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The Evolution of Popular Politics in Nineteenth Century Sweden and the Road from Oligarchy to Democracy

Erik Bengtsson ()
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Erik Bengtsson: Department of Economic History, Lund University, Postal: Department of Economic History, Lund University, Box 7083, S-220 07 Lund, Sweden

No 226, Lund Papers in Economic History from Lund University, Department of Economic History

Abstract: In the mid-twentieth century, Sweden distinguished itself as one of the most organized and participatory democracies in the world, with high levels of voting turnout and party membership. But in the late nineteenth century the situation was much the opposite – Sweden had for Western Europe a low degree of suffrage, and low political participation. To explain the turnaround, this paper explores extra-parliamentary political activity in the period of the very exclusive two-chamber system of 1866. The contribution of the paper is to explore and describe the evolution of political meetings in Sweden in the final third of the nineteenth century and in this way provide an analysis of the evolution of a democratic political culture, which widened the scope of those who could act and participate politically. The empirical material consists of digitalized newspapers from the south of Sweden in the period 1866 to 1900, studying about 2,700 articles that mention “popular meetings”, folkmöten, which was the contemporary description of political meetings. The findings highlight the existence of a farmer-centred democratic critique in the 1860s and 1870s, which combined proposals for widened suffrage locally and nationally with criticisms of banks and the bureaucracy. In the1880s and 1890s, the social base of the folkmöten widened as urban workers – socialist and anti-socialist – took a greater part, and the ideological composition of the meetings became more heterogeneous. The systematic investigation of newspaper coverage shows that folkmöten were numerous and involved large numbers of people. This indicates that the Swedish population was more politically active than one would infer from looking at the electoral participation, which captures only the activity of the enfranchised, a minority of the population. The folkmöten was a major arena for democratic socialization in a country with an oligarchical political system.

Keywords: democratization; Sweden; democracy; political history; political participation (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: N13 N43 N93 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 39 pages
Date: 2021-09-06
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cdm, nep-his and nep-pol
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Persistent link: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:hhs:luekhi:0226

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