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Between the nursery and the court

Norway, our Norway – A country's biography
Forfatter: Kaj Skagen
Forlag: Dreyers forlag 
Although cultural radicals are allowed to review Kaj Skagen's assessment of "the Norwegian", much of the thinking in the book comes from one of its foremost representatives, namely Jens Bjørneboe. 


"A human should not be from everywhere. A man must be away from home, ”Knut Hamsun wrote. Kaj Skagen is not quite as assertive in his idea-historical essay, when he tries to find out where we Norwegians come from. Instead, he is concerned with nation formation, and asks in his latest book: How and when did the concept of "the Norwegian" originate? How did Norwegians get their identity? And why has it become so problematic to be Norwegian?

Skagen's valuable evaluation consists of finding the political and cultural streams of ideas that have helped shape the Norwegian nation from the beginning of the 1800 century to the present. The role of cultural radicals in Norwegian cultural life is to be reviewed, and Skagen instead points to the Christian conservative tradition as a source of inspiration in Norwegian culture.

Collective memory loss. In his evaluation of the Norwegian identity, Skagen begins with the 1800th century: “Perhaps such a study should have included Norse and Catholic times, before and during the Danish Empire. But these older Norwegian epochs had a renaissance as the modern Norwegian nation emerged from the shadow of history through the secession of two strong nations… »he writes.

He finds one main flow from the Enlightenment era, which he believes has evolved into reason cultivation and progress – and a mystical-romantic flow – which has its legacy from pietism and German idealism. We have forgotten this tradition, says Skagen.

Skagen advocates a liberation of the spiritual life from the state and the capital. 

It is not only easy to place the Norwegian builders of Norwegian culture in one of the currents. For example, Skagen places Henrik Wergeland in the cultural-radical tradition, because he "simplified Christianity into a monotheistic and deistic belief in God." This becomes too simple. He should have used Geir Uthaugs A world depth of freedom as a source – a book that gives a completely different Wergeland production than Yngvar Ustvedts – which has received many source references.

In short, Skagen claims that there is a direct line from Wergeland to today's secular society. But why is it so difficult to grasp what the Norwegian identity encompasses? Most people have given up trying and agreed that Norway is multicultural. The term "Norwegian" makes no sense anymore. "It's as if we've been hit by collective memory loss," Skagen writes.

Anthroposophical thought. In the last chapter of the book – "The Fourth Liberation" – it is clear that it is not Michel Houellebecq who is this book's most important source of inspiration, but Rudolf Steiner. To understand this book, it is helpful to know Steiner's thinking about society as a tree branch. Skagen writes: "The field of formation had to be transformed into and protected as a free decentralized republic where only the active and qualified have the right to vote, so that people could go out into the world with their own ideas in a large context…"

The statement must not be understood politically, but as an actualization of Steiner's three-branch idea, where the intellectual life must be independent of legal life and economic life. It is clear from the context that Skagen does not advocate that only the few should have the right to vote, but that the school must be governed by those who work there – and not by outside forces.

We are like children playing in a landscape built by technocratic surveillance capitalists. 

A cultural radical settlement. So where are we now? We are somewhere between the kindergarten and the courthouse, Skagen seems to think. He worries about the Norwegian cultural heritage – which he believes is about to erode – in favor of bureaucracy and technocracy. Especially the cultural radicals who were active in the 1960s and beyond are reviewed in the book. They became "Third Worldists" and sought Africa, instead of cultivating the European formation project. They did not become mystics – they became revolutionaries.

But Skagen is not a revolutionary. He advocates a slow development, and a liberation of the intellectual life from the state and capital power. Parts of the book are probably also a defense of the anthroposophical movement, with Karl Brodersen, André Bjerke and Jens Bjørneboe as the leading representatives in Norway. But Bjørneboe abandoned Steiner and became a cultural radical with a focus on the third world. There is still a lot of Bjørneboe thought in the book. For example, Skagen writes: "With its belief in the power of the state as first and foremost a good one, social democracy carried the seeds of the custodial state."

Freedom without content. The book is thus an attempt to wake a sleeping princess. The sleeping princess is in this case a tradition that has always been in the shadow of the dominant current of ideas in Norway – a mysterious / romantic school of thought with Christianity as the most important source of inspiration. By settling with official Christianity, the cultural radicals forgot that there is another tradition that is also Christian. It seemed not necessary to take the brunt of all Christianity, Skagen seems to think. It had kept settling with the dogmatic part of religion. Instead, today's radicals speak in favor of mass immigration and Islamic religion, which Skagen believes is materialistic, oppressive and secular. We are confused and without authority over our own lives, Skagen seems to think. Our freedom is without content. We are like children playing in a landscape built by technocratic surveillance capitalists. What is the solution? To regain the right of self-determination. Then we have to find out what sets us apart from others, and this seems to be Kaj Skagen's message with this book. Skagen is a bit reminiscent of Dante. He places people in heaven or hell – a little at will.

Henning Næs
Henning Næss
Literary critic in MODERN TIMES.

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