The New Yorker reports on The Initiative, Sweden’s new “Alternativet” party
Exciting to read (in no less than the New Yorker magazine) about The Initiative, Sweden’s new party connected to and inspired by Alternativet in Denmark. The Swedish general elections are next year, and Intiativet are going to deploy the same methods that gained Alternativet their ten seats in the last Danish national elections, and significant advance in the recent local elections - that is, setting up political laboratories throughout the country to inform their manifesto.
Here’s an excerpt from the piece, reporting on the comments of The Initiative’s co-founder, MIcheal Wernstedt:
Wernstedt wants to reinvent politics. The Initiative’s most important innovation is launching a party without a program but with two lists. One is a list of six values that the Party espouses: courage, openness, compassion, optimism, co-creation, and actionability. The other is a list of three crises that the Party must address: the crisis of faith in democracy, the environmental crisis, and the crisis of mental health. Last year, according to Wernstedt, Swedes missed more workdays for being mentally unwell than they did for being physically unwell; the leading cause of death among people under thirty-five is suicide. Starting next week, the Initiative plans to begin holding workshops around Sweden to develop a political program to address the three crises in ways consistent with the six values.
Wernstedt, who is thirty-five, used to work as an international lawyer. Five or six years ago, he told me, he realized that he found his outwardly successful life deeply unsatisfying. He started casting about for a meaningful project. One happened to be handy: Wernstedt’s grandmother is Nina Lagergren, the half-sister of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Budapest before vanishing into the Soviet Gulag. Lagergren had spent several decades working to find out what happened to Wallenberg and to publicize his plight. When Wernstedt was having his crisis of purpose, Lagergren had recently founded the Raoul Wallenberg Academy, a human-rights and leadership school for teen-agers. Wernstedt took over the enterprise and, in just four years, he said, expanded it from fifty to ten thousand students. Then he travelled the world with his partner, Lemarc Thomas, looking for new ways to apply himself. When the couple suggested organizing for L.G.B.T. rights in Kenya, local activists told them to stand down. But when they made it to Thomas’s home island of St. Helena they volunteered their services for a referendum on same-sex marriage; when that failed, they filed a test case, which is currently pending before the island’s Supreme Court. Then they returned to Sweden, and Wernstedt decided to start a political party.
Philosophical inspiration for the project came from the work of Emil Ejner Friis and Daniel Görtz, who together created Hanzi Freinacht, an imaginary “philosopher, historian, and sociologist” who lives in seclusion in the Swiss Alps. Freinacht blogs at metamoderna.org, where he puts forward ideas of a society based on the principles of metamodernism, a school of thought that purports to succeed postmodernism. Metamodernism combines the hope of modernism with the critique of postmodernism. It is both questioning and visionary, and it believes in the future. Most important, Freinacht writes, a metamodern politics moves beyond liberal ideas toward shared responsibility for maximizing the happiness and health of everyone in the world. Welfare, in metamodern politics, must not merely guarantee material well-being and physical health but also “a listening society, where every person is seen and heard.”
A political party born of this philosophy cannot claim to tell people what’s good for them. It is a vessel for their needs and desires; otherwise it must be, as Freinacht puts it, “a party about nothing.” Wernstedt and about forty allies began the Initiative expecting only to design a new way of creating a party. They quickly discovered, though, that there is nothing more difficult than collectively devising a process for collective decision-making. They scrapped the blank slate in favor of a few basic starting points: a party leader (Wernstedt), a governing board of seven, and the lists of values and crises.
Everything else about the Initiative is expected to emerge from the workshops. The Danish Alternative has followed the same process, eventually involving about a thousand people in a series of twenty-five-person workshops led by about seventy party facilitators. Facilitators are to the Alternative what field organizers and political consultants are to conventional political parties: everything. Few observers in Denmark took the Alternative seriously when it launched, in 2013, but just two years later the new party was seated in parliament; this year, it turned in a respectable performance in local elections.
The facilitated-workshop process does not end with the drafting of a party platform: the process is ongoing, and it is very much the point of the Initiative’s existence. Wernstedt hopes that the process might inspire or engage other parties, eventually transforming the very perception of how democracy works. In his vision, Swedish politicians will then stop “talking about whether we need to lower taxes by one per cent or increase taxes by one per cent,” he said, and start talking instead about a future in which only about half the population has a job but everyone receives an income, in which technological advances and behavioral adjustments have transformed consumption and revolutionized education, and in which politics is continuously co-created.
More here. And below, Uffe Elbaek, founder and leader of Alternativet, chats with the founding members of Initiativet:
The Turning House in Stockholm