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Arthur Engberg

Just nu håller jag på att avsluta ett konferenspaper om den politiska diskussionen om kyrkan och kulturarvet i mellankrigstidens Sverige. Bland annat skriver jag om den tongivande socialdemokratiske ecklesiastikministern (1932-1939) Arthur Engberg:

"The minister chosen to lead the Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs - and thus to be beresponsible for education, culture and church affairs - was the radical journalist and intellectual Arthur Engberg. He would hold his ministerial position until 1939, when the government was reorganized as a broad wartime coalition and the leader of the Conservative party became Engberg’s successor as the head of the Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs. During the previous decades, Engberg had been both a member of parliament and an active voice in Social Democratic newspapers. He was often identified as belonging to the radical left of the Social Democratic Party, but although openly inspired by the writings of Karl Marx, he remained within the Party when the radical - partially Communist - faction broke out to form its own party. As time progressed, he also became increasingly opposed to authoritarian Communism, but there was also allways another side to Engberg’s worldview. Blomqvist (2006) has described how Engberg’s anti-capitalism was originally combined with anti-Semitism, and how it was only after the establishment of the Third Reich in Germany that he started to distance himself from his earlier anti-Semitic views.

Engberg’s writings include numerous references to Oswald Spengler’s 'The Decline of the West.' While Engberg questioned the deterministic aspects of this work, he appears to have shared Spengler’s concerns about the decreasing vitality and of an increasingly superficial Western culture. In contrast to Spengler, he considered the empowerment of the people – both in the democratic and in the ethno-nationalist sense of the word – to be the key to a possible reinvigoration of Swedish culture, and of Western culture in general. As a member of parliament and as a government minister, he argued for an active cultural and educational policy aimed at increasing the cultural enlightenment of the people as a whole, regardless of class, a view that became highly influential in the formation of 20th century Swedish cultural policy as a policy field focusing on supporting and increasing the access to high culture (Frenander 2005, Harding 2007). This high culture had elements of both recognized high art and traditions, the latter being the most relevant part to this article. In a lecture Engberg gave on national radio in 1941, he took a medieval icon in a local church as his point of departure for a reflection that gives us an image of his views of tradition:

The world of tradition is the world of reverence. There, we approach the personalities of the past. There ,voices whisper from the graves. There, live story and memory. Family, neighborhood and people meet us. [...] We become a link in a development which started before us and will continue after us. [...] There, they made their deeds, their joys and their sorrows, fought and suffered (Engberg 1941).
Engberg was not unique within Swedish Social Democracy in building on the past. On the contrary, Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson often described Social Democratic policies as a continuation of a long Swedish tradition of free yeoman farmers and of the proto-democracy of the medieval things and parish councils. With a term already used by both the national conservative political scientist and parliamentarian Rudolf Kjellén and the Young Church Movement, he described his vision as a 'folkhem', a home for the people, combining the levels of home, demos and ethnos (Lagergren 1999, Linderborg 2001).
While Engberg was not unique in his respect for Swedish traditions, he was unusually vehement in his rejection of institutional religion, if not of spirituality as such. During the early part of his political career, his position could be described as anti-Christian, certainly as anti-clerical, describing himself as a “heathen” and making a sharp distinction between Christianity and a humanistic Western tradition originating in classical Greece. As he wrote in a newspaper editorial in 1919:
The free and manly heathendom which emanates throughout history from a Socrates, is in need of a renaissance. But its victory, which is a victory for a higher culture, has to be celebrated on the ruins of the Christian view of life (Engberg 1919).
This victory was, in his view, not far away. In a manner similar to Nietzsche’s (2002) reasoning in 'Beyond Good and Evil', he argued that Neo-Protestantism, or Liberal Protestantism, represented a form of hypocrisy, where the religious establishment, faced with the scientific world view, had abandoned all claims to providing a factual description of the universe and thus becoming meaningless (Engberg …).  This is what he referred to as “the official lie in religious matters” (Engberg 1945 …). In order to deal with this he published a six-step program to abolish the state church (Claesson 2004). [...]
In this program, Engberg argued for the separation of Church and state to be preceded by the merging of parishes and civil municipalities, thus of the abolition of Church autonomy on the local level, as well as the abolition of religious education in the obligatory school system. The power of the Church over the people needed to be disarmed before it was freed from government control."

Tillägg 2015-04-24: Den fullständiga texten finns nu publicerad i International Journal of Cultural Policy och är tillgänglig här.

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