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The Swedish Theory of Love

October 25, 2022—7:00 pm8:00 pm

Join us for a book talk with Henrik Berggren and Lars Trägårdh on their new publication The Swedish Theory of Love, out in August 22 from University of Washington Press! Berggren and Trägårdh will discuss their exploration on how socialist collectivism and individuality co-exist in the Nordic nation, a bestseller in Sweden that has just been released in English translation by Stephen Donovan.

In 2020 Sweden’s response to COVID-19 drew renewed attention to the Nordic nation in a way that put the finger on a seeming paradox. Long celebrated for its commitment to social solidarity, Sweden suddenly emerged as the last country in the West to resist lockdown while defending individual rights and responsibilities. To explain these contradictions, Henrik Berggren and Lars Trägårdh argue that the long-standing view of Sweden’s welfare state as the result of socialist collectivism is flawed. While social values have been and remain strong, they have co-existed with a radical form of individualism. The English edition of the Swedish bestseller Är svensken människa?The Swedish Theory of Love examines a political culture that stresses individual autonomy on the one hand and trust in the state on the other.

Delving into Swedish philosophy, cultural studies, sociology, literary criticism, and political science, the book moves beyond the perspective of rational social engineering to uncover the moral logic behind Sweden’s welfare state: the notion that human relationships based on dependency and subordination lead to inauthenticity and that equality and autonomy are preconditions for genuine love and affection.

“With a remarkably wide range of sources and richness of argumentation, The Swedish Theory of Love explains the success of “the Swedish model” and its apparent paradox: that Swedes value individualism extremely highly but also exhibit a high degree of dependency on the state” (Lynn Wilkinson, University of Texas at Austin)

This program will take place in-person at Scandinavia House; RSVP required.

About the Authors

Henrik Berggren is a historian, journalist and biographer, and has written extensively on Swedish political culture. In 2010, he published a biography of Olof Palme that has been translated into six languages, and his first novel was published in 2014. His biography Dag Hammarskjöld – Markings of His Life was published in 2016 by Bokförlaget Max Ström and is available in Swedish and English. Berggren obtained his MA in 1986 at the University of California, Berkeley in Modern European History, and completed his Ph.D. at the University of Stockholm 1995 in History. He served as Guest Professor at JWG-university, Frankfurt-am-Main in 1997, and his career in journalism involves several senior positions at Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

Lars Trägårdh is a historian who has mostly lived in the US since 1970, while maintaining his personal and professional ties to Sweden. After many years as entrepreneur and businessman, he returned to academic studies in 1986. He received his Ph.D. in history from UC Berkeley in 1993 after living and carrying out research for several years in both Germany and Sweden. He then took up at position teaching Modern European history at Barnard College, Columbia University, where he remained for ten years. During his years in the U.S., he also served as a guest professor at the University of Linköping, teaching graduate courses, and he also conducted a research project at Södertörn University College, which resulted in the celebrated book – Är svensken människa? Gemenskap och oberoende i det moderna Sverige (2006, pocket 2009, revised and extended edition 2015, German translation 2016) – co-written with Henrik Berggren. In 2010 he returned to Sweden where he now serves as professor oh history and civil society studies at Ersta Sköndal Bräcke University College.


October 25, 2022
7:00 pm – 8:00 pm