Was Sweden Ever a Model Society?
*Illustration by Celia Jacobs.

Abadirh Abdi Hussein, 25, a hip hop artist known as Kadafi, watches people crossing a square following Friday prayers in Rinkeby, a largely immigrant suburb of Stockholm, Jan. 22, 2010. Hussein, a Somali immigrant, started a campaign to counter the radicalization of Somali immigrant youth by Islamic extremists. Photo by Christine Olsson/Associated Press.

Refugees Are Changing the Land of Ikea and Abba

The Reshaping of Sweden's Social and Political Model

“Which color?” asked the officer, who sat on the other side of the solid table.

“What?” I answered cautiously.

The state representative, whom I met on a gray February day in early 1990 at the Swedish consulate in Zurich, where I studied at that time, became louder: “What color does the toothbrush have?”

I was surprised and a little bit intimidated by this question and responded, whispering, “The color of my toothbrush?”

“No sir,” he screamed back, “the one of …


In this Sept. 17, 1941 image, the Swedish destroyer Klas Uggla, No. 4 left, is seen ablaze after an unidentified accident which destroyed the ship, damaged two others, and killed 33 sailors in Horsfjarden, Sweden. The small boats, in foreground, were towed off to safety unharmed. Photo by Associated Press.

How Deprivation and the Threat of Violence Made Sweden Equal

War and the Great Depression Spurred Its Embrace of the Welfare State

Sweden is almost universally regarded as a bastion of sensible people, temperate social policies, and steady, evenly distributed economic growth. So it surprises many to learn that the Scandinavian country only got to be this way in the last century, and that the catalyst was violent upheaval: two world wars and the Great Depression. …


Swedes have succeeded in satisfying the demands of the global middle class for modern cultural products, from furniture and fashion to easy-listening music, like the pop group Abba, pictured here in 1977. They are, from left to right: Benny Anderson, Annifrid (known as Frida) Lyngstad, Agnetha (known as Anna) Faltskog, and Bjorn Ulvaeus. Photo by Associated Press.

The Radical Paradox of Sweden’s Consensus Culture

Our Inclination to Agree Pushes Political and Social Policies to Extremes

In the 1930s, the American journalist Marquis Childs, after spending time in Sweden, wrote the bestselling book Sweden: The Middle Way. Childs described a country without major social conflicts between the upper and lower classes. He was fascinated by the Swedish economic system, which he described as a perfect compromise between free and controlled markets. In the …