Is the notion of the collective Swede just an illusion?
Sweden is famous around the world for its welfare state – the system of tax that provides for the country’s citizens from the cradle to the grave. This system was introduced by politicians from Sweden’s social democratic history and I think that it’s great that it exists. Many assume that the Welfare state is the product of collective thinking and solidarity. Maybe it is. But I’d like to offer an alternative perspective.
In collective-oriented societies, individuals operate within the context of what is best for the group, even if that means surpressing their individual needs. In exchange for this, they receive loyalty and support from the other members of the group.
In Sweden, it would be easy to look at the welfare state and relate it to the above definition of a collective. In Sweden, citizens comply to the tax laws and in exchange they are taken care of in times of need.
But let’s look at the welfare state through the lens of individualism instead. According to research, Swedes are amongt the most individualistic countries in the world. Individualistic from the perspective of self-development, self-expression, right to live life the way I want to, self actualization,, freedom to make individual choices about my life. Amongst Swedes, it is very important to have individual choice, to the point that some people feel violated if they experience another person has in some way limited their choices, however minor that might seem.
So what about the Welfare state? In Sweden, the strong individualistic drive of the citizens created a system in which they don’t have to take responsibility for the group. Once tax is paid, the state takes care of the unemployed, the sick, the elderly so the citizens don’t have to, and consequently people can go about their lives fulfilling their individual dreams and satisfying their individual needs.
When you look at it this way, Sweden’s Welfare state is not an exercise in social solidarity. It’s an exercise in pure individualism.
So is the notion of the collective Swede just an illusion?