Tag Archives: Sweden

Liberalism’s Time is Up – Andersen

Liberalism’s Time is Up

By Joakim Andersen

 

A Review of Daniel Friberg’s The Real Right Returns: A Handbook for the True Opposition (London: Arktos, 2015).

***

We live in interesting times, times in which the political and ideological consensus which has been dominant for more than 50 years is coming apart at the seams. During this period of transition, the liberalism of the Left appears not only incapable of solving the growing mass of problems, it is also obvious to ever more people that it has been part of creating them. The opposition has every reason to scent victory.

Even so, massive challenges await. To take but one example, what is our alternative to the crumbling system? Who are ‘we’? And, to quote a famous twentieth century revolutionary, ‘what is to be done?’ If these questions are not answered satisfactorily, we run the risk of passing up the historic opportunity that is now becoming visible with increasing clarity.

Daniel Friberg and the New Right

‘To constitute a metapolitical vanguard, and hence a vital part of the broader initiative to set Europe straight again: this is the primary mission of the Swedish New Right.’ — Daniel Friberg

Anyone ready to ask the right questions and answer them had better acquaint themselves with Daniel Friberg. For ten years, he has been one of the driving forces behind the Swedish think-tank Motpol, as well as the CEO of the publishing company Arktos Media. He has been essential to the emergence of the Swedish New Right, as well as a prime contributor to the worldview of the global Right through Arktos’ strategic translations of de Benoist, Faye, and Dugin, amongst others, into English. This suggests that in Friberg we have encountered a rare man with an unusual combination of strategic ability, vision, and political sensitivity. In other words, Friberg could be described as a skilled metapolitician. This should make it interesting to gain further insight into his views concerning history and the future. This insight is offered by the recent anthology The Real Right Returns.

Already in the title, Friberg hints at his choice of ‘we’, while also distancing himself from the current form of ‘Right wing’ politics. If the Real Right returns, then obviously Angela Merkel, Anna Kinberg Batra, and Nicolas Sarkozy do not belong to the Right. These politicians are Social Liberals motivated by class egoism, and for decades they and their ilk have been prone to adopt both americanised and radical Left-wing viewpoints. Such a ‘Right’ is not Friberg’s. The Right of which he speaks is rather the European one, especially the so-called ‘New Right’.

After the Second World War, the True Right of Europe faced a crisis. It was often viewed as being associated with the losing side, while two extra-European superpowers occupied Europe and shaped her societies in accordance with their own interests. Among the most interesting responses to this situation can be found in the New Right, an initiative begun by a group of French intellectuals to break the Left’s and the false Right’s grip on society. Leading among these thinkers was and is Alain de Benoist, but around him could be found other notable scholars and writers such as Guillaume Faye.

Metapolitics

‘Mass immigration, sexual liberalism, and many other negative political and cultural choices cannot be fully explained by the activities of the Left alone, but without the Frankfurt School and similar projects it is unlikely, if not inconceivable, that they would have taken the shapes they did.’ — Daniel Friberg

The New Right undertook a deep analysis of how it was that viewpoints and groups once seen as extreme and marginal could have achieved such a hold over European politics and culture. Among others, they turned to certain Leftist theoreticians, in particular the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci had developed useful theories concerning concepts such as how to secure power over the minds of the people, while diverging sharply from Marx and rather approaching Georges Sorel. Gramsci studied the role of the struggle of ideas in securing this power, also called the ‘positional warfare’ of cultural politics, and how to win it.

Gramsci developed a practical conceptual apparatus, utilising terms such as hegemony, organic intellectuals, and historical blocs. Partly inspired by him during their ‘long march through the institutions’ during the ’60s, the Left had usurped control of language, culture, the educational system, and the media over the course of the twentieth century. The aim of the New Right was to use the valuable insights of Gramsci to achieve something similar, but under another banner altogether. The New Right realised that successful politics presupposes metapolitical victories, meaning that one has already profoundly influenced what people believe to be right and true, which words they use, and how they identify themselves. Friberg describes metapolitics thusly:

‘Metapolitics can be defined as the process of disseminating and anchoring a particular set of cultural ideas, attitudes, and values in a society, which eventually leads to deeper political change. This work need not – and perhaps should not – be linked to a particular party or programme. The point is ultimately to redefine the conditions under which politics is conceived, which the European cultural Left pushed to its extreme.’

In The Real Right Returns, Friberg offers valuable insights and advice regarding metapolitics. Among other things, one needs a positive, conscious, and coherent alternative to the liberalism that has brought Europe to the brink of the abyss. Such an alternative is described in the book, which touches on topics such as society, Europe, gender roles, economics, and more.

Friberg does not use the strategy of Gramsci and the New Left as a straightforward blueprint. He has major differences of opinion with them, among which is their view of mankind. The Right’s view of man is marked by an ambition to always strive for improvement and to be true to one’s self. This means that ‘the personal is political’, and hence the book contains advice directed at male as well as female readers, with men being called upon to improve their physique and self-defence capabilities and to learn the gentlemanly virtues.

This all makes sense. Gramsci speaks of ‘organic intellectuals’, and of the value of intellectuals who act on behalf of the workers. For the Right, the mission is of a similar nature; we combine Gramsci with Vilfredo Pareto, who taught us that our primary task is the creation of an elite. For such an elite, Friberg’s perspective and advice are valuable, and the optimistic tone of the text as a whole may be even more so. No depressing defeatism and no belief that ‘all is lost’ can be found in The Real Right Returns. To Friberg, the future is ripe with possibilities, and the enemy is hardly worth taking seriously. He has analysed him, and drawn the conclusion that his time is up. This makes for many a poignant and entertaining turn of phrase, making the book a breath of fresh air.

Historical blocs

‘Revolutionary upheavals have wrought havoc on the European continent for over two hundred years. The insanity ends now. The reaction is coming, step by step, and we will follow Julius Evola’s recommendation to “cover our enemies with scorn, rather than chains”.’ — Daniel Friberg

A central term in Gramsci is historical bloc. He used it to designate an alliance of groups united by certain hegemonic ideas. One good example of this would be the historic Workers Movement of Sweden and other European countries, which is now dissolving since its members no longer view it as representing their interests. Our task today is nothing less than the creation of a similar (but better) historical bloc, which can lead the resistance to replace the current establishment, and thereafter lead Europe for a long time to come.

Gramsci viewed the historical bloc as an alliance of groups, and what Friberg offers in The Real Right Returns are mainly suggestions of the type of ideas that could permeate such an alliance. He outlines how we ended up in today’s crisis, describing the metapolitics of the ‘Left’ during the twentieth century, as well as even more fundamental cultural reasons for its success. Friberg’s description is unusually accurate, and should be acceptable to a broadly-defined Right. The same could be said for the alternative he presents under the heading ‘Points of Orientation’. This alternative differs from both socialism, with its focus on class, and liberalism, with its focus on the individual. Friberg is conscious of the importance and value of things such as culture, identity, and ethnicity.

A historical bloc of the Right would be wise to be guided by the clever French axiom Pas d’Ennemis à Droite, ‘no enemies on the Right’. Discussions and criticism is natural, and can be challenging in a positive way and part of relationships within the Right, but such disagreements are or should be something completely different from simple enmity or hostility.

I suspect that the utilisation of the word Right will be a cause for some controversy. Is this not a term that excludes, among others, the sensible Left that still exists? In terms of the history of ideas, however, the word ‘Right’ is certainly the correct designation for those such as Friberg. Furthermore, it is also a moniker all but abandoned by bourgeois conservatives, and it is virtually just sitting there, waiting to be adopted. With a clear definition of who you are and what you want, you have better chances of collaborating with others. Even so, within the Real Right one can also find strains of thought that are comparable to the organic solidarity of certain types of socialism; many early anti-capitalists were conservative.

The mainstream ‘Left’ of today has failed fatally insofar as its goal was another economic system, or even in terms of an understanding of contemporary history. Friberg writes:

‘Despite its firm grip on the public debate in Sweden (for example), in practice the Left achieves little more than to fill the role of global capitalism’s court jester. Despite this, it continues to succeed in its other main goal, which has been to prevent Europe’s native populations from defending themselves against a political project that undermines their right to political self-determination. Toward this end, sentimentality was substituted for Marxist historical analysis.’

Those among the Left who share this assessment, and I know they exist, should consider whether the Real Right might not be a better partner for collaboration than either the ‘Left’ or the ‘Right’.

In conclusion, this is a valuable and very readable book. Friberg describes the background that put us here, in an unprecedented cultural, demographic, and existential crisis for Europe and her peoples. But he does not collapse into defeatism or pessimism, but states with a duly substantiated optimism that ‘the success of our ideas is not just possible. It is certain’.

Friberg also outlines the positive alternative and the worldview which should guide the struggle against the decaying system which dominated the twentieth century. He gives practical advice for male and female readers alike, as well as for anyone victimised by the death-throes of a dying monopoly of opinion-mongers (the media scaffolding of the dissidents).

Perhaps the discussion of metapolitics is the most valuable aspect of the book. In metapolitics, what Sloterdijk calls the politics of language is a central part. A small word such as ‘racism’ can make informed debate on issues such as immigration impossible (which, of course, was always the purpose of its introduction). We must also wage the war of language, and to this end the book contains a metapolitical dictionary in which Friberg defines useful terms such as ‘the right to difference’, ‘White flight’, ‘egalitarianism’, ‘ethnomasochism’, and ‘identity’.

In brief, this is a book to be recommended.

 

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Andersen, Joakim. “Liberalism’s Time is Up.” RightOn, 3 November 2015. < https://www.righton.net/2015/11/03/liberalisms-time-is-up/ >.

 

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The Metapolitics of Arktos – Morgan

The Metapolitics of Arktos

By John Morgan

 

The following is the text of a speech delivered by Arktos Editor-in-Chief John Morgan at Identitarian Ideas VII in Stockholm, Sweden on 7 November 2015.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for having me back. It’s great to be back in Sweden. The fact that Sweden, a country which has come to be identified with the most extreme forms of liberalism, has managed to develop one of the most thriving nationalist movements in Western Europe is a fact that is inspirational to activists all over Europe and North America. So it’s an honor to be addressing some of those who made that happen here today.

I want to say a few words about the project that Daniel Friberg and I have dedicated most of our time, energy, and dedication towards over the past few years – specifically, what it is that we are trying to do with Arktos. As many of you are no doubt aware, Daniel Friberg and I, and also Mick Brooks who is here with us today, founded Arktos Media six years ago, at the end of 2009. Since then we’ve published over 100 unique titles in eight languages. For the first four years of our operations, we were based in India as a way of reducing our overhead costs, but since the beginning of 2014 we’ve been based in Budapest, Hungary in order to make it easier to connect with our core readership.

I imagine a question that exists in many people’s minds is, why are we doing all of this, and what are we trying to accomplish? This is something that really needs to be clarified, since many people have been more than happy to answer this, uninvited, on our behalf. To name but a few theories I’ve come across online, I’ve learned that Arktos is a Christian publishing company, a neo-pagan publishing company, a Eurasianist publishing company, an American conservative publishing company, a liberal publishing company, and a fascist publishing company. Likewise I’ve read that Arktos is “controlled” by American paleoconservatives like Paul Gottfried, by the Kremlin, by the CIA, by the Ukrainian nationalists, by the Indian government, by the international Zionist conspiracy, by Greg Johnson of Counter-Currents, and my personal favorite, by the Soviet KGB. It’s unfortunate that I need to do this, but for the purposes of clarity, I state for the record that none of these is in fact true.

While several of those ideas are obviously crazy, and some of them clearly designed as a pathetic attempt to try to discredit us, I think part of the confusion stems from the fact that Arktos is involved in so many different types of projects. Indeed, while we are often thought of as a political publishing house, only perhaps half of our books could be described as overtly political in nature, and we have always envisioned Arktos as being much more than merely a political venture. Many are works of pure philosophy or literature, or relate to various forms of traditional spirituality. In terms of political thought, we have published many works from the European “New Right” school, but we have also published works from both Christian and non-Christian perspectives (including works related to Hindu nationalism), by the identitarians, by Alexander Dugin of Russia’s Eurasia Movement, and by American and English conservatives.

The truth is that there is no single ideological, philosophical, religious, or any other system of belief that we are trying to propagate through Arktos. As I once expressed it, what Arktos is trying to do could perhaps be summarized as trying to find alternatives to modernity – which basically means alternatives to the current liberal order based on individualism and materialism and the dominance of the state over every aspect of the lives of its people, and which runs contrary to anything traditional or communitarian, that has spread everywhere across the world. This can take many forms. Some of our authors would like to see us return to the ways of life of some previous age. Some of them, such as Mr. Faye, advocate for nationalists embracing the most radical forms of new technology and radical social thought and producing a new synthesis with the traditional values that first made our civilization great that will represent something entirely new in Europe. Many of them fall somewhere in between.

Arktos’ idea is that we should take a broad approach to the desire to seek an alternative to liberalism. While we think that each and every one of our authors has something valuable to contribute to this quest, we do not seek to win converts to any particular cause or way of thinking, especially since it remains unclear at this stage as to which ideas will take root in order to bring about the revival of the West. Rather our books should be seen as points of inspiration to hopefully inspire a challenge to new ways of thinking, even if it may sometimes take the form of opposition in some regards, among our readers. Adopting a specific belief system would limit what we can do and also limit the number of people to whom we can appeal.

We do not even see ourselves as being exclusively a “Right-wing” publisher. Indeed, the dichotomy of Left and Right seems today as something outdated and meaningless, particularly as many mainstream Rightists today are essentially liberals and thus not on our side, and some Leftists share many of our concerns about the modern world and liberalism. I would suggest that the dichotomy of liberal and anti-liberal is a more useful classification today. This is something we embrace in Arktos. We seek to create an alternative to liberalism, but not necessarily a new ideology, and we are open to anyone who has something useful to contribute.

Of what importance is this intellectual work in a struggle which is primarily taking place in the real world, one may ask? I would answer that the political struggle is only the outward form of a battle that is really more cultural, and culture rests on what lies within the soul of each individual who participates in it. In order to build individuals willing to sacrifice the comforts of modern life for the sake of an ideal, a solid sense of identity and purpose must first be present. This is the essence of metapolitics: it is the attempt to redefine culture, or one might more accurately say in the case of nationalists and traditionalists an attempt to restore culture, by making a particular set of suppositions seem entirely natural to the people in a society. One can find out more about this in the books New Culture, New Right by Michael O’Meara andAgainst Democracy and Equality by Tomislav Sunic. This is what the Left has been doing so well over the past half century. In fact, the entire West today is in the grip of a radical political ideology which has set the average individual against the traditions of his forefathers, against the needs of his community, and even against the interests of himself and his people. It is quite amazing, in fact. Two centuries ago it would have seemed like something strange, if not insane. And yet by establishing control over the cultural institutions of our nations, the radical liberals have managed to convince the vast majority of people that the mode of life we are in today is something completely normal, and in fact superior to anything that came before it, when in fact we are in a time in which Western man is more alienated from his society and his fellow man than ever before.

Therefore, what we need to do is to imitate their example in our own way. This means waging war on the cultural as well as the political level. It may be difficult to discern on the surface how books of political philosophy, or on spirituality or literature, help in this endeavor. And yet I would argue that it is very difficult to motivate people simply using straightforward political arguments, and certainly not merely by criticizing society as it is (something the Right is all too good at). Something positive is needed as well. People need a vision of the future that can inspire them and give them something not only to fight for, but to give them motivation in their daily lives. I believe that books remain the best way of instilling this sort of vision in people. And given the enthusiastic response we’ve received from many of our readers over the years, I think this strategy is working.

As should be clear by now, there is no single label that one could apply to Arktos with any accuracy, given the vast range of ideas that we engage with. If I had to pick one, however, I would borrow the term “true Right,” which was first coined by the Italian traditionalist philosopher Julius Evola, who defined it as “those principles which were accepted and seen as normal by every well-born person everywhere in the world prior to 1789.” I can think of no better definition than that. It is obviously very different from the false Right that participates in the meaningless spectacle that passes for politics throughout much of the West today. Of course, one could point out that Arktos benefits from many of the features of the world of globalist liberalism: given the sort of technology that our operations rely on, such as the Internet and easy international travel, it would have been unimaginable even just 15 years ago. But I believe it is possible to use the tools of modernity against it, in an effort to reform it.

The other question that I frequently get is why Arktos is based in such exotic locales as India and Hungary. In the case of India, where we were based for the first five years of our corporate existence, the short answer is simply that we needed to be in a place where we could afford to operate with the meager funds we had at our disposal in our early days. Although at the same time it was good to be in a place where daily life is still for the most part an expression of the traditional spirit rather than a liberal one. But after doing this for a while, we began to grew tired of the many challenges that everyday life in India presents (imagine what it’s like to try to get somebody to come out and fix your Internet in a country where you don’t know the language and where cows and other livestock are wandering in the street outside your apartment), and we also had a growing desire to strengthen our connection to where most of our readers are.

Given the fact that our profits had been steadily increasing from the beginning, by 2014 we finally had enough funds to make this a reality. So, why Hungary, you may ask? Part of it is certainly the fact that it is possible to operate inexpensively there as well, and also simply because those of us on the Arktos staff have been charmed by the country’s beautiful aesthetics and culture, and its excellent cuisine, among other aspects. But we were also drawn to it due to the fact that Hungary has established itself as the greatest opponent to liberalism in the European Union today. Indeed, Hungary’s current Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, who has recently garnered a great deal of praise due to his handling of the migrant crisis, gave a speech last year in which he called for Hungary to become what he termed an ‘illiberal democracy’, citing China, Turkey, and Russia as examples. Indeed, we have made fruitful contacts with people in Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party; the more radical nationalist party, Jobbik; and even with the Magyar Munkáspárt, or Hungarian Workers’ Party, which is the Communist party. It is important to stress that the latter party, while Communist in name, could more accurately be described as a National Bolshevik party, meaning that it combines elements of nationalism with Communism; while it retains Communist economic ideas, it remains a staunch opponent of immigration and globalism. Such syntheses are not unusual in Hungarian politics; indeed, Marton Gyöngyösi, the International Secretary of Jobbik, said to me recently that many of the parties in Hungary today, and even in other countries, escape easy classification along the Right/Left spectrum, and similar to what I said earlier, he suggested that liberal and non-liberal is a more constructive way of understanding European politics today.

People associated with all of these parties have expressed enthusiasm for the work that Arktos is doing, and we in turn have been inspired by their commitment and originality in pursuit of a better Hungary. They are actually enacting the sort of metapolitics that Arktos is also working with in its own way, and with great success, as indicated by the fact that two-thirds of Hungary’s voters selected either Fidesz or Jobbik in the last election. Hungarian politicians are also frequently visionary in how they understand how Hungary’s struggle against liberalism must fit into the struggle of similar parties across the globe. To cite an example close to home, in 2013, while we were still in India, we facilitated a meeting between representatives from Jobbik and the BJP, the Hindu nationalist party which was swept to power on a tide of enthusiasm from voters the following year. And I think it is correct that if we are to defeat our liberal globalist enemy, we ourselves must adopt an alternative form of globalism, seeking alliances and common ground with individuals and groups who share our desires everywhere, even outside of Europe. While we stand for the traditions and interests of our own people, we must put aside our differences and open ourselves to those taking a similar approach from among other peoples. The narrow, ethnocentric viewpoint is a relic of the past. Only together, by working with nationalists and traditionalists everywhere, can we succeed. Toward this end, Arktos seeks to represent as many of these facets of the struggle as possible, which is one reason why we have published several books pertaining to the traditions of India, for example.

Some of you may wonder what our most popular titles are. Generally, our bestselling titles tend to be those by Guillaume Faye, whom you met here today; Alain de Benoist, the founder and leader of the French New Right movement, and the inventor of the concept of Right-wing metapolitics; Alexander Dugin, the Russian philosopher and geopolitician, and former advisor to Vladimir Putin; the Italian traditionalist philosopher Julius Evola, who sought to re-establish the mindset and wisdom of the ancient world amidst the ruins of the modern world; Markus Willinger, the Austrian identitarian author; Brian Patrick, a professor at the University of Toledo who specializes in the science of propaganda and the American gun rights movement; and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who is India’s most popular yoga guru today. Recent titles that have done well also include Dominique Venner’s The Shock of History. Venner was a renowned historian and veteran paratrooper of the Algerian War and the OAS who infamously committed suicide in Notre Dame Cathedral in May 2013 as a protest against mass immigration and the increasing liberalization of France, and he actually wrote The Shock of History specifically for Arktos as a means of introducing his worldview to the audience outside of France, so we were quite honored to be the ones to present that in English. And I would be amiss if I didn’t mention The Real Right Returns by my friend and colleague Daniel Friberg, which became an instant bestseller; in fact it sold more copies in the first three days of this month than any other book of our has sold in any three-day period to date. And soon we will be publishing a Swedish translation of How to be a Conservative by the English author Roger Scruton, who is the most important philosopher of conservatism today. (I understand that the Chairman of the Sweden Democrats is a fan of Scruton.)

What I think Arktos’ success indicates is that we are presenting a message that resonates with people. People in Europe and America are getting tired of the same old slogans presented by liberals that go against what everyone sees with their own eyes. They haven’t been able to come up with anything new since the 1960s; they just keep harping on the same old tired clichés that are falling into ruin around them. The attempt of liberals to convert the world into a gigantic shopping mall where everyone is the same is ending in failure. Intellectual and cultural vigor is passing, if it hasn’t already passed, to the Right. We can see this in the rising popularity and electoral success of Rightist parties across Europe. This is a trend we can ride. The future belongs to us. In Arktos and Motpol, and similar organizations, we are forging a new vision for the West. Many difficult challenges yet lie ahead of us, but we shouldn’t despair; rather, we should welcome the fact that we are presented with an opportunity for adventure. Please join us as we forge a new world.

 

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Morgan, John. “The Metapolitics of Arktos.” Speech delivered at the “Identitarian Ideas VII” Conference, held in Stockholm, Sweden, 7 November 2015. Text of transcript retrieved from <https://www.righton.net/2015/11/22/the-metapolitics-of-arktos/ >.

 

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On Verner von Heidenstam – Svensson

Verner von Heidenstam: An Overview

By Lennart Svensson

 

Author’s Note: Verner von Heidenstam is well known in Sweden. And some of his books are available in English too. When he won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1916 some titles were translated. — Hereby an overview of Heidenstam’s life and works.

 

1.

There are many ways of treating the Swedish author and Nobel Prize winner Verner von Heidenstam (1859-1940). One of them is to look at the nationalist strain in his writings. It’s not so far-fetched, not even in a 21st century setting. The newly published biography by Per I. Gedin (Verner von Heidenstam – ett liv, Bonniers 2006) also notes this and makes a fair evaluation of it, particularly of what nationalism meant in the mid 19th century, before it became en vogue. It’s true that Heidenstam didn’t make his debut in 1888 as a model nationalist, this feature becoming more prominent in him around 1900. However, the positive, affirmative trait in which nationalism thrives was definitely part of Heidenstam’s condition when he put his unforgettable mark on Swedish literature at the dawn of the 1890’s.

The mid 19th century Nordic variety of nationalism, Gedin says, was a populist movement, driven by liberals, and only eventually the movement came to include both workers and the elite, the latter in the form of high society, aristocracy and the royal family. This was indeed the case: in the early 1800’s no royal family, including the Swedish, was what we would call nationalists. For example, the elite sentiment that prevailed in Sweden around 1830 was the Russian-friendly; Tsar Nicholas I was seen as the guarantor of order. Nationalism for the then elite was equal to lawless rebellion, as had been seen in France and Poland.

The same was the case in Germany. The year 1848, for example, saw efforts of German unification: the small, separate kingdoms should merge and form a unified Vaterland, the liberal insurgents meant. But all these aspirations were crushed by the forces of reaction. Only in 1871, when Prussia had become Germany’s leading power, was German nationalism also embraced by the elite in question, by the current right-wing.

We saw the same here in Sweden: not until the 1870’s was nationalism adopted by the pillars of society. Still, nationalism wasn’t even by then a Leitkultur in Sweden. It took some time to be more firmly anchored, to be adopted even by the artistic elite, and Heidenstam was instrumental in this. Gedin for his part describes Heidenstam’s debut, Pilgrimage and Journeyman Years from 1888, as something of a boost to the Swedish soul. At the time the Swedish cultural scene was steeped in nihilism and ”grey weather prose”, 1880’s literature being occupied with naturalistic depictions of urban misery. Typical book titles at this time were Greycold and Poverty (= GråkalltFattigdom). This was thought to attract the audience. Realism prevailed and the poetry was harmless versifications. Now all this, with Heidenstams’s example, was replaced by imagination, colour and dance. Heidenstam paved the way for writers like Selma Lagerlöf, Fröding, Karlfeldt and Ellen Key, and for a renewal in painting, indeed, for nationalism in general. As for literature proper Heidenstam gave the Swedish language a new poetic feeling with influences from Byron, Heine and Turgenev. By this a more freeform verse was established in Swedish.

Heidenstam quickly became No. 1, becoming the colour-bearer for the new literature, Gedin says. With his debut in 1888 Heidenstam had won a clear-cut victory: he triumphed over a worn out, dilapidated literary scene. Heidenstam himself said in a letter to Ellen Key, in 1897: ”The constant painting of grey on grey I killed in this country in two years.”

Bold words, but true…! Heidenstam at the time of his debut was something of a force of nature, yet playful and human.

 

2.

In the subject of Heidenstam I’ve also read Kring Verner von Heidenstam (= About Verner vonHeidenstam) by Gudmund Fröberg (editor; Carlsson bokförlag, 1993). The book counteracts the devaluation the Swedish left made of Heidenstam in the period 1910-1990. Essays by Staffan Björk, Olle Holmberg, Magnus von Platen and Pär Lagerkvist sketches a broad, sympathetic portrait of the author. As for the person Heidenstam we find quoted on page 270 the words of John Landquist:

He had blue, kindly inquiring eyes but they also had a mysterious depth. He had a dark voice with a soft sound (…) He was genteel but without mannerisms. He sported a quiet kindness. He listened to what you said. His own speech was effortlessly improvised but then, out of the blue, there came a fitting poetic image, this being the natural movement of his though. You felt at ease with him.

Heidenstam, then, had his sympathetic traits. At the same time he could, in official contexts, be rather pompous. He liked playing the role of poet laurate. This backfired on him in the Strindberg feud in 1910, when Strindberg attacked Heidenstam for a few things. And the assaults found their target, even though Heidenstam kept a brave face and declined to answer the slights. You can say: Heidenstam in this process became a victim of the role he created for himself.

 

3.

Gedin depicts this Strindberg feud in his bio. Plus everything else like Heidenstam’s upbringing, his women and his career, in all its variations. Gedin as intimated does a good job and his book can be recommended for those who like cradle-to-grave, life-and-letters-biographies. If you can handle the book’s physical weight, that is…! This 672 pages book can hardly be read lying down, as I prefer. It should be read at a table.

Inspired by Gedin’s book, and of Fröbergs anthology, I now feel like going through Heidenstam’s important works. I begin with novels and prose and end with poems, in the form of New Poems from 1915. Then I round it off by talking about a few additional things.

 

Hans Alienus (1892)

This is a novel with some essential passages in verse. The overall setting is bold and compelling, mixing realism with fantasy. The hero, Hans Alienus, lives in Rome as an official to the pope. Then Alienus ventures out on a journey through the East and then under the earth, all the time experiencing a few things. It’s like a Swedish version of Dante’s Inferno and Goethe’s Faust; Heidenstam broke some new ground with this book, ”Going boldly where no man has gone before” as we had it in Star Trek. For example Swedish literary scholars have always loved this book; there’s much to deliberate on here. I myself am a little skeptical of the conceptual content. It’s lacking something. Heidenstam was a great poet but not so profound when it came to ontology and spiritual essence. He was like, go and meet the devil, talk to angels, then go home; there’s only a semblance of depth in this book, to be sure. Its style and atmosphere is great but it doesn’t really convince you on a formal level. Then again, even Dante wasn’t always so profound.

A figure that Alienus encounters in his cosmic journey is a haggard lady, Her Archaic Holiness (= Den Gamla Heliga; Den Gamla Människan). This is, as Gedin suggests, a Jungian ”shadow”, this horrifying witch who is sorrow and misery whereas Alienus’ dandy lifestyle is all about beauty and joy.

This could lead somewhere. But Heidenstam is incapable, as Jung advocates, to integrate this shadow with his own essence. The shadows haunt him all the way, until the final scene in Sweden. But Alienus have no defense against this voice from the deep. The novel culminates in sentimental lines of reconciliation with the father. Heidenstam as I said was never profound as thinker; he never reached the esoteric levels that Viktor Rydberg, Per Atterbom or Stagnelius reached. But Heidenstam at least had a feeling of what life had to offer, he understood that it is a mystery. And he could show it in his novels and poems. ”Mystery, fairytale, light of day, your depth no one can fathom” as he wrote in the late poem If I Were A Child.

 

A King and His Campaigners (1897, in English 1902)

This is a living classic, a still readable exposé of characters during the Great Northern War 1700-1718. Many of the texts are like short stories with protagonists only appearing once, but we also have Charles XII appearing in fateful circumstances throughout the book.

This is not a naturalistic novel. Many of the texts has a touch of theater. It’s not always stories we get, sometimes we’re only given static scenes. And the lines sound a little unnatural; all speak in the same fashion, from coachmen to generals. That said, the book has power and color, motion and verve. The book’s merit is the width; you become fascinated even by minor characters such as Mazeppa’s ambassador, Lina Andersdotter, Måns Fransyske and others. And that is the sign of a masterpiece, how even the supporting roles are well cast.

 

The Tree of the Folkungs (1905, in English 1925)

This is a romance set in the 11th century, sporting scenes from both the archaic farmer’s life, the life of early medieval Swedish kings and of Swedes serving in the imperial guard in Constantinople. I here refer to the first part, Folke Filbyter; the second part, about the 13th century, is a tinge bit more ordinary, more Walter Scottish.

There is archaic feeling here; we meet the last remnants of Asatru and we meet nature religion and shamanism. Heidenstam had a keen eye for life in the woods, for the yearning of the Swede to venture out in the forest and feel the presence of brownies, fairies and nixes. As a poet Heidenstam filled this novel with many a poetic prose passage. But it’s still eminently readable as a novel, the first part that is, beginning as it does with Folke returning from a Viking raid, approaching Swedish land on the east coast and, having landed, marching off into the Ostrogotian woods in order to stake out a farm for himself. This was Heidenstam’s image of the founding father of the Folkung dynasty, who ruled Sweden 1250-1319.

 

The Swedes and Their Chieftains (1908, in English 1925)

Here we are given many alluring stories out of Swedish history and myth, such as Ura Kaippa, The Shield MaidenThe Watchdog of the Greekking and others from the early middle ages. They are unsought tales about norsemen- and women, clear-cut images of a vital era, the era of Asatru, archaic climes and heroism. But also from the high and late Middle ages we get good narratives, like Karl Knutsson and the Piper. This is almost Shakespearean: the rise and fall of a king, mirrored in the role of a beggar-cum-piper who watches it all from his corner of the world.

In all this is an absolutely incomparable book about Swedish history, on the border between fact and fiction. Intended as a school book it can be read by everyone. Gedin in his bio denigrates it but he’s wrong.

 

Nya dikter (= New Poems, 1915)

Heidenstam as intimated began his career as a poet. In his debut in 1888 (Pilgrimage and Journeyman Years), he painted with variegated colors, he told tales, he discussed, he drew pictures, all in the form of poems, short and long. So that one is still worth reading. But his NewPoems from 1915 in my opinion is the epitome of his writings; here we get the eternal existensial questions treated in a tighter, more succinct fashion.

The prospect of death is treated with open eyes, as in Begun Journey. It depicts a dead man, a departed soul that looks back on the ground he has left: ”I already wander on the bridge, leading / from the Earth to the unknown / and what used to be near becomes distant”… He’s free, he throws away his shoes and his staff, and when he sees himself buried down on the distant earth, then he can barely recognize the name they mumble around the coffin. – This is visionary powers: to see oneself as dead, the soul wandering off into the unknown.

When New Poems was published Heidenstam was 55. He would live for another 25 years. Yet he speaks of himself as ”an old man, sitting by the fire brooding”. It’s in If I Were A Child, about what you would do if you were a child again; the poet sits and remembers, noting that most of his friends are dead. It ends:

Mystery, fairytale, light of day,

your depth no one can fathom.

Yet the same child am I still

and bliss is here to stay.

This demonstrates a heartwarming, everyday piety which is always viable. This poem sports my overall aesthetic ideal: simple but not simplistic. A similar everyday esoterism we meet in We Human Beings. It says that we’ll all die one day, it is what ”we human beings” have in common. Some kind of kitchen-sink wisdom, really; I’m lacking a more spiritual outlook. Still, I like the opening lines of this poem, having etched themselves into my being,

We, who meet for a few brief moments,

children of the same soil and the same wonder,

on the storm-ridden ness of life!

Another poignant poem is The Burial of Gustaf Fröding. It’s written in memory of the Swedish poet colleague who lived from 1860 to 1911. The poem portrays how Fröding, while he lived, was sitting at his Bible while his hair turned white. From this the poem becomes universal in scope, ”wondrously large is a human fate,” but man is like a reed in the wind: ”Die, die, this he constantly hears / when creating, asking, searching for truth.” Then the key changes in the following lines: ”All is vain, / all things earthly die, die, / but he himself becomes the work that he fashions.”

Speaking about dying Heidenstam for his own grave created this epitaph, being congenial and saying everything about la condition humaine: ”Here lies the dust of an old man. Gratefully, he praised the incomprehensible fact, that it was granted him to live a life on earth as a man.” Truly majestic, simple but not simplistic.

4.

Heidenstam practically stopped writing after New Poems. Authors who thus ”retire” are said to be uncommon. But Heidenstam admitted to acquaintances that his creative powers simply had run out. With all due respect you could say that he became senile. He built himself an estate at Lake Vättern, Övralid, not far from Motala. It looks like a cross between a 17th century Swedish mansion and Goethe’s house in Weimar. The immediate model was the estate Odinshöj in Denmark, where he lived for a while with his partner Kate Bang. Övralid is very stylish, bordering on the sterile. No park or garden would surround it; the lawn would imperceptibly blend into wilderness and the view of the water would be free and unhindered. Only a so-called ornamental tree would provide shade.

The critic Klara Johanson said that Heidenstam’s role in life was the same as the reindeers at Skansen: to offer an easily recognizable profile against the sky. And certainly Heidenstam was a little vain, indeed he liked to pose. He liked, as indicated, to play the role of poet laurate. However, he was also well-liked. Maybe Selma Lagerlöf (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils,1907) was more beloved by the people but Heidenstam could also tell tales and spin yarns. His historical reader for the elementary school, The Swedes and Their Chieftains, as I’ve said, has many witty stories. Astrid Lindgren, for example, testified how she was arrested by the introductory short story about Ura Kaipa and the Stone Age. Heidenstam could paint evocative scenes, as in the story of Ura Kaipa, in the poem ”Tiveden” and the excursions in the archaic forests of The Tree of the Folkungs.

Lagerlöf and Heidenstam died the same year, in 1940. This was commemorated by an anthology called Mårbacka and Övralid, the writers’ respective mansions symbolizing them in the title. Here is given a suggestive anecdote from Heidenstam’s actual writing of A King and His Campaigners. To say that he met the ghost of Charles XII when he composed the chapter on the death of the king may sound unbelievable, but this is what this memory book says. In case it’s worth telling it was like this: in 1897 Heidenstam lived as a guest of the mansion Nor in Uppland, south of Uppsala. He was in the final stages of the Charles XII book. One particular night he stayed up late, working with quill in the lamplight. Just as he had portrayed how Charles XII had fallen by Fredrikshald he heard a sound – the rattle of a bunch of keys. Then he heard the clink of spurs. Then steps coming up the stairs.

The steps approached the den. Finally he stood there, Charles XII, and eyed the author. The king sat down on a chair with his sword resting on his knee. And then he said, ”Remember, I prayed to God the last night I was alive!”

Heidenstam noted all this. Becoming dazed he bowed his head, with his hand to his eyes. When he looked up the figure was gone. No sounds were heard of steps withdrawing. There was a sepulchral silence. Heidenstam remained seated at the table, confused. In the morning he was taken care of by servants. He was bedridden for several days. Then he got up and decided to change his script of the Charles XII book he was writing, A King and His Campaigners. A little research brought him to a certain ”Charles’s prayer before the battle at Narva”. This he edited slightly and inserted in the portrayal of the king’s last days. A few more additions were made in the book so that the religious element in Charles’s life better would come into its own.

Coda

I’m a nationalist of sorts. I savour books about the traditional ways of Sweden, my native country. Then the books may also be artistically high standing as well. And this is readily achieved with Heidenstam’s writings. We live today in a time when the ”elite” of my land often is hostile against all things traditionally Swedish, when it bashes the customary image of Sweden. In this fight, you can’t always, as a defense, offer up ”high-class, immortal works of art” – but with Heidenstam on board you get this. So if you see a book by Heidenstam, buy it. I have an inkling that his books in English are rare and hard to find but they definitely exist. He got the Nobel Prize in 1916 and after that there were some translations made, some of them mentioned above.

 

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Svensson, Lennart. “Verner von Heidenstam — An Overview.” Tankesmedjan Motpol, 9 January 2015. <http://www.motpol.nu/princip/2015/01/09/verner-von-heidenstam-an-overview/ >.

 

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