This paper asks whether new social movements will be as successful as the older ones in sustaining and revising institutional complementarities, thereby enabling the Nordic countries to sustain democracy and to adjust successfully in a world economy marked by the relative decline of the West. The analysis shuttles back and forth between tracing of international developments (five sections) and comparisons of mobilisation in the Nordic area (six sections). Old social movements (religious, peasant, labour and women’s movements) were offensive ones, securing and extending democracy at the national level. Using the same set of five properties, the latest of the old movements, the women’s movement, is compared with three new ones. These new social movements (anti-waste/environmental, anti-globalisation, anti-immigration) are defensive ones, taking democracy for granted, and relating to challenges that can only be fully managed through coordination of the world’s great powers. However, international coordination is presently under pressure. In the early post-war phase of regulated internationalism, the US was strong enough to act like a generous world state. But in the present globalisation phase, US hegemony is weakened by unequal developments, spurring three crises. Generalisation of the fossil fuel-intensive growth model drives global warming. The US subprime crisis triggered financial instabilities that created sovereign debt crises, especially among the weak EU-economies. Finally, failure of the US to pursue an effective strategy as the world’s policy force in the Middle East was a main factor behind the 2015 immigration crisis, which mainly affected Europe. The Nordic countries are caught in a paradoxical situation: the issues (global warming, financial instability, migration flows from conflict zones into the rich Western world) addressed by present-day defensive social movements can only be solved by international coordination between great powers, while the history of industrial capitalism thus far shows that in phases like the present – marked by transition from globalization towards fragmentation – has been associated with a weakening (and even breakdown) of such international coordination. Thus, even if present-day social movements in the Nordic countries would be able to establish sustainable welfare states based on green industrial economies and tight control of immigration, they would remain exposed to risks of international financial instability, pressures from international commitments (e.g. human rights regimes) and climate change resulting from global warming. The new social movements in Norden will not be as successful as the older ones.
Old and New Social Movements in the Nordic Countries: History and Future in an International Perspective