The Forgotten Revolution: Debunking Conventional Wisdom on Sweden's Transition to Democracy

15 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2012

See all articles by Johan Karlsson Schaffer

Johan Karlsson Schaffer

University of Gothenburg - School of Global Studies; University of Oslo - Faculty of Law

Date Written: December 14, 2012

Abstract

A long, established tradition suggests that Sweden’s process of democratization was characterized by its gradualness and reformism. In contrast to other countries, such as Denmark, Sweden did not have an abrupt, democratic revolution, this tradition holds. In this paper, I argue that this conventional view is flawed: In the course of a decade in the early twentieth century, Sweden went from being one of the least democratic countries in Europe to become a full-fledged, stable democracy. This signifies a fast, dramatic process of democratization – a democratic revolution.

The paper proceeds in four parts: First, I review the established conventional view of Swedish democratization. Second, I present quantitative comparative data and historical evidence that seem to falsify the conventional view, and indeed indicate that Sweden’s democratization was anything but slow and gradual. Third, I explore some reasons why the conventional view has gained hold, looking both at the way in which academic researchers have reached the conventional conclusion and how the conventional view might be understood in relation to the victorious parties in the struggle to gain recognition and legitimacy. In the concluding part, I consider how this historical narrative lives on in present-day politics, discussing how Swedish development aid seeks to export the political myth that successful democratization must be slow and gradual, rather than revolutionary.

Keywords: democratization, revolution, Sweden, transition, democracy promotion

Suggested Citation

Karlsson Schaffer, Johan, The Forgotten Revolution: Debunking Conventional Wisdom on Sweden's Transition to Democracy (December 14, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2189354 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2189354

Johan Karlsson Schaffer (Contact Author)

University of Gothenburg - School of Global Studies ( email )

POB 700
Gothenburg, SE 40530
Sweden

University of Oslo - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 6706 St Olavsplass
Oslo, 0130
Norway

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