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EUGENICS IN SWEDEN: EFFICIENT CARE GUNNAR BROBERG AND MATTIAS TvDEN Among all the Nordic countries, Sweden was where eugenics met with its greatest success. This is true both in terms of the early institutionalization of the movement and the eugenic practice as it was manifest in sterilization policies between 1930 and 1960. This relative success is connected with the unusually rapid development of Sweden from a nation with an agrarian economy to an industrialized urban society, hence from a culture dominated by traditional Lutheran Christian values to one dominated by a secularized and modern lifestyle. As this essay aims to show, eugenics in Sweden is linked to both these traditions and also belongs, though in an altered shape, to what has been called "the Swedish model:' This essay begins with the general background of race biology in Sweden. It discusses the development and institutionalization of Swedish eugenics in the first decades of the twentieth century and takes a closer look at the development and application of Swedish laws on sterilization. Finally, we briefly follow the changes in eugenics in the postwar period and conclude with a discussion of the context of the eugenics movement in Sweden. THE TURN OF THE CENTURY: THE AGONIES OF MODERNITY A Swede living at the turn of the century felt the winds of change. Although an American observer stressed "the extraordinarily rapid, tranquil, and successful modernization of Sweden"-and this may have been so-the "tranquillity " should not be exaggerated.I This "modernization" involved economic growth, urbanization, political democratization, increased social planning, and an improved standard of living. But it also entailed growing social complexity and diversity, a faster paced "maelstrom of modern life;' and a growing sentiment that society had reached a stage where old solutions and old morals no longer applied.2 77 78 EUGENICS AND THE WELFARE STATE The turn-of-the-century Swede confronted a number of major historical events. The first was emigration: from 1870 to 1914, an estimated one million -or one-sixth of the population-emigrated from Sweden, principally to the United States. Some felt that this was draining the nation of its best young minds. The union between Sweden and Norway-long considered degrading by Norwegians-was broken, after lengthy negotiations, in 1905. Some Swedes wanted to take up arms to round up their wayward brothers, but most simply felt an increasing national impotence. The political and social mobility of the time-the labor movement, the women's rights movement, the temperance movement, the free-church movement-gave rise to further anxiety in conservative quarters. In an atmosphere of weakness and national defeat, the statistician Gustaf Sundbarg sought to capture "the Swedish national character" in the Official Report on Emigration (1911), bearing down on Swedish timidity and insufficient self-esteem while aiming a blow at pushy Denmark. In 1914, influenced by a farmers' rally, King GustafV tried in vain to check parliamentarianism and reestablish a secure position for the monarchy with his so-called Courtyard Speech. Sven Hedin, the well-known explorer, attempted to arouse the nation to political participation and military preparedness with his 1914 pamphlet Ett varningsord (A warning)-of which one million copies were printed for a population of less than six million. For Hedin, as for other Swedes-and this had been so since the seventeenth century-Russia was the main enemy. Sweden was the eastern outpost of European civilization, confronting the Asian "heathens" on its border. Historically, its mission was to safeguard European culture and the Lutheran faith. When World War I broke out, Sweden was spared but, as elsewhere, there were hunger riots and fear for the future ofthe nation. All these developments pulled at the Swede around the turn of the century. This does not mean that the average Swede considered the real problems the most important ones. Instead, he got caught up in pseudo-phenomena, such as the fear of the consequences for Swedish culture of impending immigration (the foreign workers in Sweden numbered only 1,678 in 1907). It was held that industrialization led to higher costs for society, increasing the number of mentally retarded and mentally ill, and enabling some-the criminals-to profit from this unhealthy development. Living under stress, pressed for time, a growing number of people were said to develop neurasthenia-though this disorder could be viewed as a self-serving invention of an expanding medical profession. But the industrialization of the country also caused a cheapening of ideals as never before. In evaluating...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781609170028
Related ISBN
9780870137587
MARC Record
OCLC
933516327
Pages
312
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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