Ola Nordebo has one or two problems with the political dimensions and their names. I may not be able to help him out of his misery, but I do have my own motives for trying to clarify what we mean by “right” and “bourgeois” (borgerlig/borgarlig) in Denmark and Sweden.
First: Do we need one or more dimensions to describe and analyse the political conflicts?
As it is, political scientists have been discussing this almost endlessly, but the received wisdom seems to be that Danish politics needs two dimensions to make any sense (socio-economic and libertarian-authoritarian are the best bets, AFAIK) while Sweden is quite a unique case in Europe as it generally fits nicely on a left-right socio-economic scale.
While the Green Party, and in later days the Sweden Democrats, have made some attempts to break the Swedish unidimensionality, indications are that they have failed. Which is one reason why SD has found it difficult to make it to the national political scene. One interesting question could be what would happen if the Greens and the Left Party force the Social Democrats to abandon what (at least to me) looks like a de facto alliance with the Conservatives on asylum and immigration politics.
Denmark, on the other hand, is a country where the classical left and right have imploded. It’s not that class does not play a role in Danish politics, but blue-collar voters now choose between the Social Democrats, the Liberals and the Danish People’s Party. Immigration policy is one reason behind this.
Second: What does “right” or “bourgeois” mean on the political arena?
One problem is that both “right” and “bourgeois” tend to be pejorative terms and in Denmark, the … uhm … bourgeois parties go to great lengths to present themselves as something else. “Right” carries connotations of bad guys like Hitler, Franco, Pinochet and Reagan (Try mentioning any of the four to a Social Democrat in either country and watch: The reaction is pretty similar). At best, “right” means upper class. Like in the 19th century. The Swedish Social Democrats are more than happy to call the bourgeois parties “The Right”.
As a reaction, both the Danish and the Swedish conservatives shed the “right” brand. The Danes in 1915, the Swedes in the 1950s. Both parties have always suffered from a certain schizophrenia with regard to their true identity: Should the be true Conservative parties, or should they appeal more broadly to the middle classes? Hence their double names: The Conservative People’s Party and the Moderate Rally.
But things get worse as “the right”, i.e. those parties which are to the right of the Social Democrats, come from very different ideological traditions. A historical irony means that Left (Venstre) is on the right side of Danish politics, but are The Left liberals or agrarians at heart? (Both, actually. As true agrarians they do not care one second about the environment, as liberals they need to establish at least some green credentials). Oh, and the Danish Agrarian Liberals have very little in common with their Swedish counterparts, the Centre Party.
To make a long story short, we have social-liberals, liberals, agrarians, conservatives, Christian conservatives and nationalists joined in a motley mess. In Sweden, the social-liberals (Folkpartiet) lean right, in Denmark they (Radikale Venstre) lean left. So, does “bourgeois” mean staid middle class or progressive?
Acutally, in Denmark “bourgeois” has a nasty smell of Gentofte and Søllerød to it and the Conservatives in particular prefer to speak about the “bourgeois-liberal” parties or, even better, the “non-socialist” parties.1
Bonus: Why do the centrist Danish Social Liberals call themselves “the Radical Left”? Back in 1905, one of the party’s founders was heavily Francophile and wanted to establish a link with the French “Parti Radical“. The “Left” was taken from the fact that the party was a splinter group from Venstrereformpartiet (the “Left Reform Party”).
- For Gentofte and Søllerød, insert Täby and Danderyd in Sweden. [↩]