You don’t hear much about the welfare-state paradise that is Sweden these days, do you? There was a time, especially in the 1980s, when the Nordic country was championed as an egalitarian, social-democratic utopia, in contrast to the selfish and patriarchal societies found in Britain, Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. These days, when you do read about Sweden, it’s foremost because of its social unrest and the emergence of far-right movements. The Swedish Shangri La seems a thing of the past.
We’ve witnessed other utopias collapse elsewhere recently. Venezuela, the land once championed as the future of reborn socialism, now has the highest inflation rate in the world. Its capital city, Caracas, this year became the most violent city on Earth. Meanwhile, in Cuba, the death of Fidel Castro reminded us how he turned another new Eden into an impoverished police state. Are there no utopias left?
In truth, there never were any utopias. Venezuela’s ephemeral success was facilitated by short-term financial squandering of petro-dollars, which led to its long-term ruination. The Cuban utopia existed only in the minds of Western dreamers who, much like those who fancied the Soviet Union as the future back in the 1930s, lived in a mental fantasy land. Sweden was only ever egalitarian and beatific when it was culturally conformist; but things have changed.
Social democracy and socialism only work in peacetime in cultures where everyone shares the same values. There seems to me to be a pay-off between liberty and equality. The more you have of one, the less you have of the other. Egalitarian states will redistribute wealth to ensure some don’t get richer than others. Libertarian states allow individuals to prosper of their own accord. That’s why the United States, the land of the free, is so unequal. A reasonably functional multiracial society like Britain places emphasis on liberty because conformity is neither possible nor desirable.
Utopias will never happen. Only ideologues and the naive believe in fantasy lands. If people in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Finland are the happiest in the world, it’s to do with the fact that they are, in that order, the highest consumers of anti-depressants in the world. Taking to drugs or to drink is a sign of wanting to escape reality, not embrace it.
Humanity is imperfect. War, crime and death: they will always be with us. We will never win the ‘war on drugs’, just as we will never win the war on theft, robbery and murder. Equality and peace are eternal aims which we strive for in the knowledge that they will never be achieved. That’s how life works. You, dear reader, will face problems, obstacles, disappointment and heartbreak today. And tomorrow. And for every day the rest of your life. But still you carry on. Only through accepting and embracing strife and woe as the norms can we become better people and create a better world.