By this I mean less the actual country Denmark than an imagined society that is prosperous, democratic, secure and well governed, and experiences low levels of political corruption. “Denmark’ would have all three sets of political institutions in perfect balance: a competent state, a strong rule of law, and democratic accountability. The international community would like to turn Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Haiti into idealized places like “Denmark” but it doesn’t have the slightest idea of how to bring this about. As I argued earlier, part of the problem is that we don’t understand how Denmark itself came to be Denmark and therefore don’t comprehend the complexity and difficulty of political development.
Certainly anyone who has seen the Danish movie “A Royal Affair” will have observed that Danish society in 1800 was in a state of feudalism that English society had left by the late 1400s: the peasants were enserfed, had no property in their lands, and were obliged by the noble landowning class for everything they grew. Denmark only became a constitutional monarchy in 1849. The revolution that saw the end of absolute monarchy in England happened 161 years earlier, in 1688.
How then did Denmark move so rapidly and effectively to become one of the models of the world for stability, progress, peace and good order?
I have no idea.
But after a recent trip there I am pleased to suggest several cultural attributes we could do well to emulate.
- It is okay to be clever. From this attribute much else inevitably follows.
2. It is okay to eat meat and cheese. Charcuterie is a normal serving in a Danish wine bar/tavern. Note the subordination of vegetables to fats and proteins.
3. Globe-embracing capitalism
Denmark is headquarters to companies as diverse as Lego and Maersk shipping. Lego is cuter so it gets the photograph. See ‘cleverness’ above.
4. Vikings (see globe-embracing capitalism above)
5. Fit blond people
The people are remarkably fit-looking. Handsomeness and beauty cannot be achieved without breeding for it, and that implies an aesthetic sense and social arrangements whereby beautiful people were encouraged to breed and ugly ones bred out. It means women must always have had the power to turn down the proposals of ugly men, and vice versa. That means in turn that the chastity of daughters was protected by fathers and brothers without turning guardianship of daughters into purdah. There may be other implications to high degrees of beauty in a population, but I shall refrain from poaching in the territory of American Renaissance.
6. Architecture is taken seriously.
You may not like modernist architecture. But I have to commend a society where new building is not put up without thinking about how it will look in a hundred years. Below is the Danish Royal Opera.
The Danes turn the ‘v’ into a ‘u’ in places, so it is pronounced like Koebenhaun. A dozen times prettier than Amsterdam: no red light district, wider streets, less litter, with a couple of magnificent royal palaces.
The Amalienborg (above) features four identical palaces built around an octagonal square, with suitably pompous fountain and statue of King Fredrik V on horseback.
I recommend that you go there if you can.