In light of the current Corona crisis I’ve seen many people baffled by the Swedish approach to handling the crisis. One aspect nearly all of this reporting is missing is the philosophical concept of being myndig, which is the basis of Swedish society. There is no straight over English translation of the word, but the consequence of being myndig is acting of age, but it is important to understand that these are still two very different things.
Myndig is a Swedish term referring to the ability to consider the consequences of one’s action and make a decision based on it. Self-control is an essential part of being Myndig. The Swedish state recognises everyone beyond 18 years of age as Myndig meaning that it expects all of its citizens to be able to face the consequences of their action, leading to the states right to punish people who do not take Myndig decisions or even in some cases take back their recognition a person as Myndig.
Observe that the Swedish state never claims that the person is myndig, they just recognise (expect) a persons myndighet.
Myndig in Swedish society
In Swedish society the concept of being Myndig goes way further then this. It is possibly the most important concept to understand if you want to learn about Swedish society. Because all are expected to be and act Myndig, society also punishes those who do not show the ability to recognise the consequence of their actions or those unable to make Myndig decisions. Leading to a society which expects people to give motive for their actions.
Myndig and liberty
A person in this sense is entitled to liberty because they are Myndig and it is society in large which holds the responsibility to raise children to be Myndig individuals. If a person would interfere with their child’s growth process like for example overprotect their child so that they do not become an independent Myndig person, they will be shunned by society. It is seen as taking a way the child right to freedom, because a person isn’t really free if they cannot understand what the effect of their actions are. A non-myndig person is in this sense a “slave” to their surroundings. This is why alcohol is heavily regulated in Sweden, something supported even by a lot of libertarian leaning people. Because under the effect of alcohol a person in not Myndig and their-by also not free.
To force a person to consume drugs or put a person into a situation of addiction is by this way of thinking a criminal removal of the individual’s right to freedom. This also applies to all other forms of forcing a person into a state of being non-myndig. There is an old Swedish saying that goes “do your duty, demand your right.” To remove one’s ability to do one’s duty, you also remove the respect and rights that comes from doing your duty. Liberty here is seen as a higher goal. It’s seen as a right rewarded for those who can act myndig. Therefore you should help a person to become Myndig so they can fend for themselves and be free.
You may draw the conclusion from this that one may never be allowed to drink alcohol, this is however not the case. Because people are expected to act in a myndig fashion you are free to consume alcohol within the level you can handle. You cannot be drunk in public or drink in public as you have to be or strive to be Myndig when you interact with other people. It is not uncommon for people that have drank too much to be put in drunk cells in Sweden.
However, a kid can be alone in public even if they are not Myndig yet, since freedom is needed to learn the lessons of life that make you Myndig. There-by a person with potential to reach a Myndig state of mind must be given the freedom necessary to reach a full state of Myndig. Society as a hole holds the responsibility to guide to a Myndig state of mind.
The difference between a person drinking to much and a child striving to become a myndig adult is that the drunk has misused their trust. They have gone beyond the level of alcohol consumption they can handle. They should have known better, and therefor society can punish them for it. A child however, hasn’t reached the state of being myndig yet, and can their-by not expected to be as myndig as an adult, however society still gives children much freedom, so they can learn from their own failures.
Myndig and the Corona crisis
Durring the crisis the Swedish government has treated its population like a Myndig population. That is a population able to understand the consequences of their own action and able to weigh pros and cons with acting in certain ways. We’ve seen a lot of civic courage in Swedish society and people have in large done their fair share to help stop the crisis, whiles at the same time keeping society rolling.
The outlook for how to best act in this situation has depended a lot on where in the country you are. In bigger cities like Stockholm people need to act differently from minor cities like Simrishamn. The government has strived to give current and scientifically based recommendations and information so that the population itself can self regulate its behaviour to what is needed in their region.
Sweden has gone more socialist than usual durring the crisis (which is expected, as crisis normally require coordination). But at the same time it has remained and in many ways even moved further towards libertarian ideals. Because everyone expects everyone else to act myndig, social coercion keeps society going quite stable.
To be myndig is probably the most basic part of Swedish culture. Because we have this inherent expectation of the people around us, we foster a mutual trust which can be used to govern the country in a fairly libertarian fashion even if in situations where great coordination and socialist interventions are needed.