a publication related to German politics (sadly, the author, a former professor of mine, misspelled my name in the Acknowledgements as printed!). Following European politics has been a hobby and this grows from that, as well as a specific interest in Norway since childhood.
First I’ll go through the (arguably) Right-of-Center parties one by one, being careful to not mix up the concept of the political “center” with the major political party in Norway known as the Center Party.
Te same treatment follows for the supposedly Left-of-center parties (in Norwegian terms those aligned with the “Red” coalition), for a total of about fifteen parties reviewed. Several of these are arguable or do not fit into the Left-Right model well. The groupings are in part for convenience’s sake.
Parties supposedly of the CENTER-RIGHT and RIGHT in Norway
Norway’s political parties (supposedly or arguably) of the Right:
First Tier (1.) Conservative [Høyre, H], expected to take 35 to 48 seats in the new Storting.
Second Tier (2.) Progress [Fremskrittspartiet, FrP], expected to take 15 to 25 seats in the new Storting.
Third Tier (3.) Christian Democratic [Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF], to take 1 to 7 seats in the new Storting. (4.) The Liberal Party [Venstre, V], to take 1 to 8 seats in the new Storting. (5.) Democrats in Norway [party renamed in early 2021 to Demokratene, DEM; f.k.a.: Demokratene i Norge, DiN], , to take 0 to 7 seats in the new Storting.
Fourth Tier (6.) The Christians (Partiet de Kristne, PDK), to take 0 seats in the new Storting. (7.) The Capitalists (Liberalistene), to take 0 seats in the new Storting. (8) The Alliance (Allianz), to take 0 seats in the new Storting.
(Seat estimates are based on range of polling in 2021; summary at PollofPolls.no.)
The CONSERVATIVE Party [Høyre, H]: centrist with a center-right tradition; generally aligned to a transatlantic consensus. A core plank of “the Establishment.”
This is Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s party. She became prime minister in 2013 after a lifetime of loyal affiliation with the party back to the 1980s and her youth. Her two terms as prime minister, and a possible third upcoming, are a major turning point for Norway at least in political-party terms, for Norway was dominated by the Labor Party (Ap) for several generations and a stable eight years under a Conservative Prime Minister is without precedent.
The party name, Høyre, in Norwegian means “Right.” Like a lot of Norway’s party names, the label is an anachronism. Norway’s mainline, big-tent, nominally conservative party followed a path not so different from the way Germany’s CDU, which now advertises itself as a party of the political center and disassociates from the Right. Høyre‘s name ties it to its political tradition in the way my surname ties me to Scandinavia. I was born and raised (and for several generations) in the USA, not Scandinavia, so the name misses where I am even if it traces to where ancestors “were” or came from. It’s similar with Norway’s H party.
I don’t know when Høyre took to using the English name “the Conservative Party.” It must be quite a while ago. If all labels were dissolved and had to be chosen anew, I don’t think they’d use that label.
A common observation made since about 2016 is that Germany’s sometimes-so-called “far right” AfD is simply the CDU of circa 1990; the CDU itself drifted Left-ward and is now in the center. I think the same applies to the H party in Norway.
Relatedly, a low-hanging-fruit observation is that the figure, personality, career, and policy of Erna Solberg shouts out for comparison to Merkel of Germany. Norwegians often make this comparison, both for and against their prime minister. Solberg did one thing Merkel would never do, though: She has cooperated and co-governed for years with a party to her Right, in both in the 2013-17 and the 2017-21 terms of government, namely the Progress Party (FrP), on which more below.
Some Norwegian conservatives are unhappy with Solberg’s leadership. One recently wrote:
“I do not claim that Erna Solberg is a Socialist agent who is destroying the Conservative Party from the inside. I only claim that it is a very credible conspiracy theory.”
Among this op-ed author’s criticisms is the continued bloating of the public sector in Norway, i.e. government payrolls, still under Erna Solberg’s eight years. He says it has left Norway with almost as many public-sector wokers as private-sector workers.
Norway is not an EU member, having rejected membership by a 52-48 vote in 1994 with 90% turnout, but in principle it could apply again, which Høyre supports. Høyre has always been an “establishment” party on the EU question, and was one of the clearest pro-EU-accession parties in the years of debate on the EU Question, and up to the early 1990s referendum campaign. “H” remained in favor of EU accession in the 2010s through all the turmoil and crises that hit the EU’s image at the time.
H is also reliably pro-NATO. If the Pentagon had the power to appoint some block of legislators from some existing party to Norway’s parliament, I’m thinking they would choose Høyre. On the other hand, NATO itself appointed Solberg’s predecessor, Jens Stoltenberg (of the Labor Party or Ap), as Secretary General of NATO after he left office, so NATO viewed as a political actor is happy with both of the two traditional big parties of Norway (H and Ap), both now embracing the transatlantic consensus.
Not all Norwegians are enthusiastic supporters of the elite transatlantic consensus, or some perceived follow-on effects from it. The Norwegian Right has been disgruntled with Solberg and she came under pressure from the FrP in 2019 and early 2020.
The FrP finally pulled out of the government in January 2020, in protest over a new and relaxed refugee policy which the FrP said was not in line with the spirit of the H-FrP cooperation deal, and serious enough to bea deal-breaker. The whole thing hurt Høyre, and H immediately lost support in the polls.
Such was the situation in the early weeks of 2020. January, February and into early March 2020 and it was the same, the Conservative Party (H) had arrived at one of its lowest ebbs.
And then — like magic! — in March 2020, the prime minister and her people enthusiastically pulled the Panic trigger on “Corona,” as a flu-virus panic of that year was called in many European countries (the label “Covid” only catching on in English-speaking countries) and turned ‘quisling,’ as it were, diving aboard the ascendant the global Flu Virus Panic of the moment.
There were early signs that Norway was one of many following the Swedish strategy of refusing to demagogue on a flu virus and resolutely staying open, a united-looking front. Most governments could not stand the pressure and flipped and flopped into Lockdown-ism for local whatever reasons, be it weakness or nerve, inability to resist mob-psychology, or deliberate power-grab.
Like a well-executed coup d’etat, everything changed as if overnight. Late March 2020 did not resemble the world of early March 2020 in political terms. This applies to Norway and most everywhere else.
We may ask why the government did it. “It” was under the guiding influence of the Conservative Party. I believe there is a political answer, not just for Norway but for most places. At some point, “Covid” and the decisions related to it — the cave-ins to Lockdown-ism, the refusal to change course, the bizarre demagoguery from people wishing to whip oup terror over one flu virus even when it turned out to be in the normal severe-influenza range, the arbitrary-seeming power grabs uncharacteristic of liberal-democracies — must be analyzed politically. The people imposing the “lockdowns,” the endless rules, the goalpost-shifting, the Panic-spreading, all amounting to a series of hurdles to normal life, were political figures and therefore subject to political pressures, by instinct, temperament, and experience. They are inclined to weigh the costs and benefits to their own political position within their own systems. Panic passes, but political cost-benefit remains.
The Norwegian government under Solberg, by its extreme lockdown-ism, encouraged war-like hysteria, did its part to prop-up flu-virus hysteria scross the entire world, and guaranteed a long period of disruptions and recession upon itself.
But we find something in Norway here which might be surprising. During the “Covid” Panic, the Conservatives in Norway (H), as ruling party, regained all their lost popularity and more. No wonder it seemed like such a good idea to dig in on Lockdownism!
H’s baseline was 25%. They polled a remarkably consistent 23-27% through almost most of the 2010s (after a major rise in the early 2010s at one point hitting 35%, in response th the various European financial crises and bailouts. H got 25% of total votes cast in 2017. Then, by early 2020, they were down below 20%, staying there from mid-January to mid-March 2020. The lowest one poll at this time pegged them at just 16%. This after the looser refugee policy went through and the fallout from it and whatever other set of reasons there were, the longer-term disgruntlement by some in the base with Solberg and a steady, continued drift to the economic-Left. In any case, Høyre was down and looked its weakest in many years. Then came March 2020. The “Panic Pandemic” period began. The Conservatives imposed a severe, “copycat” lockdown on the China model.
Like so many governments across the world, Solberg’s government soon discovered it had found something of a political genie in a bottle. Already by late March 2020, H was pushing 30% support. Frightened people flocked to the safety of the ruling party. Høyre consistently held at the 25%+ level for more than a year. Clearly the Flu-Virus Panic, lockdowns, the attitude of “we’re doing something!”-ism, and the general global media storm pushed a lot of marginals into the warm embrace of the ruling party, the ones who promise to keep them safe from flu viruses near and far, which, trust us on this, are very dangerous and you should be very scared, but find salvation in trusting the State.
Less clear is whether the magic can last till Septemebr 2021. Odds seem better than anyone would have guessed in January or February 2020 that H could give a strong showing.
Conservative Party (Høyre, H) seats won, 2017: 45 (of 169)
Expected to win in 2021: 35 to 48
If Høyre lose seats, which even-money says they will, it won’t be many, and if some kind of titanic scandal implicating H is to do it, time is fast running out. None should be surprised if they maintain about the same number at 45, but this is probably not enough to guarantee a Solberg third term because their erstwhile governing partner the FrP will lose a lot of seats.
In 2017, H were able to take charge of the government holding just 45 Storting seats (26.6% of all seats) via its coalition with the Progress Party (FrP) (27 seats) and others. But the FrP is sure to do worse than before and the bad blood between them in 2019, which broke through in early 2020, may not be easily forgotten.
The Conservatives may yet be able to lead a governing coalition again, if all the cards fall in their favor, and Erna Solberg is exactly the kind of politician skilled in operating in her environment who could pull it off.
If they win, it may be that the whole 2021-21 Virus Thing, and the demagoguery around it, let them limp over the finish line. Corona features in H’s sloganeering in 2021, boasting that Norway supposedly has among the world’s best Corona “stats.”
“Norway ranks top in the Corona-rankings. / Høyre, We believe in Norway.”
But they also know they bear the moral responsibility of the effects of the Lockdowns. Here is one of Høyre‘s campaign posters in 2021 tacitly covering the other side without admitting fault on Lockdownism:
The woman in black is Erna Solberg, certainly one of the more overweight world-leaders. Given how well she has done in politics, it gives the lie to the idea that a woman must look a certain way to go far in public life.
The poster says: “Erna will speed things up in Norway again.” The accompanying commentary Høyre put out (July 20) makes it clear this is about the Lockdowns, for they boast about how they have re-opened economy and Erna Solberg is best to “speed up” the Norwegian economy.
The lockdown year of 2020 was Norway’s sharpest recession since 1945, and in peacetime the worst since the 1930s global economic depression. The whole 2020-21 disruption amounts to was around twice as bad as the 2008-09 recession in measurable terms and probably many more times worse in non-quantifiable terms.
This “Erna will speed things up” messaging must be an attempt to cover the anti-Lockdown political flank. There is a hard core of anti-Lockdown people who will refuse to vote for any of those responsible for the Panic and the unprecedented Flu Virus Lockdowns, and the major losses to civil liberties which have followed. Some of these can be peeled off from the hardline anti-Lockdown side with a plausible-seeming, evergreen promise of a return to normalcy (– After just this one more round of Flu Virus Fighting! We promise this time).
Here are some excerpts from Høyre‘s 2017 party platform from long before Flu Virus Politics and which give their public-facing rhetoric on the major policy questions. They had, by this time, begun using the slogan “We believe in Norway,” or just “Believe in Norway”:
We see the influence on Høyre by its rival to the Right, the FrP, in some of the wording, but nowhere more than on the top-line “strict immigration policy” phrasing, the promises to deport illegals and on no tolerance for fraudulent asylum-seekers.
H wrote this platform in 2017, a year after the subsiding of the political shock that was the “Merkel Migration.” In late August and September 2015, out of nowhere and unilaterally (without consulting her own government ministers or advisers, Chancellor Merkel of Germany declared an open entry policy for all would-be migrants from the Mideast and Africa, all would be let in and allowed to stay and given lavish support so long as they were willing to claim they were refugees. Chancellor Merkel further dug in against early critics and said explicitly there were would be Keine Obergrenze (no upper-limit) on the number of migrants she would take in. She threatened those who tried to stop the migrants and then began vowing to force other European governments to host some of migrants, quickly becoming unmanageable for Germany. It’s unclear what she was thinking.
The Merkel Wave of migrants broke all the records up to that time and the whole thing triggered political earthquakes all over, possibly including the UK (the Brexit referendum campaign, 2015-16) and even the US (Merkel Migration Mania kicked off as the Republican primary campaign season were getting going, eventually won by Trump, who often pointed to the Merkel migration as the worst immigration policy in the world), and it certainly also affected Norway, whose attractive social-benefits system ended up netting them lots of the Merkel Wave migrants.
In Norway, Høyre had just come off co-ruling for four years with the FrP, whose voices were united in strong opposition to the Merkel Wave and its implications for Europe and favored the Orban Wing of European politics which demanded a secure external border and deportation of those illegally entering, no mass-exceptions for those who claim to be refugees from thousands of miles way. Norway’s Høyre Party knew well it had to rhetorically overlap with its governing partner if it wanted to keep a stable majority, but also to shore up its own vote-totals and prevent too many potential H voters going over to the FrP. In other words, the FrP functioned exactly as a political party is supposed to, influencing events and policy by the government.
Norway ended up with around 75,000 net-added migrants from arrivals in Europe over the eight months of the Merkel Migrant Wave, between its start (by fiat in the end of August 2015) and the negotiated end to the migrant flow (via large payoffs/bribes to Turkey in spring 2016). Seventy-five thousand is a big number for a low-population country, in relative terms comparable to a one-time migration into the USA of five million (of whom nearly four million are young men), entering extra-legally, claiming to be refugees, being waved in under pressure from a larger power abroad to accept them and distribute them around the USA.
Where are the Merkel Migrants now? Some were sent back or otherwise left. A lot have ended up still there, five years later. As for Solberg she oversaw the influx and declined to side with the bloc of countries saying ‘No.’ Every now and then one of the Merkel Wave Migrants in Norway is arrested for crime, such as a double-murder in Trondheim in 2018, in a country whose 4 million-strong ethnic-Norwegian population in aggregate commits around twenty homicides a year.
In retrospect, that “Merkel surge” was not exactly the Götterdämmerung for Europe that an alarming straight-line extrapolation implied, a nightmarish vision was of some kind of never-abating Völkerwanderung from Africa and the Mideast, one marked perhaps by scenes of plunder and destruction. Norway avoided most of the worst of it.
(In Cologne in the New Year’s overnight of 2015-16, gangs of males then-recently arrived from the Mideast and Africa, claiming to be refugees and processed as asylum-seekers per the Merkel edict, moved throughout the downtown area sexually assaulting hundreds of women who were out to ring in the new year and were unable to defend themselves from the gangs of migrants. The footage and horror stories of these savage attacks turned many-a fence-sitter against the Merkel Migration project and contributed to the surging of the AfD, a challenger to Merkel’s Right whose platform of the moment was more-or-less two-planked: “Secure the border against migrants and deport those who’ve arrived illegally.”)
(Rumor of a similar attack to the atrocity at Cologne, by a locally known group of aggressive asylum-seekers who had been divvied out to the city of Chemnitz to care for, in which the alleged attackers knife-attacked three local men who intervened, killing one and hospitalizing two, triggered a major protests in August 2018. The protest escalated and culminated in what was described as an anti-foreign riot in broad daylight. The protest was a total success in that it took over the city for a time. Reports spoke of mobs finding and chasing nonwhite foreigners out of town, telling them in English to never return to Chemnitz. I was in Chemnitz in 2007. I remember a sleepy eastern town peopled by their equivalent of Rust Belt people or Rednecks, few if any visible foreigners, and a drab town square with a leftover statue of Karl Marx’s head. By 2018 there were apparently migrant knife-gangs active, and local toughs willing to fight them. Low-level ethnic hostility now seems to define many more areas of Germany. Norway’s Right, especially in the form of the FrP, has seen this in other countries and has semi-successfully mounted a political policy of limiting the number of migrants.)
The unlimited migration policy became a PR nightmare for Merkel, formerly among Europe’s most popular leaders, and was definitely a warning-signal to “Norway’s Merkel,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Høyre. Scenes lifted from nightmarish dystopian fiction seeming to symbolize Europe’s downfall playing out in graphic terms can be a powerful motivator. Deportations of fraudulent asylum-seekers became normalized in Norway.
But the 2015-16 wave was a temporary turbocharging of an ongoing process. It ran for a time before they turned off the spigot via lavish payoffs to Turkey and a closed external EU border (which they could have done from the start…). It was exactly this “ongoing process,” back in its early stages, which gave rise to H’s ival to the Right, the FrP, whose unlikely rise to near the top, at times seeming to possibly displace Høyre, is probably the most important story of the past generation in Norwegian politics and within the party-system.
But Høyre maintains its prestige, for one thing for being the party of the Prime Minister, among the only really visible figures to those least interested in politics.
One of its political posters in 2021 is simple a photo of PM Erna Solberg with the words: “Erna is the most trusted”:
The slogan is a simple appeal to Consensus and even to Authority. (The prerogative of the ruling party?). You’ll also see the big center-left party (Labor Party, Ap) do this. Other parties will usually make their pitches using issues/ideas. Certainly that includes the second-tier party the FrP.
The PROGRESS Party [Fremskrittspartiet, FrP]: National-populist, immigration restrictionist. Against EU accession but pro-NATO. For a form of soft-nationalism. Laissez-faire-leaning in economics. Pro-Oil (i.e. North Sea drilling). Now positioning itself as against costly ans “symbolic” green initiatives.
The FrP’s signature issue was always immigration restriction and a major tightening-up of the asylum system, if not closing it down entirely. In Norway there is hardly a practical difference between the Immigration and Asylum debates. Operating a system to grant asylum to persecuted people in distant places ended up becoming a part of Norwegian political culture in the late 20th century and no party was able to fully end it even as it often became unpopular. In the most general terms, Norwegians for thirty years have known the FrP as the most vigorous and consistent voice in Norwegian politics for drastically tightening up the long-abused asylum system, and much of the time a vote for the FrP was a vote with that specifically in mind.
Its influence has been felt. By the 2010s, even the centrist or center-left state bureaucracy now thoroughly investigates asylum claims and has a policy now of proactively deporting those which it finds committed fraud in their asylum applications. The FrP’s traditional position, at least tacitly but generally fairly openly, is that most of those processed through the Asylum system are not really legitimate refugees, and anyway who defines the meaning of Refugee/Asylum?
The FrP in the late 2010s was urging resistance to backsliding on immigration/asylum reform by its the Høyre Party, its senior partner in government. The argument led to a split in early 2020, the repercussions of which were buried over wth layers of political sand by a subsequent flu-virus panic.
A headline-grabbing case in 2021 was about one group of fraudulent, now-deported asylum-claimants from the Mideast. They had brought an underage son. For whatever reason it took the government (of which the FrP co-leads!) years to figure out that this particular grouplet’s claim was fraudulent and to finally physically deport them. By that time the son, the Mustafa, had gone through years of school and befriended other Mideast-origin migrants in greater Oslo. He is now 19. His case became a small cause celebre in Norway for some on the political spectrum who demanded he be allowed to stay. Courts have now signaled that “Mustafa” can stay, despite the deportation of every one of his purported relatives for fraud — a one-off version of the USA’s “DACA” in spirit.
This “Norwegian DACA” story shows that today’s Norway is somewhat more serious about actively deporting illegal migrants, in some cases, than is the USA. In the USA almost no non-violent-criminal migrants ever seem to get deported. This probably comes down to the influence of the FrP’s influence on Norwegian politics, both before it entered government (1990s, 2000s) and during its time in government (2010s). The major parties could not simply ignore the calls for major belt-tightening of a flabby Asylum/immigration system given the strong vote totals the FrP was getting.
Depending on how one defines the Right, the FrP has arguably been the banner-carrier for Norway’s Right for a generation now, with Høyre in the center or center-right.
Any basic political analysis will tell the Høyre party bosses that it and the FrP share much of the same potential voter pool, which means “ignore the FrP’s issues at their peril.” Rational actors in theory respond to such pressures, and H generally has.
But the influence has worked both ways. In the past few years even the FrP has been seen as drifting towards the center and softening its line. Ironic: If the FrP took over the banner of the Right political tradition in Norway because of H’s own drift (towards a form of reliable transatlantic consensus-centrism, which itself was under a steady Left-ward drift in many ways), it is ironic that the the FrP itself may have trod the same path in the 2010s, just a few steps fewer and with much more negative baggage attached to itself by years of generally hostile media coverage. A lot depends on luck and on the personalities of individuals involved with how these things work.
The FrP’s considerable electoral successes probably kept the Conservatives (H) from drifting even further Left-ward still, and kept Norway anchored in a place the beleaguered Swedish Right no doubt envies very much, to a noticeably more conservative general political line than Sweden. Critics say Sweden started to go off the rails in the late 20th century in a way Norway looked poised to do but never quite did.
The party’s name, Fremskritt, means “[make] progress” or “[make] advance[s],” and it has always used the English name The Progress Party. This name seems a particularly strange mismatch with what the party is, which is not that which we call progressive. Using the acronyms for the parties, as Norwegians usually do, helps separate parties from concepts, and the FrP is not the only party with a name-ideology mismatch.
The FrP’s first breakthrough was in 1989, before which it was a minor and negligible party. Something was “in the air” in the late 1980s, the full story of which has never properly been told, I think, because everything was inundated with news of the anti-communist protests which brought down Warsaw Pact regimes. Those protests themselves were a part of something bigger, something which influenced thinking in both East and West and which both fed upon each other. A nationalistic-patriotic mini-wave and moderate political flux cycle was going on, which was enough to crack the more brittle regimes of the East but only caused ripples in the West. This is a complicated subject but a phenomenon observed in many countries and now, thirty-plus years on, long forgotten, but the sudden breakthrough of the FrP is the Norwegian datum to support the general theory.
The 1989 election in Norway was held in early September, one week after the first of the church-organized mass anti-government protests began in Leipzig, East Germany, the first large-scale and open defiance against the East Berlin regime since 1953, protests which grew larger each week until the wall was breached in the November 8/9 overnight. The FrP’s boat, fresh in the water, got lifted on the rising tide of the moment.
The 1989 wave was enough to topple the sclerotic Soviet-sphere regimes (which looks inevitable in hindsight once Gorbachev signaled there would be “no Tienanmens” in Europe). It was not enough to do anything comparable in the West, especially once the East’s unraveling became so clear, a development which majorly boosted the prestige of the NATO bloc and all the US-backed regimes of the West, including Norway, and therefore a considerable prestige boost to the centrist, “system” parties. Still, 1989 was a good enough jumping-start that the FrP did not fade away.
The surprise is not that a party like the FrP broke through, but that it never went away. Many such parties or movements came up only to disappear. Whatever the reason, the FrP stuck around and even grew to become a mainstay of the Right in Norway by the 2000s and 2010s, which is the position Norwegians are now accustomed to seeing it.
The FrP demonstrated its real staying power in the 1997 Storting election, and it has gotten respectable shares of the vote in every election since, holding at least 15% of seats in the national parliament in every session since 1997, and its peak holding 25% of seats, which led to the big meta-story of the 2010s in Norwegian politics: The FrP entering government in 2013, where it stayed more than six years until the break in early 2020 over immigration policy.
Some will say that the bigger “political” story in Norway in the 2010s was not the FrP entering government but an event in summer 2011 in which a politically motivated attacked targeted the longtime ruling party (Labor Party, Ap)’s summer camp for its party elite’s teenage children, killing dozens. They will also say that the terrorist had ties to the FrP. This was true in years past, but at least one quarter of all politically active Norwegians had “ties to the FrP” at some point. The attacker had drifted into eccentric beliefs and left the FrP behind long before the attack and convinced himself political violence was the only way to make change. The very purpose of politics/elections, done fairly and with perceived legitimacy, is to prevent bloodshed, as a peaceful proxy for war, so the attacker was no longer engaged in politics at all when he chose to plan and carry out the attack.
Another clue to Norway’s political culture in the 2000s/2010s era was Norway’s reaction to the attack in political terms. Norway’s entire mainstream political spectrum in 2011 resolved to not politicize the attack because doing so risked only making things worse. This seems a mark of great maturity, for trying to “politicize” the attack, presumably by blaming the FrP and perhaps the entire Norwegian Right in all its many forms, would effectivey mean calling some enormous portion of the nation — 20%, 30%, even 40%? of the entire population — potential terrorists, enemies to be suppressed (that sounds familiar with the USA at times in 2021…).
Political figures are in theory representatives of the people and if they declare their own people The Enemy they are on a path towards a dark place indeed. The attacker had in younger years been involved in some way with the FrP but the attack had nothing to do with the party or anyone in it. If an Islamist terror attack were to come and the attacker had had ties to Norway’s Ap in some way, as most Muslims traditionally have had in Norway, would the Ap be blamed for the attack and declared an enemy of the state? The neutral line on the 2011 attack was a pratical one.
The FrP of the 1990s and 2000s was a “protest party.” In the early 2010s it entered the mainstream in earnest and actually governed with H. They renewed the bond in 2017 (but by then needed the backing of a third party to make a majority).
The H-FrP union became strained in the late 2010s, came near snapping in 2019, and then did snap in January 2020. Softliners in Høyre, the prime minister’s party, had taken a firm stand for a new softline refugee policy, which was cited as the reason for the split. At first it hurt H very much, until the deus ex machina of a flu-panic swooped down to the rescue.
The FrP had bigger problems, and something of an identity-crisis of its own (more on this in a section below), and the party got a new leader in spring 2021 is Sylvi Listhaug and she says the goal in this election season is to form a new government with Høyre.
Reporting in the agenda-setting Aftenposten newspaper suggests FrP core members are demoralized over recent reverses, sagging support, the longer-term failure to break through and permanently displace Høyre itself as the major party of the Right and natural leader of the government — a tough task, but which had looked possible in the FrP’s peak days of the 2000s and into the early 2010s. Many FrP’ers, it is said, have given up on governing, wanting instead to regroup for the 2025 election when they hope for a new breakthrough. It might sound like a strange stance for a political party to consciously want to be in opposition, but it can happen in mutli-party parliamentary systems.
The electoral peak for the FrP at the national level was in 2009, when they took 41 (of 169) seats, 24% of the Storting seats. This was during a dramatic global recession, the follow-on effects of which gave Europe problems for years. Such a large seat total to a party to the Right of Høyre made the electoral math problematic for the “blue” side (i.e. Center, Center-Right, and Right). Høyre itself only took 30 seats (18% of seats) in 2009, and the Labor Party (Ap) again led the government.
Nothing succeeds like success. The FrP’s strong performance in 2009 set the stage for its 2013 entry into the government. Nothing succeeds like success, which looked to be Norway’s most-“right wing” government in living memory.
Twelve years after the 2008-09 global recession came an ever bigger, far more bizarre, and artificial recession, imposed on countries by their own governments in many cases, because of panic over a flu virus. What makes the latter recession (2020-21) so strange from a political-party-analysis perspective is that for once dissident parties did not gain from this major recession. All around the world, establishment parties gained from it. The whole thing probably hurt the FrP vis-a-vis Høyre during and after the Covid Flu-Virus Panic (and the never-ending response to placate people who cannot let go of terror over one flu virus and who willingly consume and indulge in flu-terror-propaganda ).
Things don’t look good for the FrP now in part because of internal problems and in part because they lost out when politics had something of a “reset” in March 2020 over the flu-virus panic. But political parties always try new things to gain marginal votes and the FrP has tried to maneuver into a space to scoop up voters of people against the ascendant Green politics and the many “symbolic” measures taken by the government and demanded in unison by the parties of the Left especially. This is a shift in the FrP’s rhetoric from some years ago.
Another of of the party’s big issues in 2021 specifically a campaign-promise to work to remove every road toll from Norway. This cause is proof that minor, single-issue parties can have effects if they do scoop up protest-votes even without taking seats, for the FrP lifted the entire Remove All Tolls thing from a minor, single-issue party active in the 2010s. The FrP proposes to use some of the extra oil wealth (currently in a “lockbox”) to make up the budget shortfall caused by lower toll revenues, meaning also no new taxes. This is now one of the FrP’s signature issues and headlines their sloganeering (it appears in large text on the back of their main campaign bus), in addition to a toned-down version of their usual, characteristic holding of the immigration-restrictionist banner, even if somewhat more loosely than before, and their call for belt-tightening of the (once-bloated, still-flabby) asylum system.
Progress Party (FrP) seats won, 2017: 27 (of 169)
Expected to win in 2021: 15 to 25
It looks certain that the FrP will lose seats and that they are now definitely a second-tier party in Norwegian politics. On the other hand, if the FrP performs at the top end of its possible range, they could still take 15% of seats, and in this case they can potentially squeak over the finish line and join a “Høyre – Center Party – FrP,” government, which one of their leading figures has recently (July 29) explicitly stated is the goal.
Even if Høyre leads the next government, it is not clear the FrP will be back with them this time, for their negotiating position if they are around ten seats “lighter” is necessarily weaker and it would most likely depend on Center Party (Sp) support.
While the FrP will not be totally irrelevant, the momentum has clearly slipped from their grasp. Even if they do end up back in government, their influence will probably be at its lowest in many years.
Here is the FrP’s campaign bus (RV) with new party leader Sylvi Listhaug at center. She has been touring Norway campaigning in this RV, which they have decorated with slogans.
The two visible slogans on the bus say:
“Immigrants must learn Norwegian and participate in society.” “Yes to pensions and no to cuts.”
At the front of the bus, partly visible, are two other slogans which seem to be against vigorous climate-change policy and something about diesel and gasoline-powered cars.
The question of whether to institute a top-down ban traditional “emission” cars was current in Norwegian politics in the 2010s, and the pro-Ban side quickly got the upper hand, shifting the question from “whether” to “when.” The current target is 2025, approaching fast. The FrP was once for banning diesel cars but has shifted to a stance against mandates. New FrP party leader Sylvi Listhaug has slammed the mandate to sell only zero-emission cars in Norway starting Jan. 1, 2025, which some of her own party had pushed for in the mid-2010s. The party has now shifted to opposing “symbolic” climate measures which they say make people’s lives harder with little gained except symbolic vale.
Another FrP slogan in 2021 makes a characteristic pitch to romantic-nationalist-type imagery without the nuisance of any actual policy proposals even in slogan form:
It says: “We must have clean seas.” The FrP logo is the only other thing cluttering the imagery of clean seas and snow-capped mountains. The logo is a red apple and symbols suggestive of the letters F, r, and P inside.
This poster is clearly an appeal to romantic nationalism characteristic of the FrP’s position within the Norwegian political spectrum. There are no concrete ideas, just imagery, an some would read into “clean seas” as a metaphor for a “clean country,” without shiftless, entitled, and aggressive asylum-seekers outnumbering Norwegians in some places.
As for the concrete policy goal of clean seas, the FrP supports the oil industry and also opposes wind energy (a slogan painted near the back of their campaign bus says: “Yes to hydropower, No to wind-power.”
Here is the new party leader, Sylvi Listhaug with her campaign bus, standing in front of a picture of herself:
The slogan on the back of the bus I think translates as:
“Sylvi is on the road to take action against tolls”
This is in reference the FrP’s proposal to eliminate every road toll in Norway by using oil-wealth money, a large portion of which is under lock and key by long-running government policy.
In principle, as a major-party leader Sylvi Listhaug is a future prime minister candidate, though clearly not in 2021. As the new face of the party, her own political future may depend on the result in September.
The CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC Party [Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF]: A (traditionally) moderate-conservative party with traditionalist-christian overtones. Although the KrF was guided away from the political Right about a generation ago, it still appeals to some Right sensibilities for votes.
In general the KrF less relevant than it was before, and far fewer on the traditional Christian-Right (Lutheran-Right) vote for it now.
Like a lot of Europe’s small parties, the KrF has effectively positioned itself as a “kingmaker” and is willing to work with any of the big parties — though for a time it said it ruled out working with the FrP, but eventually gave up on this stance. In cases where neither of the two traditional big parties (H and Ap) have a majority, the KrF’s votes in the Storting are decisive and its negotiating position is strong.
Because of the way coalition politics works, especially in Norway, the minor-party KrF has been even able to supply the prime minister. The KrF party leader was prime minister for four-fifths of the period Oct. 1997 to Oct. 2005.
The man from this party who served as Prime Minister of Norway for six-and-a-half years was Kjell Magne Bondevik (b.1947), an ordained Lutheran pastor, but one who regards himself as “Sixty-Eighter” (in US terms, a Sixties/Seventies Radical). A strange thing to say for a man heading a party which in principle embraces the Christian Democrat political heritage and identity!
The party’s origins are with a 20th-century a Lutheran-Right, something which also once existed in the USA and in its time was the subject of some commentary. The KrF’s party-base was basically moderate-to-conservative Christians wishing to maintain ties to the Christian tradition and who thought the Christian tradition was under threat or negative pressure by ongoing developments, and alarmed enough by such developments to break with other parties and field their own. The KrF as a political-actor the 2010s and 2020s (and probably in the 2000s and even 1990s) was no longer understandable in these terms.
The KrF has drifted steadily into the political “center” on a generally parallel track to Høyre; By today the KrF seems almost of the Left. From Lutheran-Right to Lutheran-Left? Yet its actual voters, the ones who keep the ship in the water (for no party exists without a voter-base) are still more conservative-oriented than the party itself. This uneasy balance persists, but may well finally break if the KrF fails to take seats in 2021.
I sense a parallel here to the drift of the ELCA in the USA, a story with which I am familiar from experience. The ELCA story and the KrF story closely parallel each other, so I will indulge a few paragraphs onto a tangent, keeping in mind that everything I say about the ELCA I expect parallels, roughly in content and chronology, with what was going on with the KrF.
The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) was basically a centrist organization circa 1990, with groups I’d call theological-political moderate-conservatives, moderates, liberals, and a small post-Christian element. (The last group effectively Unitarian-Universalists in everything but name.) This entire spectrum was present in the ELCA when the 1990s opened. Missing were hardline conservatives, as I cannot imagine many were ever in the ELCA or its immediate ancestor church-bodies. You’d find some such (strong conservative) Lutherans in other Lutheran church-bodies like the LCMS or WELS, or as non-aligned free churches. But except for the missing hardline-conservatives, the ELCA really was a big-tent, a primary successor to a lot of the strains of US Lutheranism going back to the colonial era and up to the end of the big waves of immigration from Northern and Central Europe in the 1910s or so, including Norway.
By the mid-2000s, a fair number of the moderate-conservatives and moderates were gone from the ELCA, leaving on principle. They saw a slow usurpation of the organization, which was supposed to be a neutral church body, by the liberals and even by the post-Christians. Besides the liberals and the post-Christian element who seemed to be winning the day, many who stuck who were either less ambitious, less willing to make life-changes stuck around, and many were too attached by social ties to a specific congregation, and the people in it, to leave. And so so the ELCA slumbered on, and still does today. Eventually the ELCA as an entity became something almost identifiable as of the political-Left outright, pretty much unmoored from the big-tent position of its origin and its own status circa 1990.
I noticed this change as an early adolescent. The feel of the ELCA church my family belonged to changed considerably between the early-mid 1990s (my early childhood) and the early 2000s or so. Later on I realized this was a local example of a general trend. By the end of the 2000s, everyone could see it. There was no more ability to deny or ignore it. Some were for, some were against, some were indifferent, but all were aware.
By some point in the 2000s, and unmistakably so by the 2010s, the ELCA had become an institution seemingly dedicated primarily to social justice causes with some remnant talk of Christianity tacked on as an afterthought. This did not apply to all or even most of its members, congregations, pastors or lay-leaders, but it definitely applied to the central leadership, agenda-setters, and core-activists.
The ELCA’s individual congregations and members may still today (in the early 2020s) have plenty of moderates — especially among the elderly, those ‘grandfathered’ in, as it were, and unable or unwilling to leave — but the ELCA as an institution is now unmistakably of the Left. The moderates who remain kind of know this and have made peace with it. I cringe when I see almost anything the ELCA central command puts out, and am even ashamed to be associated with it, but emotional ties, family ties, and ties ongoing by long experience (inertia?) are enough to keep many around, even if discouraged and unenthusiastic.
I suspect this basic outline, of this ELCA’s political-theological trajectory, applies to the KrF in Norwegian politics. The ELCA is a US church body and not a political party. But it shares a lot with Norway’s KrF, which is a political party. Both are institutions of Christian origin and specifically of the Lutheran tradition, exiting in wealthy, modern or postmodern, and increasingly post-industrial, nations. Both in theory were centered on a group that sought to uphold the Lutheran-Protestant-Christian tradition in a hostile-seeming, secularizing world, in which some influential players seemed to want to elevate ‘state’ far over ‘church.’ The parallel even goes further than politics: The KrF is Norwegian; the ELCA has lots of aggregate Scandinavian ancestry among its membership, with Norwegian especially strong (and the non-Norwegian majority largely of similar kindred peoples of Northern and Central Europe).
This makes me wonder. If the ELCA were a political party, and had to run as a party in popular-vote-based elections within a proportional-representation system like Norway’s, if the ELCA were dependent on votes, on a voter-base, and on an activist base, would it have remained more moderate? Even if still drifting Left-ward (towards a post-Christian position), along with the rest of the churches, I can only suspect so.
All the news lately is that the KrF remains committed to its own Left-ward move which happened primarily in the 1990s and was knotted up in the 2000s.
To return to the analogy with the ELCA, I notice the ELCA’s declining appeal in the USA parallels in time the KrF’s vote-share decline in Norway. The ELCA, for one, just doesn’t understand that its natural constituency tend to be moderates and originally even many conservatives were on board; the ELCA doesn’t realize playing hard to the Left does them few favors, discourages their own people and wins few kudos from their enemies. The KrF has the same dilemma and barely got past the 4%-of-the-vote threshold in 2017 in Norway.
Opinion polls show it will be lucky to stay above 4% in 2021. This means the KrF could get nearly wiped out of the Storting. It will be close.
Party support remains strong enough in the KrF’s traditional strongholds that it is almost guaranteed to get at least one seat directly elected — from Rogaland in the southwest, the heart of the “Norwegian Bible Belt.” The regions Aus-Agder and Vest-Agder would also elect KrF representatives if their populations were higher and they had more seats allotted. In each of these electoral regions (Rogaland, Aus-Agder and Vest-Agder), the KrF traditionally took impressive vote-shares, often comfortably in the 20%+ range, but this time will do well to hold 10% in its best (erstwhile) strongholds.
Even with snagging a direct seat or possibly two, the KrF will have only around 1% of Storting seats. In the old days, the KrF generally always held at least 10% of seats, and in good years 15%, representing a substantial pressure group on the main party of the Right, Høyre. The KrF’s strong showings anchored Høyre to the traditional Right and a moderately Christian-conservative stance, in principle making the KrF a blocking force against too-strong drift to the Left. The KrF had consistently strong showings between the 1950s and 1990s, and did very well as late as the 2001 election, perhaps to be its last really strong showing when it could claim to be a second-tier party rather than the third-tier party it knos is.
Make of this what you will: One survey showed 62% of the KrF’s voters were women.
The long story short is that the KrF faces long-term relevancy problems. The problem can be concealed, and the blow softened (or accelerated), by the whims of a small number of their marginal voters either defecting or staying home. The KrF falling below the 4%-hurdle nearly wipes them out an it must be the source of much apprehension at party-HQ this year.
The KrF’s messaging in 2021 is heavily family-oriented, so much so that a foreigner with zero knowledge of Norwegian politics, upon encountering party promotional material, might be surprised to learn the KrF is a political party at all, rather than some kind of child-care agency.
A conservative rival for the “Christian Vote” faces the problems of setting itself up and getting traction, but in time perhaps one will emerge on the scene. Because a key feature of these kinds of systems is that new parties can and do emerge. As for now, the possible Christian-Right challenger to displace the KrF is called the Partiet De Kristne (Party of Christians, PDK) and while it (the PDK) will take no seats in 2021, it represents t least a rhetorical pressure on the KrF from the (Christian-)Right.
Christian Democrats [KrF] seats won, 2017: 8 (of 169)
Expected to win in 2021: 1 to 7
For the KrF to have any real influence, they have to perform at the top of their current polling range, which is now 2.5% to 4%.
All past experience suggests the KrF is willing to cooperate with either a consensus-establishment Labor (Ap) or a Conservative (H)-led government, though cooperation with Ap would be contingent, probably, on excluding the redistributionist “Red” [Rødt] Party.
A campaign poster for the KrF in 2021 characteristic of their political messaging:
It says: “KrF in government: Increased child-benefits!”
Another campaign poster:
This one says: “Yes to cash-benefits [for families with children]. Families know best!”
And a third, all three being a representative sample of their sloganeering and the imagery they choose to use to elicit interest and votes:
This one is more subtle than the others. It says: “It is clear we must keep Sunday as a different kind of day!”
There is a triple-message here from the KrF sloganeers:
(1) The right-wing FrP (which is a potential rival for the KrF’s voter-pool, and long a likely destination for ex-KrF voters who want an alternative of the Right), proposes a change in the law to allow shopping on Sunday, making Sunday “just another day.” This would be a breach with Norwegian tradition, beloved by many, by which most stores are entirely closed on Sundays. The message is: If you support keeping Sunday a Rest Day, vote KrF and not FrP.
(2) Sunday is the Christian day of worship and rest, and therefore is “a different kind of day.” The message: Loyal Christians who observe the Sabbath as a rest day (should) vote KrF.
(3) If things stay closed on Sundays, families will spend more time with each other (implied in the image used), and given that the KrF is the most pro-family party there is, you’d better vote KrF to make sure we keep it that way.
The KrF’s opposition to the Shopping on Sunday proposal is therefore attacking the FrP from the Right, we might say. In Norway the tradition of closing on Sundays is at least something of the Right in that it has always been done that way, is a tradition. (Personally I like the idea of no shopping on Sunday and what it implies about the society’s goals and purpose. I’m surprised to hear that Norway still keeps up the tradition of having all stores closed on Sundays and all legal holidays. Germany also long had this tradition, and elements of it are with us in US culture in observable if much-diluted form.)
One can easily get lost in the pro-family sloganeering and family imagery. A strong hint at the KrF’s positioning on the Left, now a kind of Christian-Left (these labels can bog one down) is this one:
This is a complicated political poster from KrF with several things going on. The words say:
“A life of faith cannot be described on paper. Now more converts will be able to tell their story face to face.”
A description adds this:
“It is still dangerous to be a believer in many parts of the world. The KrF has made sure that all asylum-converts get to meet a caseworker face to face.”
This framing appeals to the KrF’s traditional voter base via an (implied) vigorous defense of the Christian faith (implied: Muslim-controlled regions, and other non-Christian governments, often persecute Christians). But ties that to the idea of asylum-seekers resettled in Norway proper, and to the empowerment of social workers, and fits in more with some kind of White Man’s Burden of the Left (the 21st Century White Man’s Burden). Even if framed in terms of fighting for Christians, the implication here positions the KrF away from the populist-Right.
This last poster, with the African asylum-seeker Christian-convert resettled in Norway, is one of only two non-family-related political posters I found released in recent months by the KrF. The other non-family one wishes the Queen a happy birthday. All others had some kind of direct family pitch, often showing parents with small children, sometimes grandparents, and always family-related slogans.
The LIBERAL Party [Venstre, V]: A small party, “V” positions itself as centrist while advocating a set of boutique issues not emphasized by other, comparable parties, making it rather lacka unifying or consistent ideology.
Venstre signals that it will be a force-multiplier for the center-right Høyre (Conservatives, or H).
Given such a position within Norway’s political spectrum today, it is ironic that the party’s name, Venstre, means “Left” in Norwegian. The English name it picked up along the way, “Liberal,” is unhelpful given that word’s various meanings. Really both V and H are centrist. If we used three categories — Left, Center, and Right — the Venstre Party would go with a centrist bloc for sure. But what these terms specifically mean will of course differ by country, so a closer look is worth the effort.
Venstre as a political party dates to the 1880s. As such, Venstre can claim to be Norway’s first true, organized political party of Norway’s mass-democracy era, formed at the very cusp of the mass-democracy era. It has many successors on the Left and Center. The original, Venstre, formally and legally continues to exist, even if at a different place on the political spectrum than before, but all parties are always evolving and conditions in which the parties operate are very different.
The original Venstre may have been something like a big-tent party of reformists in an era when Norway was neither quite a recognizable mass-democracy yet, nor technically yet a sovereign nation. (The process of Norway’s modern independence began on May 17, 1814 — Norway’s version of the USA’s July 4 — and ended with full independence and recognized sovereignty in the European family of nations only in 1905).
The current party of Venstre has not been doing very well, long suffering from an unclarity of purpose. It has ties at the European level to a family of parties which includes the Free Democrats of Germany, and other freemarket-oriented parties.
Odds are that V doesn’t make it over the 4% threshold this time, though it might sneak in a seat here or there. It still does seem to have a small, loyal base.
Liberal Party [Venstre, V] seats in 2017: 8 (of 169)
Expected to win in 2021: 1 to 3 seats (likely) or up to 8 seats (if break the 4%-threshold, unlikely)
In all likelihood, V will get no more than two or so seats directly elected in the big regions.
But if the cards fall just the right way and V gets its best possible result, squeaking above the 4% threshold, they could take 8 seats (according to PollofPolls.no). This would be a big story and suddenly make V a moderate little power-player again. A majority coalition in the 169-member Storting needs 85 seats, and if V holds 8 seats that is near one-tenth of the needed. Given that V is positioned to flexibly cooperate with any of the big three parties (H, Ap, or Sp), it could be another potential kingmaker — the goal of all these small parties.
A breakthrough by Venstre probably slightly boosts the chances for an Erna Solberg (Conservative, H) third term, for they (V) have been part of the government under Solberg since October 2017.
Here is a campaign ad which came up in my daily Internet activities in late July, some days after first writing the early draft of this:
The woman is the new party leader, Guri Melby, longtime party figure. Guri Melby was recently appointed Minister of Education for Norway (Sept. 2020), succeeding the previous leader of the party (Trine Skei Grande) who briefly held the position of Education Minister after the January 2020 shakeup in which the FrP broke with the government over an Asylum policy dispute. Somehow, in the fallout, the Education Ministry fell to the Venstre Party as a still-loyal member of the governing coalition.
I assume it was the Venstre Minister of Education who demanded schools re-open in spring 2020, which caused Prime Minister Erna Solberg to issue a televised apology to the nation for closing schools unnecessarily for over two months, vowing never to make the same mistake again. If the Education Ministry had had a hardline pro-Shutdown attitude the Solberg apology would not, I assume, have happened.
The man in t e ad next to (incumbent Education Minister and Venstre leader) Guri Melby is Ola Elvestuen, identified as “Storting candidate” in the ad. He is another longtime leading figure of the party.
The few cents’ worth of google-ad money V paid to place that ad in front of me was wasted in that I cannot vote in Norway. On the other hand, it did catch my eye enough to get included, and memorialized in a sense, here.
The slogan says: “Vi kutter utslipp of styrker skolen” (We cut emissions and strengthen schools).
Another of V’s campaign posters:
“Venstre’s election promise: Guaranteed Daycare. Everyone shall have a right to daycare placement after parental leave [permisjon] ends.”
On the electric car issue:
“Lots of people are choosing electric cars [elbil]. Are you one of them?”
The explanation with the poster continues:
“In July , 400,000 electric cars cruised Norwegian roads. That is twice as many as in January 2019 🤩 The Electric car benefit is an important factor in more people choosing an environmentally friendly alternative, and an important contributor in reducing emissions ⬇️ Therefore, Venstre wants to keep the electric car benefit!”
So V is for electric cars. But it’s easy to say you are for electric cars in some general sense. The Norwegian government has been majorly subsidizing these cars with taxes, which is a policy question, and here V says “Yes” to subsidies (i.e., “the electric car benefit”).
Many of Venstre‘s positions seem to position them on the Left, but some end up on closer examination putting them more on the Right. This is one:
“We want a ban on conversion-therapy” [i.e., therapy to ‘convert’ a homosexual to a heterosexual].
In 2021 the H-led government submitted a bill to the effect that conversion-therapy for under-16s was made illegal and discussion is ongoing on whether it should also cover 16- and 17-year olds, but from age 18 it is to be still legal under the law. Venstre had been active backers of the bill.
Left-wing commentators attacked the bill because some conservative Christians had expressed support for it. The two main left-wing parties (Ap and SV) both attacked it for not going far enough — i.e., demanding a full legal ban on the practice at all ages, not just for under-16s.
Venstre comes down on this on the Right with this one, at least the way it played out in Norway’s own politics.
But here is something really revealing about Venstre. The Facebook post in which Venstre posted the “conversion-therapy ban” poster got many comments, presumably from party supporters, expressing positions to the Right of the party’s on the issue. One said there needed to be a full legal ban as well on gender-reassignment surgery. Another said that the outlawing of the practice of gay conversion therapy is an affront to freedom of speech and speaking of which (he continued) why don’t you work to abolish the anti-free-speech hate-speech laws in the same vein. This comment drew several “Likes,” indicating it is a popular position among Venstre‘s Facebook followers, who are presumably party V-voters or at the least possible V-voters. If so, Venstre can be anchored to the Right in that its voter base leans to the Right on the big social issues, if this case is representative.
Another thing you notice about Venstre’s rhetoric, if you look through it, is what is un-said. They mention nothing about immigrants, asylum seekers, religion, or the National Question (i.e., What is a “Norwegian”?). Nothing one way or another, as if the Norway of 1980 or 1990 still existed and that set of issues, so important to some other parties, was just trivial ir maybe the purview of eccentrics. How do we interpret this conspicuous absence in V’s rhetoric when the set of identitarian and immigration-related issues is so important to Norwegian politics?
In the end, despite it all, Venstre is a non-Left party in Norway, and given that venstre means “left” in Norwegian, add another entry to the column of “parties with confusing and potentially misleading names.”
The DEMOCRATS [long known as Demokratene i Norge, DiN, now renamed Demokratene, DEM]: We can understand this party as a firmer, more vigorous version of the FrP (Progress Party), because of its small size able to be “leaner and meaner” than the now-fattened-up FrP.
The DEMs were long a minor party but could surprise norway by taking seats in 2021, giving Norway a new national-level (Storting) party of the Right and a challenger to the FrP, and potentially also activating tens of thousands of apathetic and nonvoters sympathetic to the idea that Norwegian sovereignty must be protected.
Apparently this party is now (2021) legally known as the “Democrats” (Demokratene), yet another quite confusing name within the Norwegian party system. Some will be tempted to call them non-democrats perhaps sympathetic to this-or-that right-wing tradition. Part of its own base might not even like the name: I saw some supporters complain about how the name (Demokratene) is the same as the name in Norwegian for the the US Democratic Party. One jokingly asked a party figure, in a Q-and-A the spokesman was doing doing, if he could promise then and there that the Norwegian Demokratene had nothing to do with the US Demokratene!
The party’s leader is Geir Ugland Jacobsen, previously of the FrP but expelled from the party in late 2020.
Much more on this party in a longer section below on the flux on Norway’s Right or Populist-Right in the late 2010s and early 2020s, of which the Demokratene is looking like a key actor and the expulsion of Geir Ugland Jacobsen looking like a key signpost.
Some election campaign material from the Demokratene:
It says: “The Democrats. We must secure the nation and put Norway first. Norway needs an alternative.”
Rooting out “hate-preaching imams” and expeling them from Norway is one of publicly stated goals, paired with a similar foreign policy to de-fund all ways Norwegian foreign-aid supposedly flows to “corrupt regimes and terrorists”:
“No more money to corrupt regimes and terrorists! We support Norway’s welfare. Demokratene.”
Judging by the level of Facebook activity and the Likes/Shares/Replies they get as compare to other parties, the party really is now a third-tier party — i.e., one capable of winning seats even if not guaranteed. They look at least as strong as some the smaller players like KrF and Venstre.
However, their outsider status allows the insider-parties to often exclude them from debates and the like. The influential website PollofPolls.no does not even list them. Polling itself can of course be an agenda-setter, and to not list a party at all makes it look hopeless. Time will tell.
One of the leading figures in the party behind Geir Ugland Jacobsen is Kent Andersen (b.1962). Like the new Demokratene party leader, Kent Andsersen is defector from the FrP who came to the Demokratene in late 2020 and is a veteran political activist and typical of peak-era FrP figures in his thinking and general political stance. If it comes to pass that the Democrats break the 4% barrier in 2021, Kent Andersen will definitely be in the Storting.
A quote from Kent Andersen, high-ranking figure in the Demokratene (2021-) which gives a flavor of what the party is “about” (machine-translated and cleaned up):
“The biggest political threat in Norway is that our democracy has collapsed into a kind of globalist one-party state, monomaniacally obsessed with only one thing: Fulfilling the Paris Agreement at any cost so the EU is happy with its colony.”
I return to the Demokratene in a longer section below.
OTHERS — some fourth-tier parties of the Right.
I classify as “fourth-tier parties” those with absolutely no hope of taking any Storting seats even in a best-case-scenario. Even without hope of seats, they often still have some kind of important role in Norway’s ideological system and political system. Sometimes they are single-issue parties or interest-group parties. THey can influence the larger parties and, that accomplished, may even dissolve themselves.
Other times such small parties are more coherently ideological in their own right and aspire to enter the third-tier of parties, becoming competitve for actual seats, perhaps with the goal of displacing one of the established parties on the third-tier. I sketch out three of these fourth-tier parties active in 2021: The Alliance (Alliansen), the Christian Party (Partiet de Kristne, PDK), and the Capitalist Party (Liberalistene). (The Demokratene party was formerly a fourth-tier party (2000s and 2010s, even up through late 2020) but has now rapidly risen into the third-tier.)
The Alliance / Alternative for Norway (Alliansen).
This small party has positioned itself on a hard-line ethnonationalist line but in 2021 is looking to be drifting into eccentric directions and in-fighting, its purpose not fully clear.
Formerly called The Alliance, now with the “Alternative for Norway” added, the new extended name is clearly in reference to the success of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and also on the model of a small new party in Sweden, Alternative for Sweden (AfS), though this party is much less successful and serious than either of those efforts.
Alliansen‘s origins are in the 2010s. One account claims it originally grew out of the Coastal Party, a longtime minor party, but really Alliansen was founded (or hijacked ver early on at least) by a colorful figure who goes by the name Lysglimt Johansen.
Partu leader Lysglimt Johansen made waves in 2019 by inviting right-wing speakers from across Europe and North America to an Oslo conference which was banned at the last minute by the government, after which some of the foreign speakers were temporarily arrested for supposedly being a danger of inciting a riot. The arrests were the subject of some derision in the Norwegian media, widely seen as an embarrassing misstep for the government on free speech grounds. Few could or would sympathize directly with the organizer, who was the only public figure of Norway’s most “far-right” party (Alliansen), but many sympathized with the principle, which seemed breached. The Right also contrasted the de facto policy of allowing so-called “hate-preaching imams” to stay in most cases, or at least behaving with great sluggishness on the question, while the same government instantly arrests and deporting siome foreign right-wing intellectuals of European and American origin on a brief visit to speak. Lysglimt Johansen, much more an agitator than a politician, chalked it up to a win for making headline news.
Alliansen has been dogged with insinuations that it has ties to right-wing militants, the type which prepare for civil unrest via gun training. The party denies such ties.
A US-style “militia movement” is not absent in Scandinavia but more present as bogeyman than reality. (I have not seen much Scandinavian TV, but I once saw a detective show which depicted a right-wing group of this kind, as the bad guys, whom the heroic detectives had to expose and defeat to save the day.) The small and often informal grouplets which exist in Norway could become important if Norway ever slips into 1990s-Yuoslavia territory. Such a world may be hard to imagine now as a future for what is among the world’s wealthiest, stablest-seeming countries. An influential Norwegian political blogger, active especially in the 2000s and who went by Fjordman, wrote of such scenarios.
Alliansen is unlikely has any kind of national-level electoral future on anything like the current general trajectory. It got 0.1% in the 2017 Storting election and is back on the ballot this time.
In July 2021, Alliansen apparently busied itself in a smear-campaign against the Demokratene. Big-fish-in-little-pond syndrome? Alliansen‘s Facebook page is considerably less active that the Demokratene‘s as of July/August 2021, and the comments have people asking why they (Alliansen) are attacking a party so basically similar to their own, even if more moderate (Demokratene), instead of attacking the Left.
When Donald Trump shocked the world by winning the 2016 US presidential election, European countries’ TV news shows scrambled to bring on local-country supporters of of the Trump movement to deliver commentary from a pro-Trump perspective in the native language of the country. One of the few active in Norwegian politics willing to openly identify as a Trump man in 2016 was Lysglimt Johansen, the very same later founder of Alliansen.
Here he is on (what I think is) a morning broadcast the day after the US election. Whatever the exact date and time of broadcast, it was definitely after Trump was declared the winner. They sought out pro-Trump voices for comment and found him.
The Norwegian TV station NRK1 identified Lysglimt Johansen by his name and with the label “Trump-supporter.” English and Norwegian may be close languages but “Supporter” is not a Norwegian word. NRK1 used the English word, perhaps to imply that “Trump support” is something foreign, unnatural to render in the Norwegian language, and worth putting in English to demarcate as such.
Lysglimt Johansen formed the political party Alliansen in the weeks after the Trump election. He was not then, and apparently has not since been, a good politician in the traditional sense (if that was ever his goal), for he positioned the party more radically that the Norwegian political system was capable of integrating. It never got off the ground beyond a small group of fans attracted to Johansen’s charisma and defiant attitude.
Glancing at Alliansen‘s rhetoric in early August 2021, I see the party declaring itself to be the party most opposed to Corona Flu Virus vaccine mandates in Norway, and boasting (?) that each of its first-line candidates has sworn to never take the Covid vaccine on principle, and adding that the Demokratene are too soft on the mandatory-vaccination issue. Here is the same on official campaign material:
It says: “Lysglimt speaks!” referring to an event held July 15. Alongside are a “No forced vaccination” image and a “No to Agenda 2030” image.
One of their Storting candidates did a live-stream broadcast in late July 2021, perhaps a Q-and-A. I cannot understand much Norwegian but can get enough to understand his first line, the first words he said right as the livestream went up. It was something close to this: “My mission is to stop the Islamization of Norway.”
The CHRISTIAN PARTY (Partiet De Kristne, PDK): A more recognizably and “classic” Christian-Right party than what today’s KrF is.
I was correct to assume that the PDK was formed by conservative defectors from the KrF (Christian Democrats) after it had become clear by the 2000s or so that the KrF had drifted far from its Lutheran-Right origins. The Rubicon having been crossed by the KrF’s central command and the boats on shore set aflame to prevent a return to the Christian-Right, it was time to leave, so thought the defectors setting up the PDK.
Any breakaway movement is always risky, in this case the risk being full political marginalization. Certainly the breakaway by conservatives hurt the KrF because many of its committed activists bolted for the PDK, leaving the apathetic and low-info voters still hanging around the established KrF — this being one partof the KrF’s general decline narrative mentioned earlier.
It may be no surprise that there were several breakaway attempts by groups on the Christian-Right (Lutheran-Right) in the 1990s, including the 1998-founded Kristent Samlingsparti (Christian Unity Party), now defunct. These parties, including today’s PDK which is flying its flag for the Storting races in 2021, all faced problems of many older and low-information but otherwise-sympathetic KrF voters never getting around to joining in, never working up enough energy to defect. Political parties have their own inertia just as churches do, and once in, people often stick around.
There is space for a party like PDK in Norway’s politics today. But there is probably no space for two (or more) parties competing for the Christian-Right vote, people primarily wishing to vote for a religious-identifying Christian party. As long as legacy-KrF exists, it (KrF) will continue to soak up votes and be a downward pressure on the PDK’s possibilities.
I previously analogized the KrF to the (US) ELCA, a Lutheran church body. I can continue that analogy with PDK: In the 2000s and 2010s, some congregations tried defecting from the ELCA and setting up small, new church-bodies. This is a tough task and none of the ELCA-bolters have ever quite panned out, even if a strong and committed base is there. Political-inertia, name-recognition, and lingering personal and emotional ties tend to remain with the established organization.
On the Dissident-Right and overlapping into the Lutheran-Right in Norway in summer 2021 there are those saying: “If you are leaning toward a vote for the PDK, vote for the Demokratene instead; the Demokratene have a real chance for seats and the PDK doesn’t. The Demokratene are also Christians, for traditional-Christian values, and against Islamization.”
Having been unable to get a fuller exodus from the KrF, and with its natural constituency unconvinced it can win, the PDK will again be too small to hope for a Storting seat in 2021, but its rhetoric still gets news coverage, and it is a legitimate fourth-tier party in Norwegian politics today and among the most-serious of the fourth tier for it presents a full ideological position.
Here are some PDK people on a campaign stop, August 4, 2021, at Balsfjord, a town of 5,500 people in far northern Norway above the Arctic Circle.
A characteristic election poster from the PDK:
It says: “Vote PDK – Storting election 2021. The fetus is a human, regardless of weight and size. The PDK is the only party which will protect the fetus from conception.”
At least PDK campaign car is cruising around Norway this summer, painting up with the party name and logo. Here is party leader Erik Selles (b.1966) (with cap) on a brief pit stop:
Erik Selles was ordained a pastor in 1996 but within a few years (2001) had formed an independent church with pentecostal influences. The church still exists in the town of Bærum, Akershus (Akershus being the region around Oslo, effectively “Oslo County” vs. “Oslo City” in US terms).
One could dismiss the PDK as just the promotional efforts of a longtime right-wing Christian pastor, but it may be they really think that if they keep an army in the field they can eventually break through when the KrF falls apart, as PDK is the obvious successor of the KrF if it were to go down — as, for example, by being wiped out of the Storting this year.
The CAPITALISTS (Liberalistene): Purist libertarians of a sort common in the US but marginal in Norway.
Most of the parties of the non-Left in Norway are pro-freemarket. Some, naturally, think the big parties are not strong enough on the matter of classic-liberal economics (freemarketism) and that there have been all too many concessions to the economic-Left.
The party’s name in Norwegian is literally “The Liberals” but they choose to use the English name “Capitalists.” One problem with “Liberal” is that another party, Venstre, uses it for its own English name. The other problem is the long shadow of confusion related to FDR’s repurposing of the word “liberal” and distorting its meaning in American-English, and therefore, to some extent, now in Global-English. We have partly solved this with the term “Classic Liberal,” and classic-liberal which applies to this party.
Party of their 2021 platform has this wording:
“[We demand] politicians not stand in the way of…innovation that will create jobs, create more value, and increase knowledge and competence.”
It warns of dark days ahead for Norway if the Left succeeds in “abolishing the oil industry in Norway.”
The Liberalistene, as an ideological party, have coherent and unambiguous policy ideas. This should be to their credit, be one for or against them at least it’s all very clear. Here is one which they stress in their party platform:
“Yes to nuclear power. Storting platform for 2021-2025. Liberalistene. Your life. Your team!”
This is pitched as a solution to the energy problem and a way to get away from wind-power and fossil fuels both. Some other parties just say “no to symbolic green measures,” which is a slogan that might motivate some to cast a vote, but the Liberalistene, as a purist lean-and-mean small party can make a positive statement which risks putting some off.
Norway has never used nuclear power so this would be a genuinely new path. Ironically, this also puts the “Capitalist Party” (Liberalistene) on the same team as the Green Party (MDG). They break the strange-bedfellow relationship with the Greens on this one:
“Yes to the oil industry.”
Disgruntled high-profile members or supporters of other parties of the Right, in some cases figures who had fallings-out with their parties, have sometimes washed up on Capitalist Party (Liberalistene) shores, which increases this fourth-tier party’s profile. But as there seems no hope of breaking the 4%-barrier, they remain stuck in an electoral ghetto, at least for now.
So much for the fourth-tier parties of note on the Right.
The political flux on the Right and Populist-Right in Norway, late 2010s and early 2020s: Decline of Progress Party (FrP) and potential breakthrough by Democrats (DEMs)
The Norwegian election is unlikely to get much attention abroad and what post-vote simplified narratives or story-line do filter out to world-media are predictable enough. One likely to end up in the one- or several-line synopses in international news is: “Norway’s once-mighty, right-wing Progress Party (FrP) suffers a historic defeat,” far off its previous highs. A likely short-version headline: “Norway voters reject right-wing party.”
The FrP’s problems deserve a closer look as they relate to the shake-up on the Right or Populist-Right.
Oslo journalist Andreas Slettholm wrote the following in early December 2020 (machine-translated from the original and cleaned up):
In 2013, Per Sandberg warned that the Progress Party [FrP] would only consist of “smooth-polished billiard balls”. He fears that the party would cultivate groomed, boring types of politicians in its pursuit of power. FrP still had to be a bit messy, he thought.
No danger, one might say, seven years later.
There could hardly have been more scandals and quirks. Travel expenses and metoo. The party in Bergen was forcibly closed down. The continuous noise machine that is Sylvi Listhaug. Sandberg’s own Iran adventure. The case against Bertheussen. And Carl I. Hagen still squeaks in this horn that man-made climate change is nonsense.
A more groomed protest party
That the party has become too groomed is hardly the main concern of the day. The lack of support is far worse for Siv Jensen.
And the voters have largely disappeared to less messy parties. Like the Center Party, for example. […]
The political persnality first mentioned, Per Sandberg, is another who left the FrP in 2020 to join the Liberalistene (the Capitalist Party). He had had high-ranking positions within the FrP back to 2006, even serving as a government minister between 2013 and 2018 under the FrP. The departure of a figure of such a high profile is a sign something is up.
The second political personality, whom the writer calls a “continuous noise machine,” is Sylvi Listhaug, now leader of the FrP but at the time of writing merely one of the top lieutenants in the top ranks of the FrP, as she had been throughout the 2010s. She took over party itself in May 2021, five months after the article was published, and is steering the ship in this election season. She is on several-month tour of all corners of Norway in the party’s RV decorated with slogans.
Listhaug’s predecessor Siv Jensen (b.1969) led the FrP during its best showings. She took the important Minister of Finance position after she negotiated the FrP into a governing coalition with the Høyre Party after another strong showing in 2013. The FrP’s then-leader Siv Jensen led the Finance Ministry (as Finance Minister) from late 2013 to January 2020, at which time she withdrew the FrP from the government in protest over a Høyre refugee policy.
(It’s funny, but the recent leaders of the most right-wing party in the Storting have both been women, as is the [nominally-]Right-leaning Prime Minister, Erna Solberg. The FrP’s vote-base traditionally tilted male while some other parties, KrF on the Right and SV on the Left, tilted noticeably female.)
Norway’s DEMs are one of the many dissident-Right political outfits one finds across Europe which have popular ideas but never quite get anywhere. Local “establishments,” academics, etc. are hostile to such parties’ existence and often enforce political “cordons sanitaire” (as a well-known political-science term terms it), refusing to deal with them and excluding them from the normal process where possible. The ideas of such parties have broken through in many cases, but ofoten only when co-opted by a charismatic-type demagogue or wealthy-celebrity-type demagogue, or in some cases by larger parties with flexible ideologies (i.e., “populists”). The “co-opters” have had mixed results in terms of influencing policy in a consistent way, often because they just used the issues without necessarily believing in them.
The FrP was subject to the cordon sanitaire treatment for a long while, but slipped past it somewhere back there in Norwegian political history, both racking up consistent vote totals (1989, 1997, and all through the 2000s and most of the 2010s), and then entering government outright (2013). Eventually the political cordon sanitaire as practiced in Western Europe cannot hold if a stable party with a large and firm voter-base operates in a fair system. The Left would be willing to continue to enforce an exclusion policy against the FrP, but the Right — specifically Høyre (Conservative Party) — could not after the FrP took more seats Høyre itself in two straight Storting elections (2005 and 2009). By the early 2010s, Høyre was ready to work with the FrP to finally dislodge the Left from power, and so it happened in 2013, inaugurating the Erna Solberg era.
As for the DEMs, the party only took 0.1% of the national vote in 2017 and had about the same level of support in the previous few elections back to 2005. Signs point to the same few thousand people voting for them since 2005, making this outfit more like a “political club” than a “political party.” This changed overnight, in political time, within a few months between December 2020 and spring 2021. Thousands of politically active Norwegians found their way to the party under Geir Ugland Jacobsen.
Who is Geir Ugland Jacobsen? He seems like an archetypal character of the European national-populist Right of our time. Hhis expulsion and follow-on events signals an identity-crisis within the FrP by which the doesn’t quite know what its identity is, or what it’s supposed to be. Participating in government may have been the source of the FrP’s own unraveling of late, something I guessed on my own and only later saw Norwegian observers say the same, a “call” which boosts my confidence on some of these other judgement calls. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown”?
Here is an election campaign graphic showing the Demokratene party leader himself and the slogans he chooses to attach to himself:
“Geir Ugland Jacobsen, Storting candidate. Demokratene [Democrats]. “Join the wave — vote for Reason — vote for the Democrats!” (May 2021).
An interesting choice to pose with his motorcycle and leather riding jacket for his campaign poster.
Here is Geir interviewed by a Norwegian media personality after he made national political news for his expulsion from the FrP (Dec. 2020):
This is all probably rather interesting to Norwegians who closely follow party-politics in the way devoted sports fans follow the ins-and-outs of their teams.
Of more general interest might be one of the alleged (stated) reasons for why the FrP took the dramatic step of expelling Geir Ugland Jacobsen, its own Oslo chairman. In November and into December 2020, Geir had been speaking publicly to Norwegian media on his view on the November 2020 US presidential election. He said it looked to him like that election had involved fraud in some US states. The then-national-level FrP leader Siv Jensen disavowed his statements on the US election. The subtext, though, was that Geir had been critical of Siv Jensen’s leadership. Geir had been saying he wanted to steer the FrP to (re)embrace a “national-conservative” politics. The comments on the US election were a good pretext to get rid of him.
(The whole thing shows how much Norway is influenced by US politics and US-centric news. Even Norway’s supposedly most-right-wing major party felt bold enough to conduct a purge for one of its most popular regional figures for saying the US election looked fishy — with midnight ballot dumps, the reports of mystery-ballots, rule-changes, slow counting, and other abnormalities. That it looked “fishy” was a common position at the time on the US Right. From a Norwegian perspective it must look even stranger because none of the big problems are possible in Norway’s elections, which are generally wrapped up on the night of the election and not subject ballots showing up days later and a tentative result only declared about four days after election day, as happened in the US in 2020.)
This internal purge didn’t end Siv Jensen’s problems, for she resigned as party leader a few months later. Of the host of political headaches she faced was a determined group, of which Jacobsen was one adherent, who wanted to push FrP back towards a national-conservative or national-populist positioning and reverse its supposed drift in the direction of consensus-centrism.
That the Oslo FrP elected a clear advocate of the national-conservative position, Geir Ugland Jacobsen proves (as if it needs to be proved) that this brand of politics had a natural home in the FrP’s base. The FrP insurgents of 2020 had mixed success at best, and a lot of longtime FrP loyalists in 2019-20-21 are were tempted to walk away. Hence the possible Demokratene surge which is an unexpected development not widely expected at mid-year 2018, mid-year 2019 or even mid-year 2020 yet.
The big Norwegian political-watchers have so far made little comment on this, I suppose many of them hoping it’s not true and also rightly sensing that any talk of its possibility risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the DEMs get seats in the Storting, they suddenly catapult to a position of prestige and privilege, as a national party, from which they can only grow.
The whole affair amounts to a crumbling of the FrP’s right, or “populist,” flank. In competitive multi-party systems, other parties are naturally going to exploit the FrP’s crumbled flank. A new challenger like the DEMs was possible but also possible was a bigger, established player like the Center Party (Sp), the latter having the advantage of not only being a sure-thing to be in the Storting but also being a major power player in the next four years at least.
Could the DEMs really gain seats? Most would say “Definitely Not.” The people who run the polling aggregator PollofPolls.no don’t even included the DEMs anywhere but have extensive polling-based profiles on each other party, even some who may not make the 4%-cutoff.
A surprise on this front came in an early July 2021 poll, ten weeks ahead of the election. It put the DEMs at 3% national support. (Caveat: beware a 3% result if the margin-of-error is +/-3.) If accurate, that ranks as an enormous shifts in support from 2017, from 0.1% of votes cast to this (polled) 3.0%, a thirty-fold increase. The big target is the 4%-threshold, and crossing it is their best-case-scenario as ut us for all the “third-tier” parties. The lesser target, still achievable, is to squeak in with a direct-mandate seat somewhere and get at least one member in the Storting, even if failing to clear the 4% hurdle nationally.
If the Right-flank of Norwegian national-level, politics opens up and a new actor (DEMs) takes seats in the Storting (when the newly elected members meet, on the morning of October 1, 2021 — 17.5 days after election-day voting stops), we must assume it was in part because the FrP shifted away from its traditionally dissident, critical, and populist positioning (in addition to being hurt by its various scandals), and did not give centrist voters a reason to support it and replace the defectors.
If the once-mighty FrP has fallen, it’s worth a look back on why they rose up in the first place. Most Norwegians agree that government and certain political forces went overboard with immigration and asylum (always with good intentions, they’ll promise you to the very end).
By about the end of the 1980s, some in Norway were showing off a shiny new immigration-apparat state bureacracy devoted to bringing in people from exotic places who were willing to say they needed Asylum for (reasons). Numbers were too small at first for reasonable people to object. Norway, small and generally rural with no tradition of racial politics, id not immediately object. A new political Normal slid down upon the land, one which guaranteed future political strife. It would have been a surprise if an FrP-like party had not emerged.
By the mid-2000s, Oslo Public Schools were already reduced to a bare majority of Norwegian students. Some neighborhoods in Greater Oslo had started to be hit with White Flight on the US model. When non-Westerners (immigrants, asylum-seekers, and the chain-migrants they brought in from back home) began to “tip” a particular neighborhood, the remaining White Norwegians relatively quickly decamped, soon creating immigrant-majority and in some cases localized immigrant-supermajority enclaves. This is a well-studied phenomenon in Sweden. It is considerably less present in Norway than in Sweden, but it’s a difference in degree not of kind.
This is all like other big Northwest European countries in which a Diversity Consensus, roughly on the US model again, formed and then hardened. (A difference is that the entire immigation debate is more focused on the concept of Asylum and Asylum-Seekers in Norway than in the US.) There was no way to “turn it off” after a point.
I am reminded of this line:
“One moves swiftly and imperceptibly from a world in which affirmative action can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too weak to a world in which it can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too strong.”
(from Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, by Christopher Caldwell, 2009.)
The good people in Norway, back in the 1980s and into the 1990s, did not dare criticize the new consensus. Norway had/has a moral obligation to take in asylum-seekers from places with trouble in the world. Africa, the Mideast, Afghanistan, whatever. Some of the very earliest cases were Vietnamese in the late 1960s and 1970s (a story now directly affecting Norwegian politics in the 2020s via Lan Marie Berg, a leading figure of the Green Party and the daughter of a Vietnamese admitted as a refugee during the US Vietnam War).
Was it some kind of moral good? It seemed persuasive to say “Yes” at the time and be done with it, and in any case the numbers were at first so tiny — hey, don’t worry about it, ski season is coming up and we have vacation-time saved up. This is still something of a “baseline” attitude even today, especially with the older generations now living who grew up in a stable, mono-ethnic and essentially mono-cultural environment (by which regional differences within Norway seemed a big deal), and who first encountered the issue as younger adults in the 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s.
Some took it all to heart. A contingent really believes the highest possible moral level a European-Christian can attain is this life a firm and unwavering support for migrants and asylum-seekers, and in political-policy terms a loyal maintenance of a finely tuned government-apparatus to keep it rolling along. A parallel apparatus is to function as a wealth-transfer mechanism to support the new people, while not killing the golden goose. The machine requires a balanced approach. Most of the Left stresses the moral imperative of bringing in Asylum-Seekers and let the machine whirr along as it was built to do, whereas most of the Right stresses the need to keep the machine well-tuned and balanced to let it run better. Both operate within the consensus that such a machine is a positive-good.
The older-adult-age and retiree-age age-cohort, whose political and social attitudes and views largely became fixed in an era when the asylum and immigration systems (there is hardly a practical difference in Norway) had a handful of beneficiaries “far too weak” to worry about. This group is now complemented by three groups:
An ever-larger bloc of the descendants of asylum-seeker immigrants themselves, commonly on the “Ilhan Omar” model. In many cases they don’t have voting rights (citizenship) but they do have influence in other ways: Numbers (i.e., street-presence and street-power), powerful allies and protectors to whom the savvy among them know well how to appeal. When they do have the vote, this group block-votes for the Left, traditionally for the Labor Party (Ap) according to government oinion surveys posted to Statistis Noway. This time they will likely split between Labor (Ap), Socialist Left (SV), and the surging Red party (R).
An element of native-Norwegians (those with four Norwegian grandparents) of approximately my generation who grew up under the emerging new order of things and, by circumstance or choice, absorbed or embraced the neo-morality during their formative years. I recognize this type well, because I recognize myself in it.
A large share of the remainder of people are managed within a “carrot, stick, couch” model. One, it’s appealing to feel like you are on the morally just side — the carrot. Much of the time the carrot-grabbers don’t critically examine things much and just roll with the emotions of it all. The carrot is emotional self-satisfaction and accolades from above, social approval, important for self-esteem no matter who you are. Would-be dissenters, on the other hand, are socially (at least) punished — the stick. They are smart enough not to expose their necks when a stick is hanging over it. Others are made politically inert by relative comfort, the couch. I’ve known many young men in my life who, by instinct or temprement or experience or something else, are against the new order but are near-neutralized or fully-neutralized by a combination of the carrot-stick-couch model, and in proportions roughly ascertainable if you talk to them.
A shaky immigration consensus in Norway therefore works under four-part system. (1.) Decisions made and attitudes taken by establishment “68ers,” long in senior positions all over though many are now retired; their earlier decisions (and those of the generation before them) represent a powerful political inertia. (2.) The immigrants themselves, often among the young now second-generation. (3.) An influential group of native young Norwegians who embrace the new order proactively as its zealots (see comments below about the Red Party). (4.) The remainder who are managed within a carrot-stick-couch system, with carrot-grabbers being the socially aspirant and stick-avoiders being most anyone else. People outside any of these categories exist but are too collectively weak and disorganized too do much, but elements of those within group (4.) ended up successfully pushing the FrP to major success in the past thirty years.
The bully-pulpit of Perceived Consensus keeps things running. It is said that possession is nine-tenths of the law. Perceived Consensus must hold a similar share of political power in Scandinavia. If so, the FrP’s rise, in its time, was all the more surprising and impressive from a political perspective. Breakthroughs by a party like the FrP in a country like Norway are simply not supposed to happen. But it did happen. Now that the FrP has been in decline a few years, we might wonder what comes next, for the political terrain it held is still there.
This is the kind of thing that makes electoral systems like Norway’s so interesting to observe.
Political fluxes happen in all systems, including even one-party systems, and also in two-party duopolies (like the USA’s). But they are usually more obscure in one- or two-party systems because they (necessarily) involve unseen and un-voted-for factions of parties. The parties themselves don’t change and retain the same names and outward appearances. In systems like Norway’s, it’s all more in the open because it involves openness — more often parties and less often unseen factions within the a one-party monopoly or a two-party duopoly system. What You See is What You Get. It is easier in Norway than in the USA to break ranks if a party ends up drifting, or betrays specific promises upon which basis you had supported them, or gets hijacked by some individual or interest group not to your approval. And large-scale vote-shifts matter. In any European system, the 1992/96 Ross Perot phenomenon would have been a major political event, but in the USA it was quickly forgotten.
In Norway’s system, the changes can be of the unseen kind too, but will in time involve one ascendant party displacing another, the new entrant onto the scene carrying a new agenda, or at least carrying new emphases, energy, personalities, or intensity, or perhaps reacting to a new development. The whole system feels nimbler than the two-party duopoly model.
Returning to the question of defectors from the FrP: Where did they go?
Polled support was down already by the late 2010s, even though years of voting results showed that its signature issues have a firm place in Norwegian politics. Something was going on. Polling data was borne out when the FrP did poorly in local elections in 2019.
The FrP’s right-flank, having been lightly guarded, wavered in the constant low-level melee of political discourse and could not hold, and elements of its center also began drifting awestaay, unconfident that the fight was worth it under the present commanders. To extend the metaphor, seven years in government may have meant the FrP’s field commanders, battalion commanders, and staffs had all fattened up a bit and consequently were less able to compel loyalty of the ranks as they had in the leaner years and the wilderness years. In come the Demokratene.
Here come the Demokratene
What do we make of the new party on Norway’s Populist-Right? Democrats / DEMs / Demokratene, formerly known as Demokratene i Norge (Democrats in Norway). Previously touched on before but now sketched out more.
Demokratene leader and FrP-expellee Geir Ugland Jacobsen recently (July 23) wrote on Facebook/Twitter (auto-translated):
Support for the Demokratene is rising sharply! We have never had so many new members per day, as now. The probability that we will cross the barrier limit [i.e., the 4% threshold] is therefore high.
This Facebook post got 895 “Likes,” about the number comparable posts would get for other small parties which have good shots at taking Storting seats.
Another Demokratene figure, Tommy Tufte, says this (July 24) on the growth in the past few months:
We’re getting votes from the following, put in order of importance (completely unofficially):
The top three probably account for about 90% [of new members].
In addition, we have picked up “sofa sitters” [sofasittere, i.e., disengaged nonvoters]. Several have told me that they have never voted or had a membership [of any party].
Geir Ugland Jacobsen himself has said the rate of new members has been steady in the hundreds per week in spring and summer 2021. Party membership was at 300 the day Jacobsen was expelled from the FrP (Dec. 2020) and is now said to have recently broken 4000, according to news-commentary website Resett.no. A membership level in the 4000 range is also comparable to established third-tier parties (those with several-percent support who could break the 4% threshold) like Venstre.
It’s an open question whether these signs of the DEMs’ newfound strength (Facebook likes, party membership totals) necessarily translates a strong vote totals at the election, or whether the surge is limited to those most politically engaged or “activists.”
Geir Ugland Jacobsen also recently described his party as follows (cleaned-up machine-translation):
“The Demokratene is an anti-globalist people’s party operating on a horizontal upper- and lower-class axis. We take the side of Norwegian citizens against the EU elite and against big-business and globalists in the other parties ranging from Red Party to the FrP, all of whom want more supranational governance of our country. We are the voters’ only real alternative.”
“We will vote ‘No’ on all climate-related and globalist proposals, regardless of party or government. We want a change of course, not a job in the EU or running errands for other nations or power structures.”
They DEMs in mid-2021 were in the process of scooping up some big names in the world of political-dissident types willing to stick their necks out against the taboos. One of the new additions is a professor of anthropology and psychology, Øyvind Eikrem (b.1973), who came to national headlines when Norway’s prestigious NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) fired him for what some say are political reasons.
Professor Eikrem had made comments he made to the press after an asylum-seeker, said to be from Afghanistan, killed two people and grievously wounded a third. The asylum-seeker had arrived in Norway during the Merkel Wave (the impact of which on Norway and Norwegian politics is discussed above in the Høyre section). On arrival he claimed to be age 16 and from Afghanistan. Authorities allowed him to stay. The population of Trondehim ended up two less for the decision. While it is true Norwegians too can commit murder, Trondheim rarely gets any, maybe one in a typical year.
Professor Eikrem had made comments to the press, which contacted him seeking expert comment on the subject of the cultural problems of integrating people from such places as Afghanistan. The murders not only applied to Professor Eikrem’s own field (anthropology and sociology) but to his home, for the university where he taught (until fired), NTNU, is also in Trondheim. By Eikrem’s telling, certain university administrators up his chain-of-command were angered, moved to try to discipline him, and scolded him personally, saying he had humiliated the department and the university. They finally terminated his contract in June 2021. After the controversy it will be hard for Eikrem to work again in his field, and certainly hard at a place so pestigious as NTNU.
In July 2021, the purged professor was elected local leader for Trondheim for the Demokratene. Trondheim the university-town anchors the South-Trøndelag (Sør-Trøndelag) electoral region which leans decisively to the Left by abouta two-to-one margin, probably because so many of its voters are associated with the university.
In addition to Eikrem’s career in academia throughout the 2000s and 2010s, he had previously been active with the Pirate Party, a dissident, all-purpose, semi-ironic protest party, and was even a Storting candidate for the Pirate Party in 2017.
The local establishement parties won’t take much notice of this. Most likely Labor (Ap) and Center (Sp) will take 5 of the 9 direct-mandate seats in the region between them, continuing to oil the gears of the careers of several figures including Ola Borten Moe (lead-candidate for the Sp in the region, guaranteed a seat), whose grandfather was Prime Minister of Norway from 1965 to 1971, the rare non-Labor Prime Minister in mid-20th-century Norway. (His grandfather was also of the Center Party, Sp.)
Also perhaps likely to get back in is Sivert Bjornstad, one-time wunderkind of the Right in Norway, first elected as an FrP man to the Storting in 2013 somewhat before his 23rd birthday. Another is a left-wing environemntalist named Lars Haltbrekken (of the Socialsit Left party, SV) whose star has risen with the rise of Green politics. Neither of these seats are assured, for the Green Party could have a surprisingly strong showing and knock the lowest of the two (FrP’er or the SV’er) out and snatch the seat.
The field is crowded and there is little space for an insurgent party of the Populist-Right in South-Trondelag to make any headway. There will probably be a one-seat shift from Ap to Sp locally and an outside possibility of the Greens snatching a seat from whichever of the two performs more poorly, local second-tier parties FrP or SV. It would be ironic if the Greens knock out the SV’s lead candidate, a leading environmentalist. On the other hand, he could yet be saved if the SV national-level party has bonus seats to allot and wants him in.
It is said you do not really understand something unless you can write coherently on it, which is why I’ve written a few thousands words on this, as an investigative matter. This “flux on the Right” story-line in Norway’s coming election is something below-surface that may not make international headlines, even if the Demokratene defy expectations and get over 4% and take a number of seats. A story-line that may make headlines is the Center Party (Sp), on whom more below, and it stealing lots of votes from all across the spectrum, and one interpretation of the Sp’s rise is also along the lines of the “flux on the Right” narrative.
If the DEMs are really pilfering voters from the FrP and others, and activating nonvoters/disengaged, it indicates the DEMs in Norway are exactly the kind of recognizable protest party with which we became relatively familiar in Europe in the 2010s. The phenomenon either came late to Norway or very early to Norway, depending on whether you see the 1990s-2000s-2010s-era FrP as such a party or not.
Whatever happens with the DEMs, it will be a story taking place outside government, for I doubt any government formed in the Storting would accept support from this party in any governing coalition. Then again, we judt don’t know what the Center Party (Sp) would do if they do wiggle their way into (narrowly) taking the largest number of seats, which is a possible outcome of the election. Everyone has a pet theory on what the Sp will do, but no one knows.
Geir Ugland Jacobsen says the Demkokratene party’s goal is “at least one seat” in the Storting, but a national showing above 4% would net the party several seats and suddenly make it a surprise player.
(Geir Ugland Jacobsen at right, hands clasped, chatting with a passerby, town center of Stjørdal, Norway, July 2021.)
The town of Stjørdal falls in the rural North-Trøndelag electoral region, not far by distance but very far by culture from the university-town that anchors its southern neighbor (the above-discussed South-Trøndelag). But its voting patterns are similarly on the Left.
Stjørdal is the largest town in the region of North-Trøndelag but has only 21,000 people. North-Trøndelag as a region is larger than the state of New Jersey but has a (permanent) population of only 134,000, making for a population density equal to Idaho’s. The small size of this electoral-campaign booth should be interpreted in that light.
As might be guessed from the way things look, from the way people are dressed and present themselves, North-Trøndelag is Norway’s poorest region. The economy is based on farming and fishing. Typical incomes are only one third of Oslo’s. There are also almost no foreigners. While I expect a small handful of foreigners can be found in the big towns, I’d expect none once heading into the countryside and among the fjords — of which North-Trøndelag has many.
North-Trøndelag elects four direct seats and (like every other region) one bonus or “adjustment seat” split between parties which clear the 4%-hurdle nationally. There is no chance that Geir Ugland Jacobsen’s Demokratene win any of these four seats, but they must think they can flip votes fairly easily in a place like this, anyway, hence the campaigning.
In the 2017 election in North-Trøndelag, Labor (Ap) took two seats, Center (Sp) got one, and Conservatives (Høyre, H) got one. Polling suggests H’s vote-total in the region will not be enough to hold its seat and that enough of its voters may shift to the Center Party (Sp) for a 2021 split of two Ap and two Sp sent to the Storting, which is in line with its historical voting pattern, firmly leaning Left. The Sp here is led by longtime leading Sp figure Marit Arnstad, who holds a leading parliamentary ole for the party in the Storting for eight years now, and will likely be some kind of important government minister if Sp enters government.
Demokratene leader Geir Ugland Jacobsen has recently (July 24, 2021) pointed to an opinion poll taken in northern Norway — the electoral districts of Finnmark, Troms, and Nordland — which purports to show 12% of voters expressing party-preference for “Other,” double the rate from 2017 in the same poll. Geir Ugland Jacobsen (naturally) claims this doubling of “Other” is mostly due to people shifting to the DEMs. He sure hopes it is so, for such a result might even be the DEMs best shot at a seat, if they come up short of the 4%-threshold.
Here is some more Demokratene campaigning, probably typical of how small but hungry parties of the second-tier and third-tier will make their moves, needing so much to get their word out and often not counting on inertia or name-recgnition or political-heavyweight status:
The banner says:
“Demokratene. For Norway’s Best. Guaranteed Anti-Globalist. Yes to the welfare-state. No to wind-power and monopoly-profits on electricity. We will preserve, build, and re-build.”
If all the stars line up for the Demokratene, they could snatch a direct-mandate elected for their lead candidate from Nordland, which sends 8 direct-seats to the Storting. One direct seat can reflects as little as a 10%-vote in Nordland (in caclulating seats the denominator chanegs based on which parties locally qualify for seats, and is not 100% based on al lvotes — in other words, if small-parties who fall below the threshold to take seats locally make up 20% of all votes cast, the denominator drops to 80%, which means the 8 seats are divided by 80%, or 1 seat per 10% vote-block.
If the DEMs did have a 3%-nationwide support level in early July, they could well have a support-level more like 10% in a natural stronghold and surprise everyone by snatching a direct seat up in Nordland, which previously had strong vote totals for the FrP.
The real prize, and surprise, will be if the DEMs, not even being discussed much in Norwegian election commentary, manage to take 4% nationally. The smart money still bets against it.
Even if the Demkoratene don’t clear the 4%-hurdle, their vigorous activity in 2021 after the FrP’s problems in 2020 is a big story in its own right. Life goes on and there are local elections in which they will continue to compete, even perhaps under a changed name.
The Parties of the Center-Left and Left
Now the political parties of Norway which are (supposedly or arguably) of the Left, considered in order of size or importance and not ideology.
First Tier (1.) Labor Party [Arbeiderpartiet, Ap]; (2.) Center Party [Senterpartiet, Sp];
Second Tier (3.) Socialist Left [Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV]; (4.) Red [Rødt, R];
Third Tier (5.) Green Party [Miljøpartiet De Grønne, MDR];
Fourth Tier (6.) Minor parties including “Sentrum,” the “Norwegian Communist Party,” “Feminist Initiative,” and (arguably) the “Pirate Party.”
The LABOR Party [Arbeiderpartiet, Ap]: A typical social-democratic political party in Europe, and long Norway’s dominant party with much accumulated prestige to show for it.
The Ap party dominated Norwegian politics for decades starting in the mid-1930s and in many ways really made Norway what it is today in terms of norm-creation, agenda-setting, and institution-building, or at the least oversaw all those things.
The same kind of party became ascendant in the USA with the New Deal Democratic Party at about the same time as Norway’s Ap rose to the top in Norway.
In Norway’s case, the power and prestige of this social-democratic wave that broke through in the 1930s lasted rather longer than the USA’s. The US New Deal Coalition showed signs of imminent fracturing by the mid-1960s and in the 1968 presidential election looked broken apart; Nixon’s big second-term win (1972) seemed to confirm it was over, even if the fumes lasted years yet to come. In Norway it never quite ended. In the USA’s case, the full defection of the US White “Solid South” away from the New Deal Coalition Democratic Party was decisive (if not the sole cause, but did electorally tip the scales). Norway, with no domestic racial politics whatsoever at the time (except maybe if counting the Lapps/Saami), kept its social-democratic ruling party, and a reliable voting coalition behind it, somewhat longe. The Labor Party (Ap) was the face and guiding hand of Norwegian politics and government.
The Labor Party even came to be Norway’s default political party, the natural ruling party. It may still today feel like the default ruling party in popular political psychology, regardless of who’s actually in charge. So powerful is its legacy.
(In like manner, Koreans claim to [still] think that the main right-wing party, currently under the silly-sounding name of “The People Power Party,” is the default and eternal ruling party, and that the left-wing party, usually under the name Democratic Party or a close variant, is the default and eternal opposition — despite the latter holding the presidency and/or legislative majorities.)
The world which today’s Norwegian working-age adults and youth have inherited is more the Ap’s world than any other party’s, and one plank in Norwegian pride and patriotism is that they have run what is seen to be a successful social-welfare state. This is also key to Ap’s long-enjoyed prestige in Norway, its quasi-status as the default party, and the widely held expepctation that the Ap’s leader (Jonas Gahr Støre) will become the next prime minister.
The 20th-century prestige may remain, but Norway’s Ap as a party has been in decline for years. Like all the big social-democratic parties of Western Europe, there is a secular decline trend and it no longer dominates Norway’s politics in a formal sense.
In a graduate school seminar on European politics I realized that the social-democratic parties’ decline — observed everywhere, usually starting sometime in the 2000s and really unmistakable and sustained in the 2010s — has been a matter of great academic interest for some time.No one knows what the cause is, exactly. People have lots of little ideas. Thousands of words have been written on the matter. The general idea: these parties moved towards the political “center,” they lost some traditional bases of support. This explains some of the vote-losses in some cases, but not all. Something more general is going on. These parties seem generally less appealing, less relevant somehow, to the b.1970s, b.1980s, and b.1990s age-cohorts than they did to their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
Just as Norway’s conservative party (Høyre) moved from the Center-Right towards the political Center, Norway’s social-democratic party (Ap) has moved from the Center-Left towards the Center. The two classic, bigges parties of Norway (H and Ap), therefore, overlap more than ever. A consensus-based politics good for stability but sometimes unappealing to those who want agendas pushed rather than status quo.
The Ap has held only 49 national-parliament seats since 2017 (=29% of the Storting), which continues its long-term decline trend. In its peak years (decades), Ap often held outright-majorities or near-majorities in the Storting, usually able to govern via a powerful majority-government and able to do most anything it wanted, and most of the rest of the time able to goven with a minor coalition partner to prop them up.
In 2021 the Ap is on track to take somewhere between 37 and 48 seats in the new Storting (22% and 28% of total seats). All tolled this is not so bad. It could be a lot worse: Ap in Norway has not sunk as far as Germany’s SPD, which may take as few as 15-20% of seats in the German Bundestag election this year (which occurs the same week as Norway’s election). The collapse of the social-democratic party in France is even worse still, its presidential cadidate receiving a laughably low share of the vote in 2017 (under 10%).
A four-point campaign platform for 2021 which the Ap recently put out includes a vow to lower taxes on the non-rich, defining the “rich — non-rich” line as those making below 750,000 Norwegian Kroner (NOK) (=$85,000 USD) per year. This may be politi-speak for raising taxes on the rich, and certainly at least is so in relative terms. A second campaign promise was to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 55% by 2030. Some of this emission-cuts talk is getting ush-back from lots of parties of the Right so the election will partly be a referendum on it. An Ap prime minister, very likely Jonas Gahr Stør, especially with left-wing governing partners, would push ever-forward with it.
Critics will say that the Ap’s traditional reason for existence has faded, and that it has long since drifted away from real ties to the “Socialism” of its origin-days. With wealth at such high levels, there is also a tendency to drift into boutique politics of (micro-)grievance and away from the (macro-)economic with broad appeal. The insinuation that the Ap has somehow outlived its usefulness, in one way or other, gives energy to its two major left-wing challengers, SV and R, both of which will take seats in 2021. Ap prefers SV, which is a natural partner that will seldom majorly break with the Ap — and SV openly positions itself, advertises itself, as a force-multiplier for the Ap, loyal but keeping pressure from the Left on the Ap itself. As for the new entrant Red Party, for now it is seen as too radical for Ap to ever work with it.
In the Hedmark region, the source of my own Norwegian ancestry, Ap has long done well. It still does well, along with the Center Party (Sp).
Hedmark is to elect six direct seats to the Storting in 2021, and current polling suggests Ap will take only two of these. In normal times it would likely take three, but this time the Sp will take three on the basis of its party-leader being a Hedmark man. This may the Sp’s best-ever result in Hedmark. The bosixth direct seat is expected to go to the Conservatives (H). A low-probability outcome is that enough voters defect from H to the locally surging Sp that H’s vote-total slips below that of the Socialist Left Party (SV). If so, SV steals the seat from H, and Hedmark becomes a clean-sweep for the Left in 2021.
The Ap’s two direct-representatives from Hedmark will be Anette Trettebergstuen (b.1981) and Nils Kristen Sandtrøen (b.1989), both contemporaries of my and my cousins’ age range. The latter is an interesting case of transatlantic ties (US-Norway) as they exist today. After graduating from the top level achievable in the Norwegian high school system in June 2008, Nils Kristen Sandtrøen went over to the University of Alaska, from which he received “a ski scholarship and competed for the university team in cross-country skiing.” He spent one or two years in Alaska before transferring back to Norway and graduating from the prestigious NTNU (previously mentioned above).
The third on the Ap’s party-list in Hedmark, who will likely be shut out because of the vote-shift to Sp locally, is Lise Selnes (b.1976). Selnes is the longtime mayor of Nord-Odal, a town of 5000 in Hedmark which has had nothing but Ap mayors since the position was established in 1925. Lise Selnes will presumably be happy to continue on with the mayor job, to which she has been elected thrice already (2011, 2015, 2019).
Labor Party [Ap] seats won, 2017: 49 (of 169)
Expected to win in 2021: 37 to 48
The Ap will definitely lose seats in 2021, but the combined Ap-SV total may hold steay. In other words, a net shift from Ap to SV but no change to the two-party coalition is possible.
The most ‘vanilla’ prediction possible on the election is that Ap and SV form a government with the Center Party (Sp). A big question is how the Ap will look against the Sp after the smoke clears. The exact seat counts will matter. If Sp performs at the uper end of its range and Ap at the lower end, Sp could have more seats, a big psychological boost towards the Sp leader’s bid for the prime ministership on his own, which would be a terrible blow for the Ap, seeming to confirm it is unable to command the heights of Norwegian politics anymore.
The odds and the experts favor the Ap candidate, Støre, to be next prime minister, few heeding the doctum about chicken-counting before the hatching process begins. But if the Ap’s first-tier rival, Sp, has more seats than the Ap, it could be a different game — but the smart money is that even then the Sp would just get more concessions and more important government ministries. Norwegians looking to vote strategically and who identify with the “non-Socialist” camp (a term current in Norwegian politics) have an inducement to vote Sp, a strategic vote to possibly stop Ap.
Here is some of the Ap’s campaign material in 2021:
It says: “Full VAT-compensation for volunteer organizations.” The attached explanation: “Children and young people must be able to participate in leisure activities regardless of family finances. Among other things, we will institute a full VAT compensation for volunteer organizations and ensure that volunteers can spend more time on activities.”
This is a pretty tame and safe slogan but does sound serious and sober enough to trust; no open demagoguery, no airy blue-sky sloganeering, just a firm policy proposal.
Another on a similar theme:
It says: “Cheaper kindergarten [barnehage] and free SFO [after-school programs] for first-graders.”
These highly specific and nonoffensive, if unambitious, proposals contrast with the sloganeering by some of the other parties. You can tell the kind of centrist or center-left voter the Ap is pitching to.
Here is a recent (July 30, 2021) campaign event, said to be in (South?-)Trøndelag, an Ap stronghold:
There are fourteen activists pictured together here, two of visible foreign-origin and the others either Norwegian or at least passable as such. The party fully embraces the historical color of the Left (another way the whim by someboy at NBC News in or about year 2000 to assign “red” to “Republicans” confuses the color scheme of politics from a US perspective today). Many of them are holding roses, the party’s symbol.
Finally, keeping with the theme that Ap is Norway’s “default” party, we find a simple-seeming campaign poster, showing the party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, the prime-minitser candidate with the simple slogan: “Most want Jonas as prime minister.”
It says: “Most want Jonas as Prime Minister!” (i.e., Jonas Gahr Støre).
As far as campaign material meant to persuade, this kind of poster is interesting to analyze. Does it not feel like an argumentum ad populum fallacy? Maybe it does get encourage people to get into the Ap’s camp, at least for the action of voting, not by any argument but by stating that its leader is (naturally?) most popular, and by implication (again) that the Ap is Norway’s default ruling party, the cool kid’s party, at least among the big-players. So get on board before we leave you behind.
I’d interpret this as a “reminder” to centrist Norwegians and fencer-sitters who want to participate in the civic ritual of voting but aren’t sure whom to vote for. The reminder is of the Ap’s long prestige and status as quasi-default ruling party. That is the subtext to this highly simple poster of just six words and one cropped image of one man.
Much other material from the Ap seems specifically aimed at smearing Erna Solberg. The Ap politial gurus must think is a winning strategy. For some voters in the middle, it might as well be a US-style presidential election after all, Jonas vs. Erna.
As to the other big rival among the first-tier parties, the Center Party (Sp), I see not one trace in Ap material related to the election. Not one mention in the Ap’s top-line material, slogan-level. Given how important Sp will be towards government formation, this seems a calculated neutrality and contrasts with the anti-Erna attacks.
The anti-Erna attacks are also I think the only such ads I’ve seen from any party attacking a named opponent directly, rather than pushing some specific policy point or issue.
The CENTER PARTY [Senterpartiet, Sp]: Sp today is like the Rorschach Test of Norwegian politics. Ideologically difficult to pin down or make statements with certainty.
It’s clear it doesn’t fit as some kind of notch on a Right-to-Left number-line. A lot parties claim to be “neither Right nor Left,” but with Sp it seems more true. In this sense, their name is kind of a case where the name does reflect the party’s stance, for Norw-egian politics has many counter-examples.
Sp is, anyway, grouped with the Left in many cases, and here for convenience’s sake. It is in opposition to the Conservative-led government.
Sp is also the clearest, direct-line descendant among any of the first- or second-tier parties, of the old agrarianist political tradition traceable to the late 19th century. (Arguably activefar earlier, in the pre-mass-democracy era, and picked up when mass-democracy came on the scene rather than being created by mass-democracy).
Agrariaist politics carried on strongly into the 20th century and still today, and retains a prestige in Scandinavia beyond what it does in most other rich countries.
I do not have a handy analog in today’s US politics for Norway’s Sp party. The best analog will work for those who know US political history well and recall the agrarian progressives of the late 19th century. The “agrarianists” were never properly classifiable as Right or Left. They of course lived in a different world. The concepts of these two things always change anyway, with both the big two parties in the US of the day having Right and Left elements to them. But the Agrarian Progressive movement was something unique. Thought-experiment: What if a much stronger core of the US Agrarianists’ political line came down to us today, and some large share of US Congress members were member of an Agrarian Party of America? That’s Sp. (I don’t know if that clarifies much or not.)
Sp is the main advocate of protective tariffs in Norway among the big parties. These tariffs are popular with farmers and rural people in today’s Norway, and also specifically un-popular with the “transatlantic consensus” crowd, a breach of the doctrine of free trade and against the European-integrationist project under NATO protection. Sp’s big first-tier-party rivals, H and Ap, are both reliable free-trade advocates. On the tariff issue, Sp finds some common cause with the Socialist Left party (SV).
The modern-day Center Party (Sp) is also popular with semi-dissidents, disgruntled people, and those distrustful of big-party machines (though Sp itself is a fairly big party in itself). This may define the 2010s-/2020s-era Sp more than some nostalgia-toned notion of direct descent from the agrarianism of a century ago.
Right about now the Sp is also the vehicle of one charismatic political figure, Trygve Slagsvold Vedum (b.1978), who has high ambitions and made waves last year by declaring he would run for prime minister in the new Storting. Vedum is also of Hedmark, as mentioned in a section above, and Hedmark is conveniently enough a sub-theme of this entire analysis (being of interest to me as the origin of some of my ancestors), so he fits right is.
The traditional candidates for prime minister are the Labor Party (Ap) leader and the Conservative (H) leader, the former who leads a “red” coalition and the latter who lead a “blue” coalition. The blue coalition is now led by Erna Solberg (the woman who apologized to the nation for doing a panic-lockdown in March 2020 over a flu-virus and bye June 2020 vowed to the nation she would not repeat the mistake), and Sp has positoned itself as opposed to her. The traditional role for Sp and others was to pick a side between Ap or H, red or blue.
The Center Party’s popularity in (rural) Hedmark comes from the continuing strength of the agrarian political tradition there, and is boosted by the head of the party, Vedum, being a Hedmark man. The favorite-son effect, seems likely to tip the vote locally enough to give Sp half the seats from Hedmark itself, and other similar places.
Here is a campaign video of Sp leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum speaking. The tone is hardly what one expects a politician to look or sound like. I would guess this partly reflects Norwegian political culture in general, and is partly a persona which Vedum thinks will help attract a specific kind of voter:
I cannot understand the words he is saying, but Vedum looks and sounds like an Iowan to me.
When my father’s Norwegian ancestors left Norway for Iowa in the 1880s/90s, they carried with them the political orientation, outlook, and attitudes from which Sp also partly descends (as does Ap). It’s not a direct relation, and there is about 140 years now of separation, but the relationship between a traditional kind of Upper-Midwest-farmer politics and the Sp is comparable to a cousin-like relationship — descended on somewhat different paths from the same ancestor but often still visibly of the same family.
My father, growing up in rural Iowa, inherited this political tradition along with his genetics. All political parties change over time, either drifting at semi-random because of chance events, single personalities, small cabals that gain influence within the party, or because of changes around them to which they adapt. Transfering one political tradition onto another place can also cause distortions. This can apply intra-nationally and inter-nationally, and inter-generationally. Knowing both ends, you can see how one ends up as the other somewhat more clearly. I think this applues to most or all these parties in some way. All seem to have parallels in the USA, either in the past or the present.
The Center Party (Sp)’s stances on specific issues can sometimes be hard to sort out from the other parties’ stances. Sp’s most salient characteirstic today may be more of an attitude, by which it is more ready, even eager, to stretch consensus opinions, or even appear to break entirely with consensus thinking. To challenge sacred cows (which, in our time, are all political and not religious) while still being respectable. To say certian things many are thinking but which few dare say. This attitude, positioning, and image are said to have attracted some right-wing Progress Party (FrP) supporters to the Sp for their (Sp’s) willingness to break with PC for its own sake. Comparisons to an important aspect of the Trump movment of 2015-16 in the USA present themselves for the taking, and there are people making them.
A Norwegian named Mette Wiggen (born ca. 1965?), active in academia in the UK, earlier this year wrote something like what I’ve attempted here but much shorter and with a narrower focus. Mette Wiggen described the Center Party (Sp) as:
“…centrist, populist, anti-EU, nationalist…led by the charismatic and talkative Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, who travels the country joking and talking with ‘ordinary’ people and promising to help them to stand up to the ‘elites’…”
Sp is much more “populist” than Ap, its big rival to the Left, to be sure.
Some observers or partisans almost want to position Sp on the Right. Doing so risks pigeonholing “populism,” as a concept, as somehow inherently of the Right, which cheapens the purpose of using the word at all.
The people who want to imply Sp is now almost something like a right-wing party includes Mette Wiggen, the author of the above-linked election commentary. Someone who reads Professor Wiggen’s overview of the election, and who reads it with few or no preconceptions about the political parties of Norway, may mentally place the Sp as at, or near, or potentially secretly on, the kind of populist-nationalist Right, the kind of political element over which some love to drum up fear.
A “Red Party” spokeswoman is regularly making the same allegations, warning that a conspiracy is afoot by the Sp to hand back power to the Right on the back of non-Right votes.
I get the feeling the alarmism doesn’t quite work. We could be so bold as to take the Sp at their word. In their rhetoric they are primarily hitting Høyre (Conservatives) and the FrP (the right-wing support party, in government 2013-2020 until breaking with Høyre).
We do see at least some actors on the Right floating the idea of an H-Sp-FrP government for an Erna Solberg third term, or possibly an Sp-H-FrP government under a Prime Minister Vedum (an FrP official floated this idea to the press at the end of July 2021).
But Sp says it wants to form a government with the Ap.
If the Sp takes over the government as the leading party under a Prime Minister Vedum, it’ll most likely be something near business-as-usual, just more colorful and slightly less in the predictable-safe-zone, for better or worse.
Even if Vedum abandons the PM bid and keeps his word on cooperating with the Ap, the Sp delegation in the Storting will not be traditional establishment-center-left types, but no one ever thought they were that.
Center Party [Sp] seats in 2017: 19 (of 169)
Expected to win in 2021: 30 to 40
The Sp will likely be the biggest single winner in terms of net seat gain in 2021. With a big enough net gain in seats, it could turn bolder. A Vedum as prime ministership is possible.
They could more than double their seat total from 19 to about 40. With 40, they’d hold nearly a quarter of the Storting’s total seats and possibly exceed Labor (Ap)’s, opening the door to “talkative” Mr. Vedum talking his way into the prime ministership. What he and they (Sp) would do with the prime ministership is unclear. What effect on Norway, its politics, its world-position, or its party-system and trajectory in the 2020s, 2030s, and beyond, is not clear to me.
Here is some of the Sp’s campaign promotional material in 2021:
The Sp characteristically here shows itself as close to the land. Sp leader and aspiring prime minister is shown on a tractor and clad in flannel. It gets the point across.
The accompanying text says:
“What made Trygve Slagsvold Vedum interested in politics? And when he was a boy what did he want to be when he grew up? Get to know our prime minister candidate here (link)!”
Next, some scenes from a late-July 2021 live-stream in which Sp party leader meets and chats with regular(-looking) people at some scenic site. It is well-produced with several cameras cutting live between shots.
The first is the opening shot, also live, showing people milling around this scenic overlook point. The Sp party’s slogan, “naer folk” means “near people,” i.e., “close to the people” (“naer folk” is one of the easy examples of how close the language is to English).
It says: “Sp — naer folk (near people). The broada secast starts soon.”
I assume the several people they bring out are Sp activists, and maybe this is stated openly, if it’s not obvious from the ordinary people wearing matching jackets with the Sp logo on them. But the way the event looks, it seems like they are just ordinary people passing by who have a friendly chat with the gregarious Sp leader, Trygve Slagsvold Vedum (bald, at left), about life and their hopes and dreams. One chat with Trygve and one surely realizes the slogan on how naer folk the Sp is was right after all!
Looking at Center Party’s three top candidates for Hedmark, the party leader’s home-region, the first two of whom will definitely be (directly) elected and the third very likely to be elected:
(1.) Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, set to become one of Norway’s most important political figures and possibly even prime minister;
(2.) Emilie Enger Mehl(b.1993) who entered the Storting in 2017 at age 24, previously of the Hedmark Regional Parliament (Hedmark Fylkesting) (2015-17), which means she immediately entered politics after graduating with a law degree from the University of Oslo (2015?); and
(3.) Per Martin Sandtrøen (b.1985), a lower-profile local figure, originally of Tynset in the interior, north of Hedmark. If the Sp’s luck holds, he’ll be in.
Emilie Enger Mehl, as one the Sp’s nineteen Storting members, had outsized influence on some of its policy lines for her age, and was one of those urging a slow-down on a 2010s-era push by the Sp to get Norway out of the EEA (EUropean Economic Area) — a form of “Norwexit.” The party was full-steam-ahead on it, but then in mid-2020 backed down, saying they needed a better idea of what kind of agreement would replace the EEA framework regulating trade. In 2021 she made headlines for calling to cut some or all of the aid Norway sends abroad via the EEA (5.7 billion NOK, or $655 million USD).
A recent (Aug. 6) video of Emilie Enger Mehl pitching the Sp’s platform in video format, in which she calls for national ownership over certain strategic resources, a strong national democracy (i.e. not supranational), and independence from Brussels bureacrats:
The other Hedmark Sp figure who is going to be sent to the Storting, Per Martin Sandtroen has a political career which began much more steadily and traditionally than the instant-Storting‘er Emilie Enger Mehl’s, now an Sp party celebrity still in her twenties.
For the last four years, Per Sandtroen has been a “Vararepresentant” for the Sp in the Storting, a position effectively meaning a second-string or backup Storting member who comes if the main elected representative is unavailable, is away, is sick or incapacitated and cannot come, or who dies. Also, if a given Storting member is promoted to government minister, the backup member (Vararepresentant) holds the seat indefinitely until either a new election or the end of the original member’s tenure as minister.
The Norwegian constitution mandates that government ministerships (i.e., cabinet positions except with more power) must be taken by an elected Storting member, but when that happens the person also must vacate his or her seat for as long as he or she holds the minister post, which is a common way these Vararepresentant people get to be (temporarily) full Storting members, sitting in for them in the Storting as long as needed. Hence the concept of “seat” as distinguished from “person.” A seat is permanent, but people shift in and out.
This system of Storting members held “in reserve” is a clever system, another way their system has safeguards to keep things above board and as a way to guarantee the Storting is always in full session, using backup people if needed. The Sp in 2017-21 has 19 members and by law is allotted the same number plus 3, for 22 backup members. I don’t know how often Per Martin Sandtrøen was able to swoop down due to somebody’s absence and sit in. His time to be a “starting” player and not a “bench” player likely approaches.
Per Martin Sandtroen was first active with Sp in the 2010s, in his twenties, and appeared low down on the Sp party-list for some elections. That is how he got this “reserve” status (Vararepresentant). During the 2015-16 Merkel Migrant Crisis era, Per Martin Sandtroen publicly rallied support to keep Norway clear of entanglements with the EU which he warned would only bring bad news to Norway, which is in line with the Sp’s long-term position of opposing EU membership.
The SOCIALIST LEFT Party [Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV]: A socially left-wing party.
SV is of the the type of party which inherited an old-line, economically-left-wing political tradition from past generations but which, in the late 20th and early 21st century largely drifted into a position as something else, socially left-wing. They seem more interested in cultural causes, in that set of shifting issues commonly called social justice.
Some of the old slogans about economics may still be there (SV still declares allegiance to doctrinaire economic Marxism), but their hearts are not in them. Their hearts are in endless struggle for any available group which they can plausibly claim is oppressed in some way, and which, being oppressed, is in need of noble protectors. Arriving on the scene, on horseback, to a heroic musical score, is the SV.
In today’s Norway, this means immigrants, religious minorities (read: Muslims) — and actually any racial-religious minority, anywhere in the West — and feminism, gay rights, and since a few years ago Transgender rights. In a few years something else no one has thought of yet.
Some of the positions Socialist Left takes seem to be almost parodies of the general type. Easily parodied it may be, but its outlook has a lot of cultural cachet in our world today. Many go along to get along, but the SV base are the kind of people who declare themselves as the purest of the good, and while of course they are against the Bad People they are also in the field to pressure the shy or weak-willed among the other Good People. In political-party terms, as a pressure on the Ap to not drift too much away from the Left.
One case in the news in August 2021 is that of SV political figure Karin Andersen (b.1952), who has started a (headline-making) campaign to pressure the government to repatriate an illegal immigrant from Djibouti who was deported in 2019 after many years residence in the Oslo area. He had entered the system via a claim of political asylum and his application was found to be fraudulent. After much delay he was finallydeported/repatriated to Djibouti. Karin Andersen demands he be returned from Djibouti and implies he should even get Norwegian citizenship by dint of the length of residence.
We can ask: Why is a leading SV political figure championing the precedent-setting case of a deported Djibouti man? If this is representative of the SV’s priorities today, what do we make of the party’s purpose?
The Socialist Left (SV) in Norway seems comparable to the Green Party of Germany in that each exist in an overlapping, Venn-diagram-like relationship with a longer-lineage, softer, establishment, social-democratic party within their respective national politics. In Germany’s case, the SPD; in Norway’s case, the Ap. In other words, the SV and Ap largely share a common voter pool (same for the SPD and Greens in Germany). For for the one to do well, the other must go down. That will probably happen in 2021 with SV, probably making a small net set gain at the expense of Ap taking a small net seat loss.
In Hedmark, the region of the interior to which I keep returning as an example, the SV is polling well in 2021 for some reason. If it holds, they could even squeak past the Conservatives (Høyre, H), locking any party of the Right out of direct seats from Hedmark. It could require enough traditional H voters bolt to the Sp (Center Party) on behalf of their favorite-son candidate — the affable, shaved-head-wearing Sp-leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum — and the SV to retain its upper-range in polling, to squeak a direct seat in Hedmark.
The previously mentioned Karin Andersen, SV Storting member, happens to also be of Hedmark. In fact she is Hedmark’s leading SV figure. Elected several times to the Storting, Hedmark people did not provide enough votes to secure her a direct seat in 2017, but so prominent is she in the SV party that party bosses put her back in anyway via the 4%-proportional mechanism’s bonus seats.
SV has now clearly positioned itself as a force-multipler for the Labor Party (Ap). Everyone understands that a vote for SV is a more a vote for the Ap-led coalition. Similarly, if in the US there were a small Bernie Sanders Party with many setas in state or national legislature(s), everyone knows such a party would support the Democratic Party and caucus with them.
SV being a natural partner for Ap has always been true, but is probably more true now that there a hard-Left party is on the scene (The Red Party, or R). The SV wants to govern in coalition under the Ap and the feeling is reciprocal. Their radical cousin the Red Party does not share the feeling.
The SV also distinguishes itself by being the only party in which more of its Storting representatives specifically declare themselves to be “of no religious affiliation” than of Church of Norway affiliation. (If the Red Party gets seats in 2021, it will certainly be the same.)
Socialist Left [SV] seats in 2017: 11
Expected to win in 2021: 10 to 18 seats
SV will likely have more seats before and will be consequently be more influential. They did well in 2019 local elections and 2021 may confirm the SV’s staying power.
Here is a campaign ad in which SV declares openly that they want to form the left-flank of a Labor Party (Ap) government:
It says: “A fair Norway. A fair green shift. A red-green government.”
The SV’s own logo is rendered in both green and red here. The accompanying text says:
“A strong SV will bind a new majority to the Left in Norwegian politics. Only in this way do we give Norway the chance to reduce inequality and reach the climate goals!”
The “green” in the “red-green government” slogan they use there seems to mean that the SV itself is a green party and is not in reference to the (so-named) Green Party (or MDG, its acronym in Norwegian). Maybe it could be interpreted as referring to the MDG, it’s ambiguous, but the idea is “SV” is Red+Green in and of itself already. Message: “Hey, you, sympathizer with the ‘green’ movement. You might as well vote SV because we’re just as good on the gren stuff, and better on other things.”
The previously discussed Karin Andersen — lately in the news for pushing for the repatriation of a deported Djibouti man — remains the SV candidate for Hedmark. Here she is (neat the top right) among all the top-line SV candidates, the leading candidates for each of the nineteen regional party-lists.
Those among these nineteen who fail to gain a direct-seat can still get into the Storting via the proportional-mechanism if SV clears the 4% hurdle, which all polling says they will in 2021.
The text on the poster says: “The summer’s hottest STORTING-CANDIDATES. Environment and justice for all.”
Two observations on this group of the leading SV candidates, who will probably form all or almost all of the SV’s Storting delegation. (1) The gender ratio: Of the 19, 14 are women and 5 are men; (2) The lack of obvious racial diversity. The latter is a mismatch with the party’s own positioning and rhetoric.
Norway’s Storting has been composed of 35-40% women ever since the 1985 election. In 2017, it bumped up to 41% (69 of 169). The parties of the Left often have some kind of quota to keep women numbers up. Is this needed in our time? With the SV fielding 14 women of 19 lead-candidates, the SV might rather need a “male quota,” if balance is the idea…
Finally, I see that 32 individuals who replied to the public Facebook post in which SV posted that graphic of its top-line candidates. Many more “Liked” the post or shared it, but 32 individuals wrote some kind of comment. Of these, 25 had Norwegian-sounding names and 7 had foreign names (surnames: Maroof, Hashimi, Karabulut, Kafia, Perez, Ghayori, Ullah). That is a 22% ratio of foreign names. It may be indicative of the SV voter base today. All the replies/comments were supportive, “SV is the best!”-type messages, so this can be a small “in the wild” sample of support. On the other hand, while all the commenters are (I assume) residents of Norway, some or many of the foreign-named individuals may be foreign citizens and not be eligible to vote in Norway. Even so, the sample is useful for understanding what SV is “about.”
Here is another late-July 2021 post on the SV’s facebook page characteristic of their positioning with the Norwegian political spectrum, dealing with another recent case of a deported illegal immigrant whose case became a cause celebre, the so-called Mustafa Case — previously here compared to the US “DACA” order controversially put through in the 2010s (whereby residents illegally [sin papeles] in the USA but who entered as minors were to be allowed to stay in the USA indefinitely.)
The news article says: “Mustafa Hasan (18) wins case against the Immigration Appeals Board.”
The SV’s accompanying text celebrates:
“We have been waiting for this! Mustafa gets to try his case again🥳 Now the Immigration Appeals Board must let him stay in Norway where he belongs.”
The mini-DACA-like result on the horizon here is the SV’s preferred outcome, and the Red party is all-in for Mustafa. If Mustafa is allowed to stay — presumably indefinitely, for life if he wants to(?), presumably eventually being given a Norwegian passport (?) — on the basis of his having entered as a minor with a handful of people claiming to be close relatives, even though all of the adults associated with the case were later deported for fraud, that is a big precedent, with major potential consequences.
One wonders if the SV have fully thought this through.
I sense, in the whole thing, a spill-over from US politics (which Norwegians follow and are aware of), on thematic grounds. That the minor case of an unknown person (“Mustafa”) could ascend to the cause celebre it became in 2021, one especially championed by the SV party, seems like copycat-politics with the US to me, back even to the original DACA order by Obama about 2014. It’s a similar case except on the micro scale.
The precedent: entering Norway with a minor child might guarantee you the right to stay. Also, one wonders, if Mustafa is given citizenship (as the SV seems to call for), whether the newly minted Norwegian citizen could just chain-migrate the same deported relatives right back into their old Oslo life, despite their deportations and bannings from Norway. Is this the immigration “philosopher’s stone”? This also seems relevant to the various border crises in the US, of late, by which children get smuggled and dumped at the border as a foot-in-the-door for adults, a tactic to achieve the goal of getting in.
What is the SV’s vision of Norway in mid-century and late-century if the Mustafa case is settled with a full-victory for the “Mustafa Must Stay” people, and it becomes precedent? I’m sorry, SV, but I don’t think you’ve thought this through very well. I understand why you’re doing it in the moment. Maybe you think it’s just a one-off. But in any case, why would an ostensible pro-worker party side with potential foreign competitors for domestic labor market?
Here is the SV marking the anniversary of the signing of a UN convention on refugees:
The Refugee Convention turns 70! 🥳 The right to seek asylum is enshrined as a human right, but is under constant pressure. SV believes that Norway should pursue a solidary, fair, and generous asylum and refugee policy, which follows the UN’s recommendations. Norway must do its part for the world’s refugees! ❤️
The party is not just signaling here. It really does push migrants and refugees to the top. In another of its recent promotional materials we see SV Oslo member Marian Hussein (b.1986) mentioned and celebrated:
Marian Hussein arrived from Somalia in the late 1990s and by the 2010s was closely involved with the SV. She was a low-ranking party-list candidate for the SV on Oslo in 2017. The party arranged for her to be a Vararepresentant for the party in the Storting (a substitute or backup Storting member; see also the case of the Center Party’s Per Martin Sandtroen).
Her t-shirt says:
“Straight Outta Groruddalen.”
The reference is to famous early hop-hip album “Straight Outta Compton” (1987). An intertwining of Black US hip-hop culture with Norwegian politics. Does that sound like some kind of surrealist joke?
One could also say that a Somali refugee in Norway has no organic connection to Black US hip-hop culture, except racial paragroup and continent of ancestral origin, but the “Straight Outta Compton” slogan is appropriated anyway. A good example of the power of US culture. For better or worse, it’s there.
Groruddalen does have one thing in common with Los Angeles’ Compton of the 1980s: It has a large racial majority not of the majority-race of the society around it. Groruddalen is one of the areas of Oslo that “flipped,” and hard. Many of its neighborhoods are today Muslim-majority outright and have been for some years. The entire district was immigrant-supermajority by the 2010s, the “flipping” process (including White Flight) having been completed in the 2000s after early steps in the 1990s. The process didn’t move linearly, but began to tilt hard in the late 2000s, and very few White-Norwegians were left after a few years.
A snapshot of Groruddalen in the 2010s:
In 2015, sociologist Halvor Fosli published Fremmed i eget land (A Stranger in One’s Own Country), a book based on interviews with 20 ethnic Norwegian residents of Groruddalen. Fosli deliberately chose people who had some level of involvement in their communities—those who had kids in school, for example, or who sat on their co-op boards.
What was it like, he asked them, to become a minority in one’s own corner of the world?
Their answers were disturbing.
Non-Muslim boys in secondary school were leery of coming into the crosshairs of Muslim gangs—but they couldn’t be sure what to avoid doing or saying, because Muslim classmates judged their conduct according to a set of codes entirely alien to Norwegian society.
As for non-Muslim girls and women, simply going outside alone—to the mall, for instance—earned them the angry stares of long-bearded Muslim men who believed that they should not leave their homes unescorted by males and with their heads uncovered.
(by Bruce Bawer, “The Islamization of Oslo,” City Journal, January 2018.)
Someone (Tore Engen) in the comments to the “Straight Outta Groruddalen” post was critical and got enough “Likes” of his own that his comment is now auto-displayed at the top, funny because it is so critical of the SV. He wrote in part (auto-translated and cleaned up):
“1/3 of Oslo’s population are immigrants, and they understand where they can find politicians who want to shovel tax money to them and not ask questions! SV is the prototype of such a party!”
I don’t think the SV was always a party like this. I don’t know enough to guess at when or how it changed.
The RED Party [Rødt, R]: Much of the same general description as for SV (above) applies to the Red Party, as regards the drift from an economic-Left of yester-century into a cultural-Left of today.
The Red Party (R) is more radical and anti-establishment than SV. Unlike SV, Red is also rhetorically hostile to the Labor Party (Ap).
To use a sweeping generalization, R seems like the electoral arm of a kind of radical politics which I first noticed in Germany in 2007 and which, in recent years, has become a cliche in US politics: “Antifa.”
R in Norway was brought into the world only in 2007 as something closer to a blank slate than SV had been, without t he direct historical ties to old-line Marxism, therefore reflecting a recent politics of something like left-anarchism, radical defense of all minority groups, and a forever-war against what they call the Far Right, or perhaps against all the Right, including parties like Høyre.
The Red Party was founded right when I was in Germany, my first time ever abroad anywhere. In 2007-08 I was making daily and effortless observations of European people, culture, attitudes, politics, and youth-trends. I myself was not a blank slate in 2007, as I would have been (more) had I been there in, say, 1997 as a a child. I arrived with certain ideas on Europe, Europeans, and European politics, by then accumulated over several years from the distant vantage of America. I also with a set of my own preconceptions accumulated up to then in my life, some specific to my background, family, experiences (for one, I had tried to study German in high school with mixed success at best — but made stunning and rapid progress on the ground in Berlin within weeks), some the luck of the draw of time/place/whatever. One way or another, I soon learned my way around the scene.
I expect Norway’s Red Party is like a provincial branch of an informal, supra-national sub-culture in the West, especially strong in parts of Western Europe.
A century ago, in the 1920s, there was a certain buffoon and would-be strongman in Italy who was once asked to describe the political platform, or program, of his new party, which he was calling the Fascist Party. “Oh, you want to to know our program? Our program is to smash the skulls of the socialists,” replied he. The mirror-image of the attitude of that statement by Mr. Mussolini can be understood to be the “Antifa” program. A forever-war against the Right, the definition of which is flexible as needed.
The political-policy goals of the Fascist Party were always vague. A political-mythos was more important for the whole operation than any specifics. I think this applies to the hard-Left and Antifa-adjacent groups in Europe, and now common in North America (perhaps first seen in this form in 1999 at the Seattle anti-WTO protest but mostly very quiet until the mid-2010s). Therefore the same applies to Norway’s Red Party — specifics are less important than attitude, a hatred of the Right and a desire to fight the Right forever, to the extent that if they ever got full power they may not even know quite what t do with it, for their identity is entirely oppositional.
By the 2000s, among the relatively young age-cohorts — b.1970s and b.1980s age-cohorts, and by then among the emerging b.1990s cohort just starting to “age into” politics and early political awareness — there was an identifiable subset of internal-cultural crusaders. They generally had no organized political party but they did have a strong street presence (sometimes called “extra-parliamentary opposition”). Any youth-oriented movement is bound to have a heavy street presence. Sometimes when academics turn to these questions they can either miss things like this or be unable to prove them with data and hence back off of them, but this phenomenon, of a Hard-Left “Antifa” cultural-political phenotype, which had tinges of the Nihilist to it, was there for sure.
We, the Americans observing the scene in 2007-08 Germany whom I knew and discussed the matter with, came to see that street-activist politics was more conspicuous in Europe (or at least Germany) than in the USA, including the feverish activities of the left-wing radicals, and some street activism likewise by right-wing radicals, the two enjoying sniping at each other, politically-metaphorically speaking, for sport.
(I wrote on my blog about this years before the word “Antifa” entered US-mainstream discourse; you can use the now-well-functioning Search function to find it, if interested. I found deciphering the constant stream of political propaganda I found a great way of practicing German, exactly the kind of engagement one must do to advance one’s skills, and which one tends to do when on-the-ground without particular effort.)
So we can say left-wing, anarchist-type politics was an identifiable kind of youth-politics among White-Western young people in Europe. Common enough to be unable to be missed by any but someone doing an ostrich routine (head in the ground). In shorthand we can this Antifa. It was not a shadowy political terror group, as some Fox News types using the term of late may think or (at least) be willing to imply.
A left-wing anarchist politics full of male-youth energy of the kind some cultures tend to direct more into team-sports (see also: UK soccer riots), even with some use of political violence by masked fanatics on its fringes, does not automatically mean the whole thing is some kind of mega Baader Meinhof Gang. These were not bad people. But they were hardened radicals, with the agenda-setting element fully committed to the whole forever-war-against-the-Right thing, as a kind of personal identity, which is a little puzzling and probably not very healthy, though for many of them it was basically a weekend thing and in they day-jobs or student-life they were reasonable and friendly people.
But the true-believer element really believed in the moral righteousness of it, of the need to suppress of the Right in all its forms, including stepping a legal grey zone and, on occasion and as need be, clearly past the grey zone.
Some of their cadres lived in communal arrangements and were occasionally you’d read of raids by police in connection with some kind of violent plot. There a few good movies about this scene, and I think The Edukators (2004) (German title: Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei) basically gets it right, or at least as I encountered it in 2007-08 and when I returned for a time in December 2010, and it all looked much the same when I passed through in early 2017 (post-Merkel Migrant Crisis, some telltale signs of which were around).
This is all a lot of qualification and sidebar-ing, but I suspect Norway’s “Red Party” is basically understandable as “The Antifa Party” in political terms, and that its base are people from that milieu.
An actual, competitive political party — which Norway’s Red Party is by now — would of course not be some kind of cartoonishly one-dimensional, black-clad, street-violence-ready, gaggle of anarchist cadres. The “Antifa Party” label is descriptive of the milieu.
There’s something else specific to Norway to mention with regard to the Red Party. Norway itself has a political mythos around the German occupation of 1940-45 which tends to naturally empower this element domestically, like slipping them a few extra trump cards, every hand. All Norwegians absorb this mythos by osmosis. As a country occupied for five full years, it’s understandable enough, but there are probably much bigger reasons that this mythos is so strong far beyond my scope here.
Some seek to be the moral guardians-of-virtue by being most fanatically and uncompromisingly against the Right. This doesn’t necessarily need the WWII occupation narrative, but it helps a lot. Those within any political culture who, by circumstance, have a guardians-of-virtue mythos around them get lots of bonus points. I expect this is a big structural reason why a party like the Red Party has been able to mobilize successfully and now is set to enter formal-level national politics via the prestige of the Storting, whereas a similar party of the hard-Right (the analog might by Alliansen, a fourth-tier party of the Right, discussed above) goes nowhere.
The Red Party existed on the margins for several cycles in Norway, as might be expected given its radical origins and confrontationalism. It did have a committed core of supporters, though, in line with the presumable level of direct “Antifa” support among the voting public. Red’s vote-totals for the Storting were:
– 1% in 2009, – 1% again in 2013, and – 2.5% in Sept 2017.
In each case, the share of the youth vote was certainly considerably higher. Allowing a legal voting age of 16 (which some in Norway support) would boost Red even more, perhaps effectively probably shifting a seat or two to Red each time? I mysel might have voted for a party like this at age 16 or 17.
The boost in 2017, from a previous base of 1% to a new total of 2.5%, I interpret/guess to be a backlash against the swelling tide of Rightist national-populism across Europe, the characteristic political movements of the 2010s in the West: Brexit, the surprise emergence of Germany’s AfD in the weeks after the Merkel Migrant Crisis, the rise of populist and right-wing parties in Italy, the biggest showing yet for a Le Pen in France, and many comparable cases elsewhere. It seemed like the Right was on the march everywhere (though its quality of leadership was often poor). And then there was the Orange Man Across the Sea, which I assume galvanized the Left and Hard-Left in Norway something like it did in the USA itself.
Polls suggest Red is likely to break the 4%-threshold in the September 2021 election and take several seats, a big breakthrough for the party. The latest polls all have it above 4%, so don’t bet against them except on very long odds.
Red Party [R] seats in 2017: 1 (of 169) (Moxnes, directly elected from Oslo)
Expected to win in 2021: 2 to 13 seats
Red’s imminent entry into the Storting presents the big players with a dilemma, for if R performs at the top-end of its possible range and takes something as a high as 13 seats, that is 13 which no one will work with (they say), making the electoral math more difficult all around.
Red got its first-ever Storting member in 2017 by scooping up a direct-mandate in Oslo City. The party leader, Bjørnar Moxnes (b.1981), took the seat as head candidate for Oslo.
Party leader Moxnes will definitely retain his seat in 2021. Polls suggest Oslo could give Red up to 9% of its vote this time. In more rural regions, Red will do less well. (To touch on the region I have been using as a case study throughout, R in Hedmark is expected to take <2% of votes. Hedmark usually votes “red,” but will unlikely ever vote “Red.”)
Bjørnar Moxnes strikes me as a well-presenting but archetypal left-wing activist of the type of his age-cohort and which I remember well.
Anti-Left satirists in Norway depict him like this:
But that is not really an accurate caricature. I doubt he uses a Karl Marx mug or carries small notebooks with huge red stars on them, and he seems to be often clean-shaven and when not with a well-kempt beard. But the purpose of caricature is to exaggerate some supposed qualities, and the Hard-Left politics suggested by these things may get close.
This is how he often looks, though he is often also seen in a suit and tie with a hairstyle showing use of hair-gel sculpted into one kind of wavy shape or other. The leader of the most left-wing party in Norway looks more like a young capitalist dandy than the Center Party’s leader.
In the 2015-16 Bernie Sanders campaign, in another of the (not hard to find) cases of US politics influencing Norwegian politics, Red Party people started using the slogan “Feel the Bjorn” (or #FeelTheBjorn, in social-media-language), lifted from Sanders people’s “Feel The Bern / #FeelTheBern.” It doesn’t quite work because Bjorn doesn’t pun as well as “Bern” does. And bjørn means “bear” in Norwegian, so their slogan meant “Feel the Bear”…
Moxnes turned 26 the year I first encountered the type in Europe (2007). Moxnes claims that as a teenager in the 1990s, he was inspired to join the most left-wing groups he could find after noticing Neo-Nazis becoming more active in his area. The continuing influence of 1930s-40s narratives on Western culture explains it, I think. Some people of my generation have chosen to base their identities on role-playing the 1930s, on both sides. The cultural cachet of the Norwegian Resistance narrative clearly inspires or empowers this kind of person, which means his teenage foray into the Far-Left ended up having sticking power.
The Red Party will have hundreds of thousands of new voters over its former (pre-2017) base. I wonder if it is (1.) primarily taking hardliner votes previously unenthusiastically voting SV, Ap, or others (minor parties), or (2.) if Red is primarily activating previously disengaged persons, often young, often of the kind who took on a political identity in formative years similar to the one Bjørnar Moxnes embraced. They are today of the b.1980s and b.1990s cohorts, and now getting well into the b.2000s cohort — of whom the Swedish moralist and scold Great Thunberg is one [born Jan. 2003]).
A third factor, besides peeling off some Ap and SV voters and activating a usually-young ‘Antifa’-sympathizing cultural voter (the latter being R’s true activist base), is the appeal to immigrants.
In the September 2021 election, it is said that 321,200 people of foreign origin have the right to vote, out of 3,876,200 total voters in Norway, or 8.3% of total. I expect most of those are of non-European origin, for EU passport holders or the like would be fine with keeping their birth citizenship in most cases. And I believe many more non-Westerners in Norway retain their original citizenship.
A limerick which never existed but could have, based on the medieval pitch used to sell indulgences: Once upon a time, every time an immigrant “springs” into possession of Norwegian papers, a coin in the Labor (Ap) Party’s coffer “rings.” It means non-European immigrants used to block-vote for the Labor Party — per election data from Statistics Norway. With the rise of viable left-wing parties, SV and as of this year also the Red Party, which side with immigrants as one of their core moral crusades upon which they base their existence, the non-Western immigrant vote might split Ap/SV/R.
The immigrant vote will boost both SV and Red. Given the tight possible margins, the immigrant vote could even be the difference between a sub-4% result and an over-4% result for R.
The Red Party could be a big winner of the coming election in net seat gain terms. It all depends on keeping above the 4%-threshold. As long as they can do that, and most recent polling makes it look like they will for sure, they’ll likely take around 10 seats in the Storting. If they perform at the very best of their polling range and get lucky consistently in marginal races for direct-mandate seats, they could take as many as 13.
The Red Party’s logo:
The choice of using a star as logo is possibly inherited directly from a predecessor the Arbeidernes Kommunistparti, a Maoist outfit founded in the early 1970s.
A political poster the Red Party released in early August 2021:
“Did you know: the richest 1% have over 20 times the wealth of the average person?”
Accompanying text says the richest 10% have 58% of the private wealth in Norway. Implication: Time to seize fatcats’ assets and redistribute?
Another one makes the implied point more explicit:
It says: “Yes to a higher wealth tax on billionaires.”
What is meant by billionaire? I assume it refers to those who have at least one billion NOK (Norwegian kroner), not billionaires in USD. One billion NOK is $112,500,000 USD at the current exchange rate. In USD terms this slogan may mean a higher wealth tax on hundred-millionaires. Granted that’s still a lot of money.
For this one the accompanying text from the Red Party says:
“Salmon billionaire Witzøe believes he should pay less wealth tax. But the truth is, he pays too little. Agree?”
Norway now runs a system whereby all wealth-holdings above 1,500,000 NOK ($170,000 USD) are taxed at 0.85% per year, separate from the yearly income-tax which is taxed a famously high rate of its own. This obviously incentivizes sending assets overseas for the really wealthy. I don’t know how they deal with that problem. Someone well off but not super-rich, with a net-worth in the $300k [USD] range, is on the hook for $1,100 extra lump-sum the wealth tax per year (0.85% of assets above $170k USD).
These threats of higher taxes on the wealthy has led some of the wealthy to consider emigrating, including some who control major companies like Witzøe. He is now only 28 years old but is Norway’s ten richest people, after recently receiving control of the salmon-fishing company his father, who built the company and retired. It seems to be the son Witzøe who has made specific statements to the press threatening to leave Norway if a Red-Green government increases taxes, especially the wealth tax.
This is a dilemma for the Red Party, or any party which advocates big tax hikes hitting the non-idle rich. But Red Party people have chosen to double down, ignore the dilemma, and shout back: “There’s the door! We don’t need you. We’ll nationalize your entire industry you are in and administer it publicly.” This is what the Red Party said. They also say “state ownership that can be used to further develop industrial production.” This is rhetoric you’ll never hear in the USA.
Red is talking too of nationalizing the railway system in Norway and of public ownership of other industries, and on the need to break the “industry-consensus” by which Norwegian political parties have agreed to stay away from the “geese that lays the golden eggs.”
Seizing assets of fatcats and running them in communal ownership is a consistent theme with the Red Party.
Like the SV, Red publicly celebrated the “Mustafa” case in late July 2021, the possibly-precedent-setting, “Norwegian DACA”-like case involving a Mideast-origin migrant brought to Norway illegally while underage. They demand on principle that “Mustafa” stay in Norway. The USA’s DACA was ordered by a president (Obama); Norway’s mini-DACA (?) comes through a court.
On this front, Red is also boasting about how its Oslo City second candidate is of foreign origin: Seher Aydar. Born in Turkey to Kurdish parents in 1989, she arrived in Norway in the early 2000s. Already by the late 2000s she had become active with the Red Party’s youth wing. That was during Red’s wilderness period when it was in the 1%-electoral-ghetto, out of which it started to emerge in the end of the 2010s. So Seher Aydar has been around R a long time.
Seher Aydar is probably characteristic of a fair portion of the Red Party’s new base. And if Red performs slightly above expectations in Oslo, she could enter the Storting as a direct-mandate. Even if that comes up short, she will still remain a major party figure. Given that she has the trust of the party and leader Moxnes, she should be able to get into the Storting on one of the bonus seats.
A top comment (“Most Relevant”) someone had on this story: “There will be a lot of pratemaskiner.” I take prate (chatting) + maskiner (machines) as used here to mean that a lot of people will make a lot of indignant noises about this.
A more typical member of the core of this party is Storting candidate Marie Sneve Martinussen (b.1985), apparently multi-generational Leftist and active throughout her adult life with the Red Party. She appeared as a candidate in the 2009 Storting election already, at age 23, but the Red party was never going to win a seat in 2009 so it was just for show. Now, though, twelve years later, Marie Sneve Martinussen will likely enter the Storting, and is guaranteed to do so if Red clears the 4%-hurdle.
Here is Marie Sneve Martinussen doing a regular livestream, a brief chat about political issues.
She was talking about housing inaffordability.
She appears in more Facebook-posted videos for Red Party than the party’s own head, Moxnes.
But more interesting is her own biography and “political ancestry”:
Marie Sneve Martinussen’s wikipedia page identifies her as the granddaughter of a certain Norwegian “partisan” in the 1940s, Iver Håkon Sneve (1916-2002), a Communist Party activist, trained in the USSR to conduct clandestine operations and espionage against the Germans in occupied Norway. He later (1944) broadcast propaganda in Norwegian via Radio Moscow.
In the Cold War, people suspected Grandpa Sneve of spying for the USSR given his wartime ties and politics, and into mid-life and beyond his choices in the 1940s dogged him. By the end of his life, though, he was presumably a celebrated figure on the Left.
I would here call back again to my point regarding an institutional pressure within Norwegian (political-)culture, the national-mythos of the Resistance. It clearly boosts parties like this one (Red) also and deflates parties of the Right anywhere to the right of Høyre to below perhaps their natural level.
Popular novels are often published celebrating the Resistance and so on. (I presume the novels/movies produced and consumed in Norway in recent decades are sans the parts about any training in, or ties to, the USSR; I presume they present the partisans as sui generis).
Here we have upcoming Storting member Marie Sneve Martinussen, a living link to the celebrated Norwegian Resistance of 1940-45! The whole thing is as if written for a movie script, it fits so perfectly.
The GREEN PARTY [Miljøpartiet, MDG]: An environmentalist party pushing climate-change policies. It has tried to resist being tossed into a “left-wing Green” stereotype bucket.
They claim to be neutral on most things and that their only demand is action on climate, environment, renewable energy, and things like that.
Is the MDG really a party of centrist Greens? What does that mean? For convenience’s sake, and because they have said directly that they would much prefer to work under a Labor Party (Ap) government, MDG are grouped with the Left for these purposes.
Like the Red Party, the MDG is also quite new, at least in national profile. It emerged beyond the fringe only in the 2010s. By the time of their emergence into a major-profile party, Norway was one of a few countries that had attained a level of international prestige for sustainable energy, and many in Norway are hot on keeping the lead. It makes Norway look like a moral superpower on the Climate issue, which is an attractive position to many.
You would think this means Norway would have a strong Green Party, but in fact it never has. Prime Minister Erna Solberg recently addressed the question:
By “we do not need the Greens in Norway” what she meant was that the other parties were green enough and a specific Green Party is superfluous. That is one way of explaining why Norway never had a Green Party of note, until now.
MDG has never gotten above the 4%-threshold, but it did take one seat in 2017 in one electoral region — Oslo City. Opinion polls this time consistently show MDG above 4% nationally, which ensures them a fair number of seats.
MDF will probably be a third-tier party in the early 2020s. Their big test is coming up. It is easier to build a party and an agenda when on the outside than successfully manage the same from the inside.
As for whether MDG are Left or Right, this is what an MDG spokesman wrote in response to a commenter on Youtube last month (machine-translated):
“We no longer distinguish between red and blue politics [Red = Ap/Labor; Blue = Høyre/Conservative]. Red and blue politics, or the Left and the Right, were created in response to the problems that came with industrialization in the 19th century. [….] But we have made it clear that it is the Left we will cooperate with after the election, as the Right has not been able to implement real climate policy in the eight years they have ruled the country.”
The long story short: Lan Marie Berg is set to enter the Storting at the head of the MDG party-list for Oslo after six years on the Oslo City Council, but she fell into a local scandal in 2020-21 for which she was expelled from the Oslo City Council. The council found, after investigation, that Lan had mismanaged funds. Lan may recover from the whole thing by the time of the Storting election in September, or perhaps she was never hurt by it among would-be MDG voters anyway.
Here is Lan in 2019 with Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg:
Something else about the Lan intrigues me. Besides her background (on which, see comments). It is the type of power-play which she used to counter the scandal after it hit. It was one almost calculated to be guaranteed to work in today’s West (see comment), and shows again a parallel between Norway and the USA, in this case through both evolving the same kinds of things in very recent times along a parallel track.
The MDG’s Lan Marie Berg may well be a national-level (Storting-level) political figure in the 2020s and beyond, and is unlikely to make the same kind of stupid mistakes she made in the mismanagement and fund-wasting scandals for which she was expelled from the Oslo City Council.
Legally, morally, and politically, Lan was responsible, but it may have been shabby work or corruption by aides or hangers-on, people she was not properly supervising. In that sense she should have chosen better people and should choose better people next time, or if she must have the corner-cutters or cloppy-workers, she’d better hire a second set to monitor the first set.
The critics say this kind of graft is inherent in big-spending Green politics. But the mystique of being on the leading edge of renewable-energy, etc., remains.
Green Party [MDG] seats in 2017: 1
Expected to win in 2021: 2 to 10, certain to include Lan Marie Berg.
The Green Party (MG) may be a minor player in an Ap-led government, if they need a boost to make a majority. There is no real chance MDG will work with H and definitely not with FrP.
MDG’s overall position in Norwegian politics will considerably firm up when it enters the Storting in 2021. Like all the third-tier parties, its exact seat total will depend on whether it can keep above the 4%-threshold, which is not guaranteed.
After the Lan Marie Berg scandal, the MDG dipped below 4% in a few polls, but I have a feeling they will cross the finish line safely above the 4%-hurdle.
OTHERS. There are several minor (“fourth-tier”) left-wing parties, none of which have any chance of getting Storting seats but all still have at least some role in the political system simply by showing their banner in public.
The more significant of the minor parties are single-issue parties (like the Health Party [Helsepartiet] — head candidate Anne-Lise Juul), interest-group parties (like the Pensioners Party) and the occasional “joke” party or ironic protest party, all of which are problematic to group as Left or Right even stretching the definition.
There are three or four minor parties which are coherently ideological and of the Left:
The Communist Party of Norway (Norges Kommunistiske Parti) – Old-line Marxist ideologues, I assume. Of the kind who print out treatises, often from public in Internet cafes, for distribution on street corners?
Feminist Initiative (Feministisk initiativ) – Described as for “intersectional feminism and anti-racism.” Enough said.
Sentrum (Partiet Sentrum) – It’s unclear what they’re for but they claim to be a coalition from across the spectrum. Only formed in September 2020, and the name they use is suspiciously similar to the first-tier Center Party (Sp, Senterpartiet). The main agenda seems to be to promote “Agenda 2030,” also known as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Pirate Party – It’s not clear whether they should be grouped with the fourth-tier parties of the Left or not. The people who hang around this party are often freethinkers, free-speech activists, and sundry kinds of less- and even non-ideological eccentrics, I think. For a time in the 2010s, some Pirate parties in other countries looked to be doing surprisingly well, but that time is past.
None of these parties is likely to exceed 0.1% of the vote.
Summary of the Left-of-Center parties, of the third tier and up
The parties of the Left profiled here:
Center Party (Sp)
Socialist Left (SV)
In 2017, this set of parties took 81 of the 169 seats in the Storting. (Ap: 49 seats; Sp: 19 seats; SV: 11 seats; R: 1 seat, Green: 1 seat.)
The third-tier parties Red and MDG (Greens) each failed to breach the 4%-threshold which reduced their number of seats, but both will get over 4% this time.
In 2021, the core of a Center-Left government, Ap+SV, may get a combined seat total in the 50s, or as high as 60 with luck. Since a majority is 85 seats, they are far short. Tacking on the Greens will not be enough, and they (say that they) won’t consider working with the Red Party. They could peel off some of the lesser parties of the Right, if they get in, but much easier would be to just work with the Center Party.
Despite the complicated situation when viewed up close, Jonas Gahr Støre, the Labor Party (Ap) leader, is still the bettors’ favorite to be next prime minister.
Støre is like a consensus centrist, of a recognizable type across the West in the past (at least) twenty years than a true man of the Left, but he will have people on his left flank from forms a harder-Left — the SV, his inevitable coalition partner — and pressure from the radical Red Party. Perhaps there will be some relationship with the MDG (Greens), depending on how all the seats fall when the smoke clears and how negotiations go after the election.
Things may be looking better for the Left than they did in the 2010s, but less good for the Ap itself (and better for left-wing rivals SV and Red), even though it remains the most plausible government-leading party.
The cynic will say that it will not makes much difference if it’s Jonas Støre or if it continues to be Erna Solberg of the Høyre Party, the traditional big rival. Little change, they’ll say, except for the shuffling of a few different faces in and out of different government ministries.
Both H and Ap are on board with (slightly different flavors of) the so-called “transatlantic consensus,” but either one may be beholden to ideological parties on their flanks.
Norway is a small, relatively rural, low-population-density country which follows the trends in European politics. None of these political forces or shifts are unique to Norway, though some have distinctly Scandinavian bents or traditions.
Oil drilling is a big issue which divides the broad Left. The two big players, Ap and Sp, both favor oil drilling and continued support for (non-interference with) the oil industry active in the North Sea. The smaller parties of the Left tend to be against Oil, as are of course the Greens. To bring the Greens into government may mean you have agreed to tacitly scale back drilling or some other kind of onerous restrictions, if not stop it outright.
The bigger uncertainty surrounds the Center Party (Sp) and its leader, Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, who announced he wants to seek the prime ministership this year. The Sp is getting confident from looking at its chances to be the biggest net-winner in seats, and it knows well that it is the kingmaker. But why settle for being “kingmaker” when you can be “king” (metaphorically, of course, for the King job is taken an not up for election).
In final analysis, there just doesn’t seem to be any realistic way a new majority government gets formed without the Center Party. They could potentially even snatch the prime ministership, which would be a surprise development. The stage is set for such a turn. It would take Norway into slightly unknown waters — which is exactly the point, a typical supporter of Sp might say. Either way, they are in a good position. Their solid numbers are inspiring all kinds of theorizing on what they’re really up to.
SUMMARY of the Right-of-Center parties, of the third tier and up
The parties of the Right profiled here:
Conservative [Høyre, H],
Christian Democratic [KrF],
Liberal [Venstre, V],
and the potential new entrant the Democrats [formerly DiN, now DEM].
In 2017, this set of parties took 88 of the 169 seats in the Storting. (H: 45 seats; FrP: 27 seats; KrF: 8 seats; V: 8 seats).
Without either Venstre or KrF, the total was only 80 seats, i.e., short of a majority. This meant that Høyre and the Erna Solberg people needed to juggle a four-party coalition (H, FrP, KrF, and V) for a majority, not a favorable position to be in, but it worked out, more or less, and Erna Solberg is still in power for an unbroken eight years.
In 2021, the H+FrP+KrF three-party bloc will almost certainly get fewer seats than the same three-party bloc had after the 2017 election (80), and will probably take around a combined 65 seats, well short of the 85 needed for a majority. The net-loss of around 15 seats is enough to lead observers to predict the incumbent Prime Minister Erna Solberg will be out, especially because the Christian Democrats (KrF), a party with a traditionally Center-Right base but now almost of the Left, doesn’t like working with the FrP, a party traditionally of the Populist-Right. The KrF would be tempted to defect if it got any kind of reasonable offer.
The Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) could be a partner for H and the two together might be able to form a governing coalition on their own, which would be a bold move and overturn some cherished apple-carts in the multi-layered (multi-tiered) Norwegian party system. If that happens, the role of the second-tier and third-tier parties of the Right (FrP, KrF, V, and DEMs) is, strictly speaking, superfluous.
The head of Sp is a relatively young man with ambitions of his own to be prime minister, and he might just pull it off when the smoke clears. No one quite knows which side he’ll choose, or which side chooses him and offers him the better deal, though many seem to assume by default he will choose to work with Ap and hand back power to Norway’s traditional governing party. Even the Sp’s leader himself may not know what he wants to do until he sees what the lay of the land looks like. But Sp will likely have a Storting seat total in the 30s. Might H bow out of the prime ministership and gives it to Sp’s man (Vedum) to try to form a non-Socialist coalition and exclude all the parties firmly of the Left from government? I can see a scenario in which that happens.
It’s also still possible, if the cards fall in just the right way, that the FrP could stumble their way back into a governing coalition under H and Sp, an H-Sp-FrP government being the FrP’s best hope — if they want back into government. Stranger things have happened and if the math works it is a possibility.
The FrP’s eleventh-hour leadership change may not have inspired confidence and there has been no net change in polled support which it needs to come in with a strong negotiating hand, and it faces a serious problem of flank attack from the Demokratene led by the man they expelled in December 2020 ostensibly over US election comments, Geir Ugland Jacobsen. If the FrP gets a competitive rival to the Right (the Demokratene, or a successor to that party), that would be uncharted territory in Norwegian politics.
If you’d asked political observers in the 2000s and up to the mid-2010s or so, you’d have heard many say it was possible that the FrP could have supplied a plausible prime minister candidate, in its own right, by now. Now that we’ve arrived in the future, we se that is not the political landscape of the early-2020s Norway.
The Flu Virus Panic of 2020-21 and Norwegian politics
In March 2020, the Norwegian government — which in political-party terms really means Høyre (Conservative Party) — imposed an extreme lockdown on Norway, doing untold social and economic damage, imposing war-like deprivations on them, even prison-like conditions, plus an artificial recession, and the prospect of long disruptions to children’s educations and socialization.
Those of us critical of the shutdowns recognize the pattern Norway followed — caving in to an international chain-reaction of Panic. But a closer look gives a different picture.
We have to give credit to Prime Minister Solberg because, at least for a time, she publicly stated she was wrong and apologized for the lockdowns. A few months after the Panic broke through in March 2020, she publicly apologized to the nation for ordering the shutdowns, in a televised address. She told the people that she had personally panicked and that after consideration of all the facts and expert opinion, she had been wrong to slavishly order a copycat lockdown, that they had not clearly weighed costs and benefits of extreme-Lockdown policies. She vowed not to make the same mistake again.
The apology, I think in early June 2020, was an amazing development. Sadly it didn’t last, or at least it didn’t augur what it seemed like it might — a full abandonment of Lockdownism and a full Re-Opening on the Swedish line.
Why did Norway return to some degree of managed, top-down Flu Virus Demagoguery? In one way, it looks to be because the international Panic Pandemic Coalition had held ranks, refused to admit the mega-error of embracing panic and extreme measures over a flu virus, inflating its threat by a factor of something like 50x or 100x, even when we knew early on it was in the high flu range (of the kind seen, and generally ignored, many times in the past and almost always only of interest to specialists and academics studying such things). In any case, since the international Panic lasted, Norway, as a loyal member of the international community and having already embraced Lockdownism once, was in no mood to break ranks. The lines were drawn. Its land neighbor Sweden fell on the no-overreaction side of the line early on and stayed there.
If a “flu virus panic” and lockown had ever happened in the past, any time before 2020 for sure, I have a feeling more world leaders would have apologized. Not only would there be apologies, like Norway’s, but there could even have been prosecutions of the ringleaders of the “lockdown” policy, for arbitrary and unconstitutional rule by fiat of the kind we are supposed to fear and hate (i.e., “dictators”). This time, though, the energies of the global Covid Flu Panic swept back, and whenever anybody trying to defect they often got swept back in, like some evil rip-tide. This happened in Norway.
But — there are also domestic political factors behind Norway’s backsliding into a semi-permanent regime of Flu Virus Demagoguery. Disruptions persist to a great extent as I write (July 2021) but are felt most by anyone attempting any international travel, which Norwegians did frequently in the past.
A strange thing happened in 2020 in politics, which might not have been foreseen, but was respected once the political writing was on the wall:
The ruling party (H) had benefited greatly from the Corona Flu Virus Panic. Enough people were scared enough to cling to the governing party as the face of the government and its edicts — for safety. For the sense of safety. We might not have predicted it would go exactly like that, but it’s not a great surprise it did.
If Erna Solberg is reelected as prime minister, it may be because of the lingering poll-boost from the Panic. In the weeks and months before she dropped the March 2020 copycat Lockdown on Norway, her party (H) was noticeably sagging in the polls, as discussed in the H and FrP sections here.
Some form of major Flu Virus Panic restrictions returned to Norway and Norway got stuck in the demagogue’s trap–once one indulges in demagoguery, you are stuck with it and cannot easily backtrack lest another demagogue outflank you on the original demagoguery. (This is a basic reason why we do not want demagoguery, and the reason many say they are against “populism.”)
The government, led by the Høyre Party, became trapped in a three-sided vice of doom, (1.) from international pressure (the global Panic Pandemic spilling back into Norway), (2.) to being trapped its own initial quasi-policy of Zero Covid (a bizarre policy of demanding no circulation of one flu virus, a policy of official hypochondria), (3.) because the Flu Virus Panic polled surprisingly well.
I think this political aspect to the “Covid” Flu Panic of 2020-to-?, applies everywhere but doesn’t map ideologically very well.
The supposed lesson out of the USA is “Left” people/leaders are supposedly “For Lockdowns” and other restrictions/disruptions/symbols of obedience to a (quasi-permanent-seeming) Flu Panic, and “Right” people/leaders are supposedly “Against Lockdowns” which supposedly means they do not care about the extra flu deaths and supposedly ignore “The Science.” (If they still do those “words of the year” things, the two-word phrase “The Science” should rank high on the 2020 list for the USA. For practical purposes The Science means something different from lower-case “science,” but it’s complicated…).
It turns out the USA’s specific case does NOT hold as a general principle. In Norway, it was the Conservatives (H) who pursued the crazy policy so associated with the US “blue state governors,” though the Prime Minister also apologized for overreacting, something I cannot even imagine in US political culture.
Of the H-led coalition’s lesser members of the political Right and Center, all declined to demand an end to Lockdownism.
It’s the same in many other countries. Take Australia, probably West’s worst virus-dictatorship by a wide margin, an which has embraced policies that make any Warsaw Pact country of the mid-20th century look like a politically open beacon of hope and freedom. Australia’s dystopian neverending-Lockdownist nightmare-scenario, an open-ended, no-endgame politics that from where I set looks like an official policy of paranoia or quasi-state-enforced mass-delusion — their extreme Flu Panic and Lockdownism comes from a government of the Right!
Who has the courage to say: “Enough! Stop the Madness.” I don’t know why Australia fell into this but I’m interested and discuss it in Post-413 on my blog). If we solve the Australia riddle, we might get insights onto the origins of the Panic and of Lockdownism across the West.
Hungary, famous for being Central Europe’s most right-wing government, also embraced extreme Lockdownism.
In Germany, some of the most fanatical Lockdown-pushers are also of the Right. The whole Corona Diktatur semi-permanent lockdown regime there, which exceeds the USA’s — and which the Bundestag illegally made permanent, sidestepping/ignoring/mocking their own Constitution which is supposed to prevent arbitrary rule — has been led by Angela Merkel, who was once seen as of the Center-Right (but whose thinking is still a mystery even after 16 years in power). A potential future Chancellor, Markus Soeder (head of the Bavarian sister-party of Merkel’s CDU) was known as the most right-wing figure on the national stage in the ruling party (I wrote about him in early 2020 [post-383 of my blog; fin it and search for “Söder”], before the Flu Virus Panic breakthrough), and was also the most fanatical Lockdown-pusher and Mask-enthusiast of all, basically on that most extreme type of “blue state governor”-level. The simplistic USA model just breaks down totally in many cases.
I conclude a few things:
(1) Lockdownism was irresistible to demagogues;
(2) it turned out that a sustained Flu Virus Panic played surprisingly well in the political center as well, and that a sustained Safetyist drumbeat, led and stage-managed by the government, could really firm up support for ruling party, if played right.
This became a disastrous vicious cycle, with the main losers most young people and anyone in any transition, and really almost all in some way, but for some it hurt bad.
Those who should have worked to dismantle the Flu-Panic — government officials — were instead incentivized to feed the beast. This seems to apply to Norway, and may apply to all multi-party electoral democracies.
(In some countries, and I am thinking mainly of the East Asians here, the authoritarian hammer came down much more easily and much harder still South Korea is one, with perhaps different pressures for and against and an even-more-surprisingly easy victory for the Panic pushers, but I dare not go on that tangent now…).
In July 2021, Norway’s Høyre Party, the party of the prime minister, released this campaign poster:
“Norway at the top of the list in Corona-rankings. Høyre [Conservative Party]. We believe in Norway.”
This looks like a clear case of trying to ride the wave of popularity which (surprise or not) came from triggering a Virus Panic. The Virus Panic netting the establishment/ruling parties extra support for as long as the crisis lasts, and with an election approaching, it seems there is a built-in domestic-political dis-incentive to end the restrictions.
Meanwhile, next door to Norway in Sweden, a left-wing government refused to join the lockdowns from the start. Few in Sweden ever wore masks (and almost as few wore masks in Norway). There were never any mandates, or shutdowns, or school-closures, or hardly anything, except for a ban for a time on events of over 1000 people. Everything stayed open, the Panic drumbeat that took over in other places was muted and absolutely not encouraged from above (as, frankly, it was in the USA).
Sweden had a severe flu wave, but then had a long period of below-average mortality, exactly as the our accumulated expertise on flu viruses tells us was going to happen. Sweden will have a three-year mortality rate (Jan. 1 2019 to Dec. 31, 2021) in line with about what another severe flu wave in 2012 caused; data as of this writing suggests they’ll likely clock-in likely below the 2012 thirty-six-month total (Jan. 1 2011 to Dec. 31 2013). Longer-term data also suggests exactly this kind of flu comes about one-to-two times per decade, generally always in winter. By age 50, one has lived through at least five of them and maybe up to ten in some cases/places. In other words, Lockdownism was never necessary. We have great natural experiments on this.
Is politics the main reason Lockdownism persists? Norway gives a good example of one way that might be true. (The USA’s toxic political culture is too depressing to analyze.) Any “rising cases”-type news, now the norm among the Panic Pandemic info-thugs and informational-well-poisoners, could and would be used to demagogue against Høyre.
In Norway itself, the Progress Party (FrP) could not resist a demagogic bid over the Flu Virus Panic and latched onto Lockdownism for stricter travel restrictions specifically to limit the intake of migrants and refugees. This is FrP’s main issue especially since the Europe-wide shock of 2015-16 (the “Merkel Wave”). So the kind of party which the “USA model” expects to be the crazed anti-Lockdowners, namely a party of the populist-Right, embraced Lockdonwism in Norway. When FrP party bosses made that decision, they probably expected H was going to loosen up and re-embrace the Swedish Model which the PM had abandoned overnight do impose her copycat-Lockdown in March 2020, but H backtracked and here were are. With flu season returning (fall 2021 to early spring 2022), I cannot imagine a full return until spring 2022, making for two largely lost years.
The three contenders to lead the next government — Solberg of the Høyre Party (the incumbent PM since 2013), center-left guy Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labor Party (Ap), and Center Party guy Trygve Slagsvold Vedum — none seem to be much talking about Lockdownism. It doesn’t seem any party wants to push hard one way or another about it. Maybe they’re all cautious about boat-rocking and prefer the familiar slogans than stepping into a swamp of unknown depth.
In the USA, by early May 2021, I began sensing a tacit consensus that embracing Lockdownism and the Panic generally had been a big mistake, perhaps even the policy blunder of out century so far, exceeding certainly the late-2000s recession in final-count effects, maybe several times over, and so on. Despite the squawking of some news-talk-type rhetoric, there were major strides to dismantle the whole Panic apparatus throughout May, and the whole thing seemed over by June, except for all the damage done and lingering disruptions, but the ‘war’ seemed over. The same might be true of Norway, but it’s hard for me to say, but if so it went much slower than in the USA.
It seems Norway’s ruling party saw the Panic as too good for itself to rapidly dismantle it lock-stock-and-barrel, certainly not before the election. Following the election (Sept. 13, 2021) the new Storting takes their seats (Oct. 1), and governing coalition negotiations go on, which is also subject to public opinion in part. And October is the start of flu season…
[Contents updated several times up through morning August 13 and finalized on that day. Most work done in end of July and early August.]
[See also comments for several tangential, rolling updates.]
This website was getting lots of spam for a while (which I first mentioned back in spring 2020). It became much less so after some skillful behind-the-scenes changes by my generous host J. W now of “Rockpit, Alaska.” Without which this place looked truly abandoned, the quantity and quality of the spam as tumbleweeds in a digital desert.
Sometimes they still come through in spurts anyway. Often they target one post in particular, seemingly at random, and dump a small mountain on it, with others mostly spared. In the recent few days, I got about sixty comments in a few days over a small and long-forgotten post from 2013, “Ten U.S. Bombers.”
This is one of the ones I’ve gotten today, and I want to point to the poor quality:
Olymp Trade De Confianza [website omitted] 126.96.36.199
Hi! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so I came to check it out. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Wonderful blog and wonderful design and style
MySpace group? Who is running this spam campaign? You might think it was left over from 15 years ago, but then it also adds he will be “tweeting this.” So what kind of effort was this?
Talk about “not sending their best.” Googling the same introductory phrase (“Hi! Someone in my Myspace group shared…”) appears 162,000 times. Quantity over Quality.
By the the 2010s I started seeing people saying that it was getting harder and harder to distinguish “spam” from real comments/people (scripts running ads or trying to spam links around).
The purpose of spam like this is to get one’s links spread far an wide, to seed the Internet with it, and boost traffic. The company purports to be an online stock trading platform. Assuming someone with the trading company is behind the spam, they must think the link-seeding strategy is worth the risk of looking bad by dumping low-quality spam on people.
And this is so obviously spam it’s like gearing up a Wright Brothers plane in early jet age, or proposing to send a letter by express horseman to hand-deliver in the age of the telegraph, or investing the royal treasury in hiring and outfitting the best new pikemen in the age of the musket.
Even in the 2020s it seems surprisingly easy to tell non-human actors from human actors, at least in this medium.
You’d think they’d have gotten better at it by now. And maybe they have, if by they we mean someone out there somewhere. But those unethical or foolish enough to spam-dump people by the millions are probably not the sharpest people around. It’s the same reason those Nigerian prince emails always end up obvious by some tell or other, sloppy wording, misspellings, something off, even before the part where they say the next step is to wire cash a.s.a.p. …
(This began as a country-size comparison, continued into a latitude comparison, and freely drifted into a discussion of Brisbane, Australian politics, the US-Australia alliance, China, and more. These are loosely related topics but, I hope coherent-enough thoughts. The whole amounts to 4000 words and covers the gamut of the usual fare which I put to digital-paper here.)
I came across this Australia vs. USA size comparison. It’s a map-over-map overlay and is NOT latitude-aligned but is effective at showing the relative sizes:
Another map I find purports to align the latitudes, “flipping” the familiar shape of Australia for purpose of the latitude-matching.
In other words, if Australia were in its exact same relative position but mirrored onto the northern hemisphere and tossed above South America, it would be here:
I didn’t realize Australia was nearly the same breadth as the United States, coast to coast. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about it one way or another, though,
For practical purposes, the USA is much bigger in that most land in Australia is unusable and therefore empty. Australia’s size is impressive on a map, but measured in arable land, the continent USA has Australia beat by 4x or 5x as of today.
Brisbane is the place in Australia I can claim some acquaintance with, from personal experience and indirect experience through people I’ve known.
Brisbane is half-way up the eastern coast.
They say the name (Brisbane) as BRIZ-bin, and not Briz-BANE as some might guess (and, please, no “Bry’s Bane”).
I spent three days in/around Brisbane in August 2015. My cousin (M. W.) had moved there in January 2015, stayed several years, and is now somewhere in Oregon, after a total of four or five years in Australia. I think the last year or so was somewhere other than Brisbane. I can’t remember. I haven’t seen her since the day she dropped me off at the Brisbane Airport to proceed across the Pacific.
I’m quite sure I have written elsewhere on these pages about my August 2015 return-trip to the USA, to date the most memorable such trip I’ve done. I was leaving Korea after one of my successful stays there and a visa expiration. Australia was one of my stops on the way back to the USA.
(The tickets were a true win-win, a series of one-way tickets with the cheap carriers, strung together by finesse and boldness of action. I was able to spend time on the ground in Malaysia, Australia, Fiji, a very brief visit to Christmas Island (Kirimati), Hawaii, Seattle, before arriving back at Washington. The final price of all these together was not much above a direct ticket. Given that I got all this “free” travel worked in, that was the win-win.)
(As for Kirimati, a.k.a. Christmas Island, the airport was cut out of jungle and had exactly two buildings, large shacks, one for Arrivals, one for Departures. Or so I remember it. They didn’t let thru-passengers get off the plane. The scenes I remember were of mysterious figures, carrying unusual equipment, emerging slowly and piecemeal from the “Departures” shack. These were passengers who recently completely their scuba-diving or whatever sea-based adventuring they’d been up to and were re-entering the world.)
It’s a good thing I am the controlling editor of that which gets published here, because this is already digressing two levels down, a digression within a digression. I will allow it. No complaints. You, reader of the present of future or distant future, get what you pay for. Complaints allowed only if you paid for this. Onward we go.
Given that I’ve already written about the Brisbane trip itself, I’ll add something new: Several Brisbane connections from Korea.
Brisbane inserted itself in my life several times in the mid-2010s.
I don’t know why or how. I did not seek it out. But I met a series of people from that one city. All met independent of one another, all in Greater Seoul. There are three I can think of now. If there were others, I didn’t know them well enough to remember their place of origin.
One was G. D., whom I met in 2014 in Bucheon, my home for two years ending in September 2013. G. D. was then unhappily toiling in the hagwon world. I was glad to be able to help a Western foreigner having trouble in Korea who felt alienated and alone. I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of this kind of assistance in my early days there, and soon G. D. was well-enough integrated into life.
Another was Martin B., whom I first encountered briefly in mid-2015 but really got to know in 2016 and thereafter. I have always gotten along with him and even admired despite his flaws.
The third is E. S., whom I met in, I think, June 2017 in Seoul, within the same general setting as Martin (ILC) but unconnected thereto except by citizenship and place of origin.
Of the three, Martin is still in Korea today but the the two are not.
Martin occasionally mass emails his thoughts to a hundred or more on his email list (seemingly always altering the list slightly). I don’t know what percentage of his mass-emails I am on, but they’re occasional. I enjoy reading them and he has a particularly unique writing style. He often drifts into territory few others would in such mass communications, relating to personal problems. Martin is now I think over 60 and has been in Korea over twenty years.
I am unclear what E. S. is doing.
E. S. was ambitious in mid-2017 but had never been to “Asia” before and reminded me a lot of myself when I was new. She was sent to Korea on some kind of scholarship in 2017. I was working at a low-level but prestigious academic-type job in summer 2017 in Seoul. E. S. is one of the people with whom I hoped to stay in contact, but have had limited success. I returned over the winter 2017-18 (ahead of a study trip to Japan), but E. S. had just left Korea, after completing six+ months there, and as best I can tell was back to Brisbane, air-dropping back into the usual.
E. S.’s interests at the time overlapped greatly with the world I was in, in the late 2010s, certainly in 2017, 2018, and even into 2019, but I think began fading in 2019.
One forms portrait-impressions of people and what they are up to at any given time. People with whom you fall out of touch, the portrait is faded, maybe not well sketched, but still exists. The last firm impression I have of E. S. is that she was hoping to fall comfortably into some kind of government employment. To what grander purpose, I don’t know.
What is the meaning of my having known three separate, unconnected Brisbane people, all in Korea?
Adjusting for unconnectedness and population size, Brisbane must be among the highest per-capita rates of personal origin-place for foreigners I knew above acquaintance level in Korea. Hong Kong and Singapore likely easily outrank Brisbane, but that’s almost a given.
At the height of the TEFL industry in South Korea in the late 2000s, statistics had it that there were nearly as many E-2 visa (language teaching visa) holders from Canada as from the United States. The USA of course had nearly 9x the total population. It shook out to mean Canadians were around 7x as represented, per capita, as Americans. (This was just for the E-2 people, of which I was one, and did not count the gyopos, usually meant to mean “Korean-Americans,” U.S. passport holders of Korean ancestry, but in fact for visa purposes it was for a wide net of countries).
Something about Canadians pushed them to Korea much more often. Does the same apply to Brisbane? I have no idea. My experience is probably not scalable.
If there is something special about Brisbane, what is it?
Brisbane turns out to be at the midpoint between the 27th and 28th Parallels South. The exact midpoint of the two parallels (i.e., “27.5” degrees South) passes right through the middle of the University of Queensland campus.
The same parallel here in the northern hemisphere (27.5 North) passes through (among other places) central Florida, meeting the Gulf of Mexico at a place called Manatee Beach, a pleasant-seeming beach community at the southern end of the Tampa Bay area.
On the western coast of North America, fronting the Pacific, the 27.5 North line (the mirror-image latitude of Brisbane) passes 20 miles south of a place called Bahia Tortugas, Mexico (part of Baja California) (apparently the town is NOT “Bahia de Tortugas;” what are they doing with this sloppy Spanish?) (Bahia Tortugas has no English wiki entry and a very spare Spanish one explaining that nothing much goes on down at Turtle Bay except fishing, but tourism or eco-tourism is a natural growth market).
Brisbane is, therefore, at a latitude promising a really favorable climate. From the times I’ve occasionally checked its weather, it does not disappoint. I was there in late August, southern hemisphere winter (the equivalent period would be late February here in the northern hemisphere) and it was pleasant and summer-like.
This seems almost a stereotype of Australia fulfilled, the image of Australia as processed through millions of pairs of ears countless millions of times since the early 1980s with the “Land Down Under” song, its tone and themes:
This highly favorable climate is a mis-match with the kinds of people who settled and built it up, Europeans from mostly much higher latitudes. (I had to correct my original “more northerly climes,” which doesn’t work in the case when northward means towards the equator…!).
In E. S.’s case, some of her ancestors come from around 51 degrees North latitude in central Europe. None of those people were acclimated to the sunny climes of the Australian coast at such cheery and creamy latitudes.
Am I getting at anything here? I’m not sure. The point I think I’m approaching is, if something is special about Brisbane, the climate could have something to do with it. This sounds like amateurish armchair analysis, I know, but it’s at least something.
I took myself on another digression for ten minutes and calculated my own ancestral median, out of curiosity. In latitude terms it falls around 55 degrees North, give or take.
(And the median lat-long coordinates, a single hypothetical point denoting the geographical median of my ancestors’ birthplaces several centuries ago, falls somewhere in the western Baltic Sea, or possibly lands one of the islands of Denmark — which, conveniently, is where my paternal line traces to about two centuries ago (the island of Fyn). This high median latitude comes from my father’s side’s Norwegian ancestry; none of my mother’s ancestral lines go too far south.)
In any case, latitude and climate don’t exactly align (Europe is warmer than its latitude suggests it should be), but sunlight stays consistent across latitudes. Brisbane is getting Florida coast or Baja California sun.
I was told by some locals that Queensland, Australia, is the per-capita skin cancer capital of the world. Looking at the map I see Brisbane is flanked by something called Sunshine Coast and on the other side by Gold Coast (at whose airport I arrived in 2015).
This all lends itself very much to outdoor activities, in addition to the long tradition of low-population and thus elbow-room. This combined with Northwest European cultural traditions meant Australia was always going to be something special once it got rolling, and if it had a strong enough sponsor, which ended up being so with the Britannia Rules the Waves-era UK.
This is probably getting closer now to a good explanation for why Brisbane ended up tossing so many more of its people, per capita, to a place like Korea in the 1990s-to-2010s era, than other places, but the right combination of words has not occurred to me to drive the point home in one sentence,so I’ll stop dancing around it and move on.
It’s so easy to look things up, but sometimes the picture you get is not quite right, and data must be interpreted with caution.
From the latest census results, it seems the Brisbane region’s population stock is around 60% White Australian today, by which I mean those descended from the pre-1970s (White) population.
Around 2% identify as Aboriginie. I remember seeing a few people who looked part-Aboriginie on a ferry heading to an island off Brisbane, but I don’t recall seeing any in the center of the city itself.
(Tangent: I remember when Australia hosted the Olympics in 2000. I remember them making a big deal about Aborigines in their opening ceremony, or so my impression was and so my memory tells me now. I remember finding it a little strange at the time. The Aborigines were there first, true, but so much attention was given that you’d think they founded the Australian state itself and its core institutions and culture and then somehow lost control to White immigrants. At my age at the time (2000), it’s not something I had any kind of fully formed opinion on one way or another, just impressions. The 2000 Olympics along with the Simpsons late-1990s Australia episode formed my early views of Australia; the Simpsons episode is delightful in how brazenly anti-Australian it was, mocking of Australia, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they quietly banned that one there.)
If White Australians + Aboriginies together form just over 60%, that leaves the rest (35-40%) as recent immigrants or descendants thereof.
Degree of personal-identity Australianization no doubt differs from person to person among this group, and there doesn’t seem to be able simplified narrative to latch onto. But it does seem the 35-40% is tilted towards actual foreign-born. The rate of personal-identity Australianization is still going to be relatively low in the 2020s for that reason alone. What the 2030s and 2040s and beyond holds is harder to say.
But no group seems particularly dominant among the 35-40% of recent origin, almost as if immigrants were selected by lottery to ensure a relatively random draw. I am sure that is not the case. And of the 35-40%, it seems something between a third and a half are White themselves, broadly speaking.
When all is said and done, the total of what Canada’s statistical agency calls Visible Minorities in the Brisbane region must have broken the 25% barrier sometime the 2010s, certainly so by the close of the decade. I would assume this would follow the US pattern, the 25% applying in the region as a whole but being higher in core areas of the city proper and lower in “suburb”/”exurb” areas. This aligns with what I recall from 2015.
We are now 15% of our way into the 2020s, though, and the number of Visible Minorities may be pushing fast towards the one-third mark, especially among the active, core-age population. This is just my reading of the data I see and maybe I’m missing something.
It seems East Asians, broadly defined (including Filipino), are still below the 10% mark and may be so for some years to come, with maybe half of that of Greater China origin. Nothing like parity between Chinese and White Australians is ahead in the near term — not in Brisbane, anyway.
Anyone who knows how Overseas Chinese operate knows they don’t need numerical majorities to start to dominate, if that’s their play. It’s a complicated matter (for one thing, there are all kinds of different Chinese on the scene, Taiwanese, Southeast Asia Chinese, Hong Kongese, and PRC-Chinese are, I assume, a minority).
This Overseas Chinese matter is subject to a bit of a taboo in our culture today, and I assume the same holds in Australia, whose system of cultural-political taboos seems to closely resemble the USA’s own. My experience working at a think tank in 2019 gave me several insights into Australia, which got me thinking about the matter, anyway. Why do think tanks exist if not to inspire thinking? I understand the taboo and respect its power — I’m not stupid, right? — but these things do deserve thought.
Both Martin and E. S. are of self-identified German ancestry. Martin speaks German fairly well but seems self-taught, by which I mean he did not inherit much/any language but learned by force of will in classes or self-study over the years.
It seems both Martin and E. S. had several generations of nativity in Australia, but retained some coherent sense of German-Lutheran ancestral identity. They fit in the “around 60% White Australian” aggregate-grouping there but even that aggregate category obscures some differences which may be important.
The third Brisbaner I knew, G. D., also fits in the 60%; G. D. never mentioned any other origin and appears likely predominantly if not wholly British Isles origin.
Fear of China
I mentioned just above that when I worked in the Asia policy-related think tank in 2019, I got a feel for just how much the Australian state and security apparatus fears China today. They do. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Disregard the words of any official or unofficial spokesmen for the Australian state (or security apparatus) who tells you that they don’t fear China.
Maybe Australia will “flip” at some point in the second quarter of this century and side with China (that is, against the USA). This would be an extreme move and I have a hard time imagining it, though it suggests the plot for some kind of action/spy movie.
Much more likely than “flipping” would be neutralization, what was once called Finlandization in the US-Soviet Cold War setting,
If Australia willingly neutralizes (detaches from the US without joining Team PRC-China) before 2050, it’ll be later (2040s) and not sooner (2020s, 2030s). Even then it would require an entirely new generation to come into positions of influence and would only be assured if the U.S. (Navy) undergoes some shock or other problems by which it loses the ability or will to continue its security guarantee to Australia. That combined with new people significantly less committed to the US alliance, that’s the trigger for Neutralization.
People talk about the “two aircraft carriers” threshold. I made up the term, but not the thinking, which goes like this: If China can sink just two U.S. Navy carriers, the entire strategic board is turned over and pieces go flying everywhere. The board game must be reset. Picking up the pieces, realignments can be rapid.
Americans hardly think about the U.S.-Australia alliance.
This is one of the many dogs that don’t bark in U.S. discourse. In global terms it’s a fairly major thing but gets zero press in U.S. media. Australia is much more likely to get coverage for wildfires or coral reef or crocodiles than for anything geopolitical or related to the US-Australia alliance.
I get the feeling that Australians cling tight to it, that they implicitly think of the ties to the U.S. as a cornerstone of their state itself. Australia voluntarily extends its their own sovereignty, partially, to let the U.S. in a bit.
I remember conversations to that effect at the think tank. A big reason no one ever thinks or talks about the U.S.-Australia relationship (in mainstream political / foreign affairs discourse, excluding certain academics or specialists) is because the Australia give the U.S. everything it wants and more — basing agreements, everything. This all sails by everyone’s awareness because there was never any controversy to get it in the news.. Don’t mistake non-coverage and non-awareness for non-importance.
On the other side, I know from sometimes watching Australian news that they pay close attention to even minor matters in U.S. affairs. I was surprised to see how much they follow U.S. news, as if Australia were a part of the USA itself. (In one case in 2019, I remember the Australian anchors repeatedly referring to Trump as “the president,” as in a rendering like “Today the president traveled to Europe in order to…” What? Which president? Why not “the American president”? Or maybe “President [Name]”?)
One can ask why Australia is so pro-America. To me it’s got to be because Australia has always viewed itself as an outpost of Western civilization in a distant part of the world and therefore in need of assistance. It didn’t matter the extent to which this became much less true with time, for the thought-pattern was set. And if there was a long respite, it really does again apply, vis-a-vis PRC-China, as we head into the mid-21st century.
When the UK abandoned its global security commitments between the 1910s and 1940s/50s, and as the U.S. inherited the same by the 1940s, the impetus for the relationship was obvious, and has been for eighty years.
There are many other similarities between the two peoples, at least traditionally.
This brings us back to the immigration question, and what it means for Australia itself and the core nature of the regime there, and therefore the US alliance. The most obvious group of interest must be the ethnic-Chinese in Australia. (This breaches the taboo, I know, but at a high enough level you are allowed to; this venue probably does not earn such an exemption, so I proceed with caution.)
I was under the impression that Chinese of various sorts, by no means all “PRC-Chinese,” were a major population element within Australia now. I know several Koreans who went to Australia, and if the image it has in Korea is anything like what it has in China, that is a major pool of potential immigrants. I am certain Australia makes it harder for PRC-Chinese to come than most of the wealthy smaller East Asian states, including South Korea.
As for Brisbane itself, to continue my amateur analysis of that city, they have some Chinese but really not that many. There must be comparatively many Chinese in the big population centers down south to balance it out.
I once calculated Australia’s Chinese-immigrant population at nearly 10x as large, per capita, as the USA’s own (not-insignificant) Chinese population. This doesn’t seem to hold for Brisbane.
It doesn’t need to be some ethnic sedition lobby at all. It may simply be a policy establishment of immigrant-stock technocrats with sundry personal-ancestral origins, who feel little need to maintain the traditional ties to a distant benefactor like the USA which in the past was tied to Australia by mutual European-colonial heritage and more.
Some of the immigrants attracted to Australia are very talented indeed, and if they pull their weight or more within a near- or medium-term technocratic, business, and policy-making elite, why wouldn’t they entertain the idea of neutralization? It seems obvious.
Australia and the Flu Virus Panic of 2020: Why?
One thing I don’t understand. Australia seems to have run among the most authoritarian Virus Panic regimes of anywhere in the Western world.
This frankly shocked and disappointed me, and the millions who viewed Australia as a bastion of rugged individualism (or something of that sort) who might stand up against the madness, a Sweden of the Southern Hemisphere. Why did the precise opposite happen, Australia diving deep into a a dark fantasy-land of paranoid virus hysteria and dystopic policy fanaticism? I don’t have a good answer.
At one point I spent time in an international airport, March 2020. The worst-off, sad-sack, camping-out-in-airport cases were Australians, whose government’s crazy policy stranded its own people, refusing them entry into their own country, over purported fear of a flu virus.
A few of the themes of this essay suggest some possible explanations to the puzzle.
Australia’s heavy rate of immigration has got to cause them some apprehension, even if they seldom admit it to each other or even to themselves. How could it not be so? This might be one reason they started down the dark path of embracing the Panic, good and hard, rather than going about life as normal as we all should have and accepted the losses inherent to a severe flu wave.
Early on, an important narrative strand in “Covid” discourse was “shut down the borders!” to which the most common response was: “Closing borders is racist; Whatever you do, do not do that!” — these being holdover positions from a normal Right-Left dichotomy but transposed awkwardly onto the demagogue’s blank-slate that was “Covid.” If the virus’ impressive global P.R. network could gin up enough scare stories, the border-shutdown people could push through their preferred policy.
I doubt this was even a conscious thing. It could as well be unconscious, preferred policies permeating a seemingly unrelated event (the perceived need to drop everything and panic!, over a flu virus).
In the USA, Lockdownism eventually became a Blue Team vs Red Team thing. This does not apply everywhere, and in many cases right-wing governments were fanatical Lockdowners (including the likes of Hungary), whereas the hero of the whole thing, Sweden, standing out within the OECD as the only national government to refuse to demagogue on a flu virus, had a left-wing Social Democrat and Green-led government.
Australia’s policy-makers — who led their country into artificial major recession, social disruption, and a long period of bizarre, dystopian lockdown and what is set to be two full years of a travel ban — were/are Center-Right.
It also seems likely that the Fear of China arc, which was clearly ascending in the 2010s in Australia, could tie-in with the Flu Virus Panic of 2020-21. Given that the virus “came from China,” this may have tapped into a Fear of China political vein in Australia, and caused what natural opposition to Endless Lockdownism there was to stand down at first, exactly when a hard line against Lockdowns were needed.
Then there is the US-Australia alliance itself, and the apparently significant US cultural/political influence on Australia. When our big agenda-setters decided that it was to be “Lockdowns Today, Lockdowns Tomorrow, Lockdowns Forever!” — this sent a signal to the satellite states in the US orbit to get with the program and start panicking along with the cool kids.
This essay has wandered into interesting territory, reaching some 4000 words. When I commit to writing one of these, I never quite know where it’ll go.
The bad news for Australia continues, with this recent headline:
Prime Minister Scott Morrison – who faces an election next year – has announced Australia won’t re-open borders until mid-2022
That means over two full years of major disruptions, especially hitting any Australian seeking to go abroad (or even get home, in many cases) and any foreigner trying to enter.
The whole thing feels like watching a society in the midst of mass delusion. The major bastions of VIrus Panic in the USA seem to have begun falling in May and especially by June 2021 we re-entered the world of Reality and its warm and comfortable shores. Some bitter-enders will continue the disruptions even longer, but for now it seems to basically be over for most people in most situations.
Australia’s decision to demagogue on the whole thing in early 2020, and turn authoritarian, over a flu virus which we knew with certainty by relatively early on was not a major threat, simply does not fit the image I had of the country and people and the character thereof, which I had developed my limited experience in the 2010s. I am still puzzled by it, but I’m puzzled and dismayed by almost every society’s reaction to it.
As for Brisbane, the city that I ended up with multiple nodes of connection to, the news is also bad. Two news stories I find:
Brisbane restaurant cluster linked to flight attendant rises to five cases Three new community cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Brisbane, linked to a woman who tested positive after leaving hotel … 2 days ago
A recent trip to the repair shop got me thinking about my relationship to the smartphone and the digitization of most aspects of life which it represents/induces/necessitates. I’ll try to approach this indirectly through a small handful of memories.
I distinctly remember once, in Seoul, in spring 2014, being teased by a then-acquaintance from Europe, both privately and publicly, for writing out a map on a piece of paper. I didn’t mind the teasing nor his attempts later that day to show others my hand-drawn map. It got the job done, and who can argue with results? The mockery had nothing to do with results but of form: It was analog! Get with the digital age, was the message.
The reason I remember this little incident is I was surprised with the confidence with which he mocked me, as if in 2014 I were telling him I’d send him something by fax or give him a movie on VHS, something just laughably obsolete such that he couldn’t even imagine doing it. That was the tone. Obviously he did still use pen and paper in some cases, but for navigation in a city from A to B? Who would do that?
I had created this little hand-drawn map to navigate to the Seoul city wall, with the plan to hike the half length from West Gate to East Gate along the northern arc, which only this intrepid acquaintance was interested in doing on a Saturday morning. Finding access to the path from a certain meeting point was not easy. It involved twists and turns through alleys, and I planned it out at home and traced out the route on paper, making a sketch map. I had a hard copy of it.
I had a Smartphone at the time and “data,” but the data was on a pay-as-you-go plan, which meant when it ran out I had to pay to recharge, which was an annoying process; in any case, I didn’t want to use data when not needed. I also wanted to plan out the route to make sure I knew what I was doing. But something in me in spring 2014 was still profoundly uncomfortable with navigating by “phone” (as we end up calling such devices, which are used as telephones about 0.1% of the time for many people).
The sketch-map served its purpose wonderfully and we didn’t get lost.
I remember how amused he was by this map. He called it something like “the cutest thing I’ve seen all year.” Later that day he told others about it and insisted I show it to them. He was making fun of me, but I don’t remember taking offense, because I was in my own heart making fun of anyone who would be stunned at a pen-and-paper sketch-map.
I remember this even seven years later because it was in the transition period between when making sketch-maps like that was reasonably normal in the 2000s, and when it was laughable, given the always-on interactive map in your pocket (i.e., your “phone”), certainly so by late-2010s and in leading circles already becoming laughable in the mid-2010s. To have made an used a map like that by the late-2010s, it would have to extraordinary circumstances or maybe somewhere far outside a city where phone signals were unreliable.
I have always had an ambiguous attitude about devices.
For whatever reason, I also didn’t get a basic cellphone until rather late, I think in the last half of my last year of high school. I never used SMS “text messaging” until 2007 and that especially because of one particular person, M. K.; as for Facebook, I registered an account in late 2007 but was seldom active, and very much actively avoid it now. Although I use the Messenger app to communicate with people I otherwise have no way to contact, I avoid actually signing in — the last I did was some time in 2019.
This is all related to another sometime internal discussion I have. When does the Internet Age begin?
There are a lot of landmarks one an point to but these generally amount to trivia. If you must choose a ‘0’ year or a ‘5’ year, which is the best to attach to the concept of “Start of the Internet Era”? Note this is really a social question and not a technical one. I know there was technically some predecessor to email even as early as the 1980s, and there was an active early Internet scene in the 1990s. But these do not do. I think it has to be 2010, by which time the infrastructure we understand as the Internet was really in place. The Smartphone wave in the years that followed rapidly gave us our world as we knew it for the rest of the 2010s and now into the 2020s (1.5 years down, not a good decade so far for me).
Mobile digital computing devices connected to the Internet had made rapid gains and by 2014, the idea of someone making and using a paper sketch map to navigate a tricky path to a destination was something to laugh at, for some. Five years earlier, it wouldn’t have been so.
As for my own relationship with the Smartphone. I had none at all until the very end of December 2013, when one was given to me as a gift. In the last days of that year, I was sick with flu and living in a tiny room in a goshiwon in Seoul (in what some Koreans have been known to call the worst part of Seoul due to the presence of Chinese and Korean-Chinese). It was in my windowless room in that place that I entered the Smartphone Age after recovering from the flu on or soon after New Year’s Day 2014. The “pen-and-paper map” incident followed a few months later.
This timeline, I should add, means that my entire cross-country (South Korea) hike attempt in September and October 2013 was done Smartphone-less. In fact, it was basically done without any phone. I had a non-smart phone I kept off about 99.9% of the time. It had a good dictionary (an “offline” one, which in the Smartphone Age became a rare commodity). In the 2020s, it seems hard to imagine someone similar to 2013-Me attempting the hike without Smartphone access, perhaps even trying t o navigate by Smartphone, which is probably not a good idea, but the point is I just imagine people would do so by default.
People aging into social consciousness in the past few years, and in the years to come, and my own children God-willing I have any, may think that smartphones were common much earlier than they were, and that the Internet Era was much earlier than it really was. Even into 2011, the Smartphone was still considered fairly unusual, even something for eccentrics. The attitude was already changing by then. The spring 2011 Arab protests were hailed by our media for being led by organizers with smartphones communicating on the run (an attitude towards political-dissidents’ use of technology which they turned against sharply by the late-2010s).
By the mid-2010s, the Smartphone was rapidly becoming the standard.
I remember a case of a birthday party in 2012 or 2013. A Korean male about my age and I were among the many invitees, at the notoriously difficult-to-navigate Bupyeong Underground. In recent years they’ve invested huge amounts of money in making it more navigable, but you’ll still get lost there. I somehow linked up with him on the way. The venue was Outback. We both got totally lost and spent about fifteen minutes going this way and that through the maze-like underground before finding the right way. One thing I think I remember is neither he nor I had an easy way to communicate with the party’s kakao groupchat because we did not have smartphones. In any case I am sure he didn’t have one, which surprised me for a Korean male in his twenties at the time, but so it was.
I distinctly remember being surprised in early-mid 2014 when A. L., a Singaporean classmate in my first-ever Korean class, told me she used Google Maps for absolutely everything in getting anywhere, for all navigation. This stunned me, and made me think the less of her, I think. Did it mean she couldn’t navigate on her own, but just followed the arrows on the screen? It seemed so, and that seemed ridiculous. I think she said as much, said she would be hopeless without Google Maps.
I remember wondering how much data A. L. was using, for in those days data was often bought and paid for in fixed amounts, and when it ran out, you were out for the month unless you bought more. I remember thinking it extravagantly wasteful when A. L. revealed she rented an unlimited-Internet emitter, at some high cost per day at the time, for all her time in Korea. This amounted to around two months at longest, and shorter trips at other times. I remember thinking this was technically possible but seemed inadvisable, an excessive expense, and probably bad for the soul.
By the end of the 2010s, it was increasingly the norm to outsource all navigation or geographical-anything to Google Maps or the local equivalent, but in 2014 was still within the transition period. She had been an early-mover in the general direction.
A. L. (the Singaporean totally reliant on Google Maps, same age as me), J., the male co-hiker from Northern Europe who made fun of my hand-drawn paper map, several years younger), and I were all classmates in what was for me my first Korean class, the start of several years struggling to learn Korean, off and on.
These two I mention had both mentally and socially transitioned to something like a full-digital life and worldview by early 2014 when I met them, to the point they could not conceive of analog-life in certain important ways, which means it had probably not been a recent thing (i.e., was earlier than 2013) for them. In these years of 2014 to 2016, my own lifestyle changed much as theirs had some years before that. I thought then, and I think now, that I was lucky to hold out as long as I did.
The Smartphone has changed my lifestyle, and from the perspective of 2014-Me, probably for the worse. Still I have made a point to make at least one several-day hiking trip per year. For it I prepare paper maps beforehand. This kind of travel is always more rewarding. As forday-to-day movements and places I know well, there is no need necessarily for any use of a map. (Except that I am so often looking at the bikeshare map for my hobby of bike rebalancing.)
I visited China in December 2019 and was surprised by how much stricter their Internet policy was than my previous visit in 2010. Basically I could not use the Internet at all in China in 2019 except in my hotel room, which I think was arranged by the hotel and connected to my passport. There was no such thing as a free public wifi. This meant absolutely no navigation-on-the-fly staring at one’s phone screen. To go places I needed a good paper map, or an offline digital map, or to navigate by feel and landmark. I used all three methods.
For all my talk of still hanging onto the pre-Smartphone spirit into the late 2010s, I must admit the experience of being forcibly offline in China was quite disorienting.
I was in China for some of the last days of the 2010s, December 2019, and was thinking a lot about the closing decade and what it meant for the world and for me. Had I used my time well? How had I changed? Those kinds of questions. But also observations on China, especially given my previous visit in 2010, the opening of the decade. One thing that certainly changed was the digitization of life, the smartphone in one’s pocket.
What were the 2010s?
The decade seems defined as the age of digitization of lifestyles more than anything else. A lot of the social and political movements of the 2010s were tied fairly directly to the march of digitization, mobile Internet, and the Smartphone. The memory-anecdotes I’ve recorded here are little signposts in the sand from one person’s little corner of experience. I’m sure similar things happened all over.
It’s occurred to me that the Flu Virus Panic of 2020-21 occurred very specifically because of this digitization, and that therefore we have a very important meta-lesson to learn which has nothing to do with masks, lockdown orders (a tragic entry into Global English, which I’d retroactively nominate for worst new word of 2020), PCR tests, “social distancing,” or any of the other jargon of the Panic.
The meta-lesson is that digitization turns out to have been a risk to our health in ways few appreciated, for without it we could have avoided an artificial Great Depression-style economic contraction and major social disruptions hitting hard the young or anyone in transition, and the ripple effects will be with us for years.
Since so many still want to cling to the Panic and its various doctrines, I don’t expect this will be announced from on high anytime soon, but this is the bigger lesson than even my complaints about the insane virus restrictions and the weird Virus Cult that emerged. It was digitization that did this, and the same mechanism has done much else. Something about the smartphone seems to create moral-panics which end up doing damage and causing deadweight losses to society. We haven’t grappled with how do deal with this, nor d we even see the problem.
People have come up with cute renderings of this, something like “the real contagion spread via social media.”
People have also said the 2009-10 Swine Flu Panic never quite got off the ground, even though there were so many similarities to the events of ten years later, and a common explanation for the big reaction gap is: “The 2009 Swine Flu was not as bad.” I say: No one knew exactly how bad or not bad it was. People made the decision to panic — and push panic, hard, in March 2020, and to hell with the consequences — without full information. Panic had its own logic not tie-able to some specific magnitude of threat.
This leaves us asking what the big differences were between 2009-10 and 2020-21 in the nature of our society. It’s obvious to me that the biggest difference is the always-on, hyper-connectivity. Nothing like that existed in spring 2009 when the Swine Flu Panic peeked its head over the abyss. The soon-forgotten Swine Flu Panic looked frankly quite a lot like the early stages of the Corona Flu Panic of 2020.
I was on my way to Korea for the very first time. In Tokyo our plane was boarded by a team of doctors in some kind of hazmat-esque gear to check passengers for flu symptoms. They did this on board. We all remained seated. It all seemed ridiculous to us. I remember specifically someone laughing that they sent on hazmat-suited people. We were aware they were talking about Swine Flu on the news but really no one cared.
As I force my mind back to that day (it being my first time in Asia, I was a little dazed in general, and would drop into the deep water all alone at the hagwon by the next day), I also come up with this:
The Japanese medial quarantine team offered surgical masks to each passenger. There was some half-hearted announcement that we were encouraged to wear them. This was an American plane, possibly United, and I am confident in my memory that virtually no one wore the masks, ignoring the request. To wear surigcal masks seemed unsettling, even like something from dystopian fiction.
My memory tells me I pocketed mine and never put it on. It must have eventually ended its life in a garbage bin, possibly on Korean soil, possibly even in my new inherited apartment somewhere near Lake Park, Ilsan.
In any case and in short, no one cared about Swine Flu, even with this public health theater performance staged by Japan. (The Korean side was much more relaxed and simply handed out cards which effectively asked: “Are you Sick? Yes [ ] No [ ]. Check one. Thx. Bye.”)
The raw-material for a Flu Panic was there, but it never took off. The gap in experiences makes the time gap of eleven years (spring 2009 vs. spring 2020) feel more like fifty, or more. How can culture have drifted that far in eleven years, from casual mockery of an incipient Flu Virus Panic (2009) to an uncritical, semi-fanatical, monomaniacal embrace of the same (2020)? What happened to us?
The biggest difference, I propose, is the smartphone and the Internet, as we’ve come to know it. No one on that plane that day in 2009 had a smartphone. No one anywhere did (with possible/arguable exceptions of a handful of journalist- or CEO-types who, for several years, often carried a device known as a Blackberry; even in the late 2000s I wasn’t quite sure what a Blackberry was). That’s what happened to us.
Blogging as a medium, especially in the way I do it, is not really an activity of the Smartphone era, which is why I feel better about doing it. Of course, the same kinds of critics such as he who mocked my pen-and-paper map in 2014 have for years mocked the blog as a medium. What if the cool guys are wrong? What if diving into full-on digitization wasn’t as good as was thought?
Such was the Northern Hemisphere Summer Solstice moment which has just passed us by.
I often try to mark the exact solstice moments, winter and summer, and occasionally the neglected siblings known as the equinoxes.
Summer Solstice this year happens to have been in the dark-of-night at the latitude/longitude where I am.
This is how it looked:
I also note that because the Summer Solstice moment fell close to midnight, the coveted title of “longest day of the year” must by all fairness be shared by both June 20 and June 21, the difference being (must be) minuscule and measurable in seconds. If the Solstice fell at midday or so, there would be a clear winner.
Here is the same view lightened up:
Photography is funny in that most of the time it fails to do its job, which is to capture an image. Take a picture and you do get an image, but it’s not really what you see.
(Good photographers are good at staging, or something, and create more pleasing images; the poor photographer can aim to capture the same scene as the good photographer and take a picture at the same time and from the same vantage but it somehow ends up feeling different. And neither of them have truly captured the image in the sense the human witness saw it.)
Everyone who has ever tried taking a picture of the Moon knows this problem well. The way my little “Moon at Summer Solstice night portrait” actually looked was roughly a combination of the sky/moon in the first and the ground and ambiance in the second, or maybe even more navigable still. It was a very hot day and warmly pleasant at late night.
The picture is timestamped 11:19pm, 13 minutes before the Solstice. It seemed the best shot I would get. The place I wanted to be, a few minutes walk away, had some people loafing around and it wouldn’t have done for me to stand around waiting for the moment. I had to improvise, which meant wander and hope for the best. When the clock struck the Solstice moment (11:32pm), I was near a stream. The Moon was bright in full view.
The good news is: days will stay long for a while.
The return of darkness at something like the 6pm hour is many months away.
I wonder how much of the “work at home” zombie army has lost touch with the phases of the Sun in their work lives. (More than our civilization already has, given easy artificial light, to say nothing of losing touch with temperatures and other weather conditions, given ubiquitous A/C and heating.)
In the pre-Zombie state (before March 2020), most of these people had 5pm or 6pm quitting times, and were therefore out of “work” and into “the world” at those times or thereabouts. In the months around the Summer Solstice this meant good daylight after work and usually accompanied by favorable weather. A great gift to the 9-to-5-er. But after the mass-conversion to Zombiedom, it was all disrupted.
Or is it? I know enough about the Zombie ideology to know many of the Zombies will defend their Zombiesm and how great Zombieism is, how much better the Zombie lifestyle is than the Human one.
If anyone reading this doesn’t understand my Zombie references, vis-a-vis 2020 and 2021, you’re on your own.
On the other hand, what I see is many do seem to be indulging in the long days and fair weather, by being out “late” more than they may have been in their pre-Zombie lives. I’ve heard others remark the same. I’d almost describe it like the 8pm and 9pm hours of May and June seem like turbocharged versions of former 6pm and 7pm hours or the same months, pre-Zombie. This has struck me, but I think it may be an artifact of the hold-over Zombie custom of outdoor dining, which of course makes people more visible.