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Solecism or Barbarism (Part 2)

The Swedish Nationalist Milieu and a Cultural Struggle from the Right

To read part 1 of this piece please click here. 

Swedish radical nationalism has undergone a process of normalization, much like its international counterparts. In Sweden, such a normalization becomes evident in the fact that, according to recent opinion polls, the nationalist Sweden Democrats have swelled to become the second largest political party in terms of support. However, parliamentary pursuits are but one aspect of a broader nationalist endeavor that transcends national boarders, and in which Sweden seems to be at the fore. In this endeavor, metapolitics, or the struggle for cultural hegemony, plays a central part. At stake lies the power to define the ideas central to political discourse, as well as the conditions of claims to truth.

The following text, published in two parts, is concerned with certain aspects of this struggle, as well as the rhetorical-ideological shift that has taken place within the nationalist milieu – discussed in terms of a shift from barbarism to solecism. A failure to recognize this shift entails a misunderstanding of what it is that moves these movements, in what way the ‘right’ is uniting, as well as the relation between a politically divided society and a cultural struggle in which this state of division is lauded as progress.

The Swedish Nationalist Milieu

In his recent book Lions of the North, ethnomusicologist Benjamin Teitelbaum discusses Swedish radical nationalism in terms of three methodological and ideological camps: race revolutionaries, with affinities with national socialism; identitarians, inspired by the European New Right (from where concepts such as metapolitics and ethnopluralism were introduced); and cultural nationalists, chiefly represented by the social conservative Sweden Democrats, which – according to recent opinion polls – have swelled to become the second largest political party in Sweden in terms of support.

Teitelbaum is not the only scholar to adopt such a view, nor is he alone in using the term ‘radical nationalist’ as a way of approaching an insider perspective. And indeed, the notion of these three camps finds expression in radical nationalist discourse: Magnus Söderman’s call for barbarism (quoted above) was made in the context of also criticizing the identitarians, as well as the Sweden Democrats, for trying to adapt to mainstream society rather than confronting the “enemies of the people.”

However, to understand the Swedish nationalist milieu primarily through rigid distinctions entails a risk of myopia in relation to how it operates as a whole. As a whole, this milieu – by proponents often called the ‘Sweden-friendly’ or ‘national movement’ – consists of an interconnected multitude of organizations, think-tanks, websites, newspapers, publishers, podcasts, activists, and political parties that benefit both from the success that the different constituents achieve, and from the simultaneous possibility of distancing themselves from one another. So, Sweden Democrats, for example, acquire a certain legitimacy by distancing themselves publicly from identitarians or race revolutionaries, who in other cases might be their supporters.

Collaborations are often supple underneath the rigidity of superficial distinctions, and members who officially leave one kind of commitment, or faction, often find a place within another. This interconnectedness also transcends national borders. One example is the introduction, in May 2017, of a Nordic Alternative Right, which marks an attempt to import the ‘alt-right’ concept to Sweden by means of a collaboration between Daniel Friberg (Swedish identitarian), Christoffer Dulny (previously the chairman of the Sweden Democrats in Stockholm, and employed in the party’s parliamentary office), and American identitarian Richard Spencer – all of which partook in the Charlottesville rally of August 2017.

This fluidity does not necessarily say anything about the nationalist milieu that cannot also be said of other political movements – especially in a relatively small country such as Sweden. However, it is the characteristics of this particular milieu that is of interest here, and the way its nature as mass is gradually shifting from one marked by barbarism, to one engaged in solecism.

From Barbarism to Solecism

One aspect of this shift is touched upon by Teitelbaum, who writes that the skinhead subculture that provided commonality among many radical nationalists in the 80s and 90s has been replaced by what he calls “New Nationalism”; a nationalism marked by “diversity talk, metapolitics, and stylized intellectualism.”[1] On the one hand, this is an aesthetic shift. On the other, it is also a methodological, and ideological, one.

When the race revolutionary Party of the Swedes was disbanded in 2015, for example, the party leader said that nationalists must switch priorities from party politics to that of changing public opinion. Magnus Söderman is one of the former party members, and has, since 2014, focused on the media project Motgift (“Antidote”), which is one of the projects that stress the importance of winning the cultural struggle. In a similar manner, Mattias Karlsson – chief ideologist of the Sweden Democrats – has taken an interest in the ideas of Gramsci, and Teitelbaum writes that Karlsson and a handful other party leaders openly refer to a metapolitical agenda, underscoring the influence of the identitarians and the ideas of the European New Right.

Another aspect of this shift is that radical nationalism in many ways has gone from being a struggle from without to one from within. The skinhead culture of the 80s and 90s made use of aesthetic as well as ideological elements that were essentially foreign to the political language of the times. Contemporary radical nationalism, however, is increasingly taking its starting point within political language, posing new challenges not so much by introducing foreign vocabulary, but by connecting the elements of existing vocabulary in a way that emerges as inappropriate, unfitting, or unapt in relation to grammars of mainstream politics.

Ethnopluralism is an example, which in its different permutations has found representation among nearly all factions of Swedish radical nationalism. Philosophically, ethnopluralism stresses the right to difference, the value of diversity and pluralism, and the importance of protecting ethnicities and cultures. These are ideas that in and of themselves are more or less at home in mainstream politics. However, in the radical nationalist version of these ideas, ethnopluralism is used to argue for cultural or racial segregation. Thus, it is ethnopluralism as a constellation, rather than the different ideas it employs, that constitutes its political impropriety. That is, it is the very ordering, reordering and coding of already approved concepts – rather than the concepts in themselves – that challenges the rules of political discourse. Ethnopluralism is solecism, it is a grammatical breach, and the challenge it poses relates to questions of grammar.

Yet, common answers to radical nationalist rhetoric are often marked by attempts to unmask barbarism; to seek out singular elements that can be identified as fascistic statements or gestures (such as Richard Spencer’s “Hail Trump” speech); in other words, to focus on questions of vocabulary, and to expose the mental slips of radical nationalist ideology – as if the danger it poses is believed to lie merely in what it seeks to hide, rather than what it signifies, what it does, or what it could amount to.

The result of the focus on barbarism is that while impropriety might very well be correctly identified as such, echoing the 80s and 90s – and the 30s –, the solecistic source of impropriety is easily overlooked. This oversight provides radical nationalists the possibility of refuting the claim of barbaric impropriety from the perspective of the historian, regardless of how true such a claim might be from the point of view of the poet.

The rhetorical-ideological reconfiguration of already approved concepts can be seen also in the use of the word ‘culture’. When other parliamentary parties in Sweden speak of culture in their political programs, it is in terms of what the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “the arts, and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” The Sweden Democrats, on the other hand, define culture anthropologically, as “socially transmitted patterns of living.”[2] Culture for them is a primary way of being in the world, and they see a common cultural identity as one of the most foundational cornerstones of politics. In fact, it is in culture we find the radicalness of nationalism among the Sweden Democrats, in terms of their understanding of what the root (lat. radix) of a nation is: defined “in terms of a common culture.” A “minister of culture” can thus be said to carry quite different connotations for a radical nationalist than for other politicians.

Thus, it is not necessarily the case that metapolitics and cultural struggle is primarily subservient to parliamentary pursuits, as in the idea that cultural change and the change of public opinion serves first and foremost to pave the way for a new political regime. It might be just as important to understand parliamentary struggles as subservient to a cause where the change of culture, and the establishment, or reestablishment, of a national (or white, or male, European, traditional) identity is the primary goal. A similar duality can also be claimed for the shift from without to within: it entails both a radical nationalism that is adapting, and a political grammar that is accommodating, and anyone seeking to engage with the challenges posed by radical nationalism must also critically examine the propriety of the mainstream ideas employed in its solecisms – as well as the grammar in which these ideas have their dwelling place.

The question of whether or not the Swedish nationalist milieu, a milieu at war with the grammar of the language – a milieu attempting to dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools – should be properly understood as a counterdiscourse, is, however a question for another time. Perhaps these are times that call for a rethinking of that lesson of Nietzsche’s that states: “what things are called is incomparably more important than what they are.”[3] On the one hand, a conflict of grammars cannot be settled by a recourse to naïve realism. On the other, times of division stress our dependence on commonality in standards of judgement. The paradox of any politics seeking emancipation from the violence of institutional ‘truth’, is that if it thereby also disavows the ‘lie’, it eventually amounts to its own negation. The bottom line is that neither poets nor historians should ever forget the fact that one of the most powerful political positions on the planet is currently held by a historically notorious liar.

Karl Ekeman, doctoral student at Uppsala University, Department of Literature.


[1] Teitelbaum, Benjamin R., Lions of the NorthSound of the New Nordic Racial Nationalism, New York, 2016 p. 52 f.

[2] See the political program of the Sweden Democrats; Sverigedemokraterna, Sverigedemokraternas principprogram 2011, (n. p.), 2014, p. 18.

[3] Nietzsche, The Gay Science, § 58.

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