What is conservatism in Norway? 

By Sigurd Neubauer

01/16/2023

In the U.S., Norway is at times colloquially referred to as “socialist,” although it is a business friendly country with an open market-economy. At the same time, the state manages the largest Sovereign Wealth Fund in the world, formally known as The Government Pension Fund and holds significant ownership stakes in major Norwegian corporations. 

The Government Pension Fund is divided into two entities:  the Government Pension Fund Norway (which invests in Norway)  and the Government Pension Fund Global (which invests internationally).

While the country is indeed a social democracy, where the state plays an outsized role by providing citizens with “cradle to grave” services, it is also a constitutional monarchy.

The Norwegian monarchy’s popularity is still high. “We are, however, witnessing that the European monarchies are increasingly facing problems,” explains Kristin Clemet, a former cabinet official who spearheads the center-right Civita think tank in Oslo. 

“Very few are taking principled positions arguing in favor of the monarchy, including in Parliament where its future is debated every session,” Clemet, a prominent public intellectual says and quips: “The arguments in favor of the monarchy are pragmatic, while the arguments against the monarchy are more principled. Even the Conservative Party (Høyre) has a member of Parliament who opposes the monarchy, but the party is not happy about it.”

Clemet, a doyenne of Norway’s center-right, knows Høyre well. She served as Minister of Labor (1989-1990) under Prime Minister Jan P. Syse and represented the party in Parliament from 1989-1993. From 2001 to 2005 she was the Minister of Education and Research.

Kristin Clemet, the doyenne of Norwegian conservatism, is the CEO of Civita, a think tank in Oslo. Photo credit: CF-Wesenberg

On why the monarchy’s popularity may slip away, Clemet ties it to the general trend of royals – especially those outside of the line of succession – engulfed in what many people and the media perceive as scandals or “bad behavior.” She is, among others, referring to Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, who is publicly feuding with his brother,  Crown Prince William of Wales. Clemet also points to Prince Joachim of Denmark, the Count of Monpezat, who himself is having a conflict with Queen Magrethe II and his brother, Crown Prince Frederik

In Norway, Princess Märtha Louise, – who is not an heir to the throne – is also involved in what many consider to be scandalous behavior.  Clemet is referring to the Princess’ recent engagement to a self-proclaimed “shaman,”’ Durek Verrett. Her previous husband, Ari Behn, died by suicide in 2019. 

“I believe that the monarchies in Europe are moving slowly but gradually towards the end,” Clemet says. “The media environment that we have makes it difficult for royals as they on one hand are expected to be ‘normal’ and ‘revered’ on the other. This makes it an impossible balancing act, especially for those who are outside the line of succession, ” Clemet explains, before adding:  “But public support could return quickly” and cites an interview Princess Ingrid Alexandra of Norway, the daughter of Crown Prince Håkon, granted to public broadcaster NRK in honor of her 18th birthday on January 21, 2022.  She is second in line of succession to the Norwegian throne after her father.

Clemet does not expect a sudden end to the monarchy, but a gradual one in which either Parliament votes to suspend it or the children in line of succession not wanting to take on the responsibilities that comes with it. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Princess Ingrid Alexandra will become the last monarch of Norway,” the conservative doyenne explains.

The European monarchies are moving slowly but gradually towards the end
Popular support for King Harald V and Queen Sonia remains hight: Clemet. Photo credit: The Royal Castle
Social Conservatism, Christianity, and Wokeism 

The political parties that remain most supportive of the monarchy as an institution are the Center Party (SP), which is formerly known as the Farmer’s Party, the Progress Party, which is a right wing party, and Høyre, the conservative party.

The Center Party has staked out positions on social conservatism, including on the “gender debate,” which has also arrived in Norway, Clemet explains. SP is also supportive of promoting Christian values, she adds, referring to the “Church and State debate,” which is mostly dormant in the land of the midnight sun.

While the SP party is part of Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre’s center-left coalition, it is the one Norwegian party that is the closest aligned to what Clemet describes as ‘National Conservatism,’ where the role of Christianity in society is advocated for. The populist Progress Party (FrP) has also adopted Christian values, but to a lesser extent than SP, Clemet explains.

When it comes to Norway’s predominant conservative party, Høyre, which is the largest opposition party after having governed the country for eight years, from 2013-2021, under Prime Minister Erna Solberg, it “respects Christianity but Høyre does not mix religion and politics,” she says. 

Responding to what conservatism in Norway is, Clemet explains that the term is used differently than in the United States. It is anchored in classical liberalism, the intellectual heritage of the Enlightenment, but Norwegian conservatives – who often refer to themselves as Liberal-Conservative – which makes its strand a “very liberal type of conservatism,” the former minister  explains.

Høyre, for example, considers itself to be a “reform friendly party,” but the days since it married social conservatism with low taxes are long gone. Former Prime Minister Kåre Willoch (1981-1986) famously declared: “We are neither revolutionary or reactionary, but we are reform friendly.”

Presently, Høyre remains committed to lower taxes, especially in comparison to the ruling Labor party (AP), but the country does not have low taxes, including during the tenure of the Solberg government.

And it is the only major party that is clearly pro-EU. It supports climate change initiatives and a strong national defense.

Norway's Constitution Day, May 17, remains a popular holiday

When it comes to the Progress Party (FrP), which many consider as populist in nature and anti-immigrant, Clemet describes it as an “ideological hybrid” with both liberalism, right-wing populism, national conservatism and social democracy within the party. 

Prior to the Solberg government bringing it into the political mainstream, FrP – and its voters – was ostracized by polite society and had been since its founding in the 1970s considered to be Norway’s equivalent of the “deplorables.” 

On how America’s ever-increasing polarization is perceived in Norway, Clemet reveals that many are “shocked” and hope it won’t come to Norway. To drive home her point, she points out that no senior politicians in Høyre consider former President Donald Trump in favorable terms, for example, but notes that the only major Norwegian political figure to express some positive thoughts when Trump was first elected in 2016, was Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, the leader of the SP party and the current Finance Minister. 

Vedum serves in Prime Minister Gahr Støre’s center-left coalition.

The public debate in Norway does not center around Culture War issues

When it comes to the subject of ‘Culture War,’ the conservative doyenne concedes that it “exists” in Norway, but that the public debate does not revolve around it. In some circles, saying that there are “two genders” has nonetheless become controversial, she adds. 

Norway is not immune to America’s Culture Wars.

“Last year, a prominent academic declared that it was a problem that so many ‘foreign academics’ do not understand  Norway and the Norwegian context.” She was “canceled” as a result, Clemet says, adding that it has become possible to “get canceled” in Norway but that it is not on the same level as it is in the U.S. In this particular case, she also enjoyed a lot of support in the public debate.

Referring to her own family, “which is very diverse,” the conservative doyenne explains that “what does it help if all of them only vote for Høyre?,” a reference she’s making to intellectual diversity. 

When Clemet publicly calls for intellectual diversity, her writing tends to be positively received, she says. “Writing these types of articles are not ‘dangerous’ in Norway,” she adds.

Clemet also serves on the board of the University of Oslo where “many researchers don’t want to discuss issues related to gender and immigration out of fear of retribution.”

She also points to a recent research paper that found that Norwegian academics tend to be further to the left than their countrymen. “When the paper was released, the researchers faced uncomfortable feedback from their fellow academics,” Clemet says, adding that the global trend centering on a narrowing space for what is considered “acceptable discourse” has arrived in Norway as well. “Sweden is worse, but Denmark remain the most open country in Scandinavia when it comes to the ability to openly discuss contemporary issues.” 

Norwegian academics are increasingly afraid of discussing topics related to gender and immigration

 The European Union versus NATO

The governing Labor Party (Ap) used to be pro-EU, Clemet explains but because a significant part of its constituency opposes it, the party has become more unclear about its position vis-a-vis Brussels. 

Norway rejected joining the EU twice, first in 1972 and then again in 1994. No additional attempts have since been made to join the EU as the population overwhelmingly opposes it, according to various polls.

When it comes to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it is the opposite, Clemet explains. The war in Ukraine has impacted popular support for the military alliance. Its Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, a former Prime Minister of Norway, remains popular in Norway as well. The Socialist Party (SV) and the Communist Party (Rødt) continue to oppose NATO. SV, Clemet predicts, will continue to debate the merits of NATO membership – and will once again oppose it on ideological grounds – but will most likely decide against immediately leaving the alliance because of the war in Ukraine. 

SV and Rødt are also ideologically opposed to the monarchy.

The Royal Castle in Oslo
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