Norway has historically been one of the most robust and successful democracies especially since the end of World War II and Nazi occupation. The country consistently ranks high on metrics of human development including Freedom House, raking Norway 100 out of 100 freedom score. However, do not let the façade of an almost utopian democracy deceive you. When looking below the surface level of a perfect democracy lies subtle signs of the future that could ultimately lead to polarization in Norway.
Norway has always been unassuming due to its almost perfect standing on the world stage, however, social scientists in the country are seeing warning signs of polarization. The first thing to establish is that Norway is a Parliamentary Democracy and from its early establishment only has two main political parties, like the United States. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that was a rise in other parties due to the country adopting proportional representation before the second world war. To that point, it is worth noting that during the war Norway was held under Nazi occupation. Now, why is mentioning all that relevant to Norwegian Polarization in 2021? Well, surprisingly it is relevant because after 1945 the Labour Party held the majority of Parliament from 1946 until 1961 (Osterud). In the years following the war, there were mobilized efforts to expand the welfare state and educational systems to integrate the working class and generate equality (Osterud). What also helped Norway in this time was that the country historically is a homogeneous society with every little conflict. This helped to create a platform to develop a system that was willing to work together to build back from what was lost. But not every good thing can last forever, or can it be saved? While Norway is still going strong as a democracy there are some signs that polarization might be taking grip. In fact, in February of 2020 just before the Coronavirus Pandemic caused much of the world to come to a halt, the Institute for Social Research gathered to discuss the question “is our society becoming more polarized?” (Jakobsen and Daehlen). At this seminar, Johannes Bergah testified that “authoritarian populism had a greater potential in the 1950s than today”, which to his point in 1952 the Institute for Social Research (ISF) actually did a survey of asking participants if they agreed or disagree with what was described as the “heart of authoritarian populism”. At the time of this survey, 37 percent of participants agreed with the claim, however, in 2017 a similar survey was conducted to which only 11 percent of respondents agreed. One of the signs of polarization that is commonly viewed in the United States and other European countries is a negative view of minorities. The ISF notes that there was an increase in racism and discrimination in recent years. To add to this point, following the Nazi occupation of Norway the ISF did conduct studies on how minorities were viewed, in 1952 participants were asked questions regarding anti-Semitism. One of their questions was “a lot of the reason for why Jews are often persecuted is their own fault” to which 44 percent stated that they agreed with the statement and 22 percent disagreed. However, when a similar question was proposed in 2017 only eight percent of participants agreed, and 70 percent disagreed. That appears to be a promising change in society, a sentiment that Bergh agrees with.
Furthermore, another issue contributing to polarizations not just in Norway but across Europe is gender equality. Mari Teigen is a researcher at ISF and is the head of the Center for Gender Equality (CORE), noting that “gender ideology” has become a top priority for many countries and political leaders. Teigen also has concerns about an anti-feminism sentiment developing in Norway citing the debates surrounding abortion legislation, fetal reductions, and the rights of medical personnel reserve the right to not participate in abortion procedures. Teigen worries that inspiration for such sentiments is being drawn from other countries. Now, Teigen does hold out hope because in a 2019 survey she conducted she asked participants if they support the advancement of gender equality and compared the results to a similar survey from the 1980s. She found that when comparing the results support for gender equality had increased over time. However, she still warns that “anti-feminism, social media and right-wing populist mobilization in a number of countries may gain ground in the Norwegian debate”.
So, the question to ultimately answer is Norway a successful case of depolarization after World War II. In my humble opinion has to fall to yes, despite the reasons listed. This is because while yes, these polarization warning signs are there, the sentiment gathered in the survey studies mentioned paints the picture that Norway at this point in time is not heading back toward pre-1945 polarization. However, it can be argued that these small warning signs can add up and in a stealth-like manner accumulate to create vast polarization. Although, based on the survey data I currently have no reason to believe that Norway will walk backward to polarization. So, yes, this country would be considered a successful case of depolarization.
I think this a very interesting conversation Anna. Given the Norwegian reputation and rankings from the freedom index and happiness scale, one would think that Norway is more democratic than it has ever been. Your explanation of a successful depolarized Norway after WW2 proves that is the case. I really like how you sweetly wrapped up the conversation by stating that the opinion growths, lack of gender equality, and growing minority dislikes are what has contributed to this stealth like polarization in the past and currently. I completely understand and agree on how such behaviors could be potential fire starters for polarization. However, given the lower levels of responses, we can agree that “promising changes” are going on in their society. I guess my only question from here would be are there any political actors in Norway that benefiting from such affects or if not benefiting at least taking notice? You are right, countries must take notice to such actions because they do open doors and grant opportunities. I think this is something I would be interested in actually finding out!
Hi Anna! The title of your blog post really captured my attention, and the rest of your post did not disappoint. This piece was very interesting and I certainly learned a lot about Norway. As you said in the beginning, Norway as an “almost utopian democracy” would not be a country I would associate polarization with. Throughout your post, though, you listed several signs of polarization occurring in Norway. From what I understood, I do ultimately agree that these signs are not too alarming. It seems as though Norway is in fact a successful case of sustained depolarization; it would not hurt to maintain an eye on these things in case they do worsen, though. The main comment I would make regarding this post is to break up your first paragraph, because I feel like it touches on a couple different ideas. I would also add more citations and links throughout. Overall, this post was really intriguing and I think you did a good job! I hope you finish the semester on a great note and have a relaxing break.
I found your post very interesting, I knew that Norway was often considered a poster child for liberal democracy, but I was otherwise unaware of Norwegian politics. I was certainly unaware of the issue around polarization in the country, so this was very educational. I found the section about the worrying trend toward anti-feminist rhetoric especially interesting because I believe this has become a significant problem in the U.S. as well. You talked about depolarization since WWII, but what has polarization looked like over the last 20 years? Has there been any party, group or individual driving polarization in recent years? Has covid-19 effect polarization at all?
Great Post. The title is very capturing. We all have heard of Norways democracy, lifestyle, benefits, and some of the lenient laws they have. More topics like this need to be discussed, especially in Norways case. You did lay out a good foundation , and brought context to the article. Looking at the history of Norway during the war, and being under Nazi occupation, they have came a very long way. In regards to democratic erosion, it’s a slow process. You can compare it to a slow gas leak. You may not notice it initially, but by the time you do, it may be too late because it takes time to control the leak. The research that was done is very important. It gives people an idea of what’s going on in the hearts and minds, and gives a pulse of the severity level of democracy. How people view gender ideology and minorities is very important. If the numbers get too high, this may lead to civil unrest. I do agree with you. The data shows they still are headed in the right direction, but keeping your thumb on the post would be paramount to the citizens of Norway.
I enjoyed reading your post, and I learned a lot about past and present forces of polarization in Norway. However, while I agree that Norway has successfully depolarized, I have a couple of questions about your argument. You warn that polarization in Norway currently threatens post-war democratic standards. Yet, you also cite Johannes Bergh who shows that the threat of authoritarianism has decreased over the past 70 years. Can it be argued that “polarization might be taking grip” in Norway? I believe that Berg instead proves how polarization has decreased and that the health democracy has increased since the 1950s. Additionally, while you write that polarization is increasing due to the growth of “anti-feminist sentiment,” you also quote Mari Teigen who proves that support for gender equality has recently increased in Norway. Wouldn’t Teigen’s evidence prove that polarization around gender equality has decreased?
After further reading Teigen and Berg’s arguments, I believe that Teigen and Berg are reminding Norwegians to be on the lookout for signs of future divisions, rather than warning of current polarization. On that note, I wonder whether the COVID-19 pandemic affected these trends Teigen and Berg described in February 2020. Has Norway become more polarized? Overall, I believe that your analysis of Norwegian democracy is valuable because many political scientists, including Suzanne Mettler and Robert Lieberman, warn that polarization can lead to democratic erosion. Therefore, it is important for us to continue asking these questions and monitoring trends of polarization so that we can guard against democratic backsliding.