Review: Travels in Cultural Nihilism by Stephen Pax Leonard

Bark Kantatas, Going Postal


“One wonders if there are any frontiers or limits to this celebration of diversity.  Is one meant to jump and cheer in the name of anti-racism if we elect a Muslim Prime Minister or if our greatest cathedrals become mosques?”

Travels in Cultural Nihilism has been woefully underpublicized for reasons that will emerge as this review unfolds.  The book came out in March but I hadn’t heard of it until I read about it in the Salisbury Review (SR) at the beginning of this month.

Stephen Pax Leonard is a young, Oxford-based social anthropologist, specialising in the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.  Three things follow.  First, he visits Sweden regularly and has been able to observe the insidious tightening of its “spiral of silence and self-censorship”, the account of which provides the centre of gravity of the book.  Secondly, he wonders if “Travels” might prove to be his academic swansong on account of its polemic against supranational orthodoxies.  Third, Leonard remarks drily that by recording the languages and customs of Arctic peoples, he is a professional celebrant of diversity, albeit in the opposite sense to the spurious one contemplated by the forces of globalization.

The book consists of twelve loosely connected essays, two on the Swedish dystopia, one on European federalism, one on Russia and Eastern Europe and two on the Jihadi agenda.  The remaining six are more generic, ranging across globalization, group think, oikophobia and competitive victimhood.   This sounds like well-trodden ground but Leonard’s research has been thorough and he has unearthed a treasury of hair-raising facts.   Just to whet your appetite, here are ten that were news to me (with page references).

In 2015, Nicky Morgan launched a policy to force teachers to report children who disapprove of homosexuality to the police (97).  A German couple were imprisoned for 10 months for voicing concerns about the refugee crisis on Facebook (87).  Notts Plod has officially classified wolf-whistling as a hate-crime (84).  Halal meat is now the only meat option in most Oxford colleges (53).  At the end of 2015, mobs of Arab and Pakistani men waving flags and shouting Allahu Akbar were filmed piling up on the Macedonian and Hungarian borders (117).

Up to a dozen illegal night flights per night between Turkey and Cologne took place between 1am and 6am in August 2016 to ferry refugees (125).  A totalising surveillance system, originating in Iraq and using Cessna planes, was used over Baltimore for six months before anyone knew and has still not been officially admitted (175).  President Nicolas Sarkozy made a speech in 2008 promising compulsory miscegenation (188).   Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, 25,000 Russian Orthodox Churches have been built, mostly with oligarch money (207). The US-South Korea Free Trade Agreement was completed in just 13 months (240).

The most focused and certainly the most revelatory essays are the fifth and sixth, “The Swedish Topos” and “Totalitarian Air Waves”, in which Sweden is showcased as the crucible for cultural nihilism.

The Sverigedemokaterna party (or SD) is the only Swedish party to oppose unlimited immigration and for this reason it is strangely invisible, even though it polls close to 20%.  Its placards are defaced or torn down.  Postmen refuse to deliver its literature and newspapers refuse to carry its adverts.  Candidates have bricks thrown through their windows .  The party election hut was burnt down. Its HQ is now in an unmarked garage.  Three influential Danish political parties have urged the Council of Europe to send observers to Sweden to monitor violations of democracy.   Electoral ballots are not even properly secret – you have to choose a different strip of paper depending on your preferred candidate; the only way to dissimulate (or try to) is to grab a handful.

The non-negotiable norms are in Sweden egalitarianism, the tryggher (sense of security) provided by the welfare system and gender equality.   SD, when they are mentioned at all, are portrayed as “norm-violators”, simultaneously “nationalist” and “unSwedish”.   The doublethink ramifies.  SD is seen as “evil” because it is the only party seen not to be supporting the victim group.  But Elderly Swedes whose benefits will be shrunk to subsidise new arrivals (60% of welfare benefits in Sweden are paid to immigrants) are ineligible as victims because they are ethnic Swedes.  To the extent that rape is still reported, the perpetrator’s ethnicity is soft-pedalled as  “newly arrived Swede”.  Official policy is to eliminate future conflict by removing the concept of nationhood altogether, though Sweden takes conspicuous pride in setting a compassionate example to the world.

Even though Sweden’s neighbours al l share its Jantelagen mentality to some degree, they can spot advanced collective psychosis when they see it. Norway warned last year that in the event that civil order breaks down in Sweden, it will defy the Geneva Convention and close the border to stop the contagion from spreading (see Zerohedge 24 Feb 2016).

Swedish talk radio consists of little else than stories in which minorities are discriminated against.   There are frequent plays, all of which encourage a sense of self-loathing and collective guilt.  Playwrights and authors with foreign backgrounds are invited on to talk about their emotions and the racism they have experienced. Brian Eassty, reviewing the book in the SR, says that station P1 (like Radio 4) sounds like a never-ending edition of Woman’s Hour.   As PJW is wont to say, let that sink in.

In 2013, the Government allowed police to access IP addresses to identify when online hate-crimes occurred and granted the Swedish Media Council SEK 1 million for initiatives to combat online xenophobia, sexism and other perceived intolerance.

Edward Snowden revealed that Sweden is a key partner to the US in mass internet surveillance, and the Swedish FRA (signal surveillance) law permits comprehensive snooping.  The Swedish state keeps a record of everything said in telephone conversations, surfed on the web or written on the internet.  The entire population is tapped all the time without judicial approval.   By law, every telephone and Internet operator in Sweden has to have a cable linked to the Government’s server.  Every piece of communication is examined using 250,000 search criteria.

The Snowden links also reveal that Sweden spied on Russian leaders and shared the data with the US.  Leaked documents show that Sweden is a key NSA collaborator because 80% of Russia’s internet traffic passes through Sweden.   Sweden had a bilateral agreement with the NSA long before the FRA law was introduced, in consequence of which the NSA gave Sweden access to Xkeyscore, the turbocharged electronic trawler, which can assemble lists of people who frequent forums like this one.

Like Douglas Murray, Leonard, reports from a selection of countries, but (apart for a solitary Inuit) we don’t get to hear anyone else’s voice, which makes the authorial tone sound more declamatory than maybe it needs to be.  Unlike Murray, Leonard devotes his final chapter to a broad-brush survival strategy entailing a new “cultural grammar” (he’s an anthropologist) which sounds like it has already been instinctively deployed by Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg.  He doesn’t address the surely necessary overhaul of the benefits and civil liberties legislation but in a book of such ambitious scope, that shouldn’t be seen as a fault.

These essays are not organised systematically, as the author admits, and show some signs of having been written in haste.  This means that there are more dots he could have joined up.  For instance, although he mentions Gramsci, he doesn’t ram home the Swedish polity’s obvious debt to the Frankfurt School.  The confusing of gender roles, teaching homosexuality to children, mobilization of women as revolutionaries against men, large-scale immigration to abolish nationhood, dependency on the state for employments or benefits, control and infantilization of the media: the Swedish experiment ticks every box.

Other material to which I cannot do justice here but which the book will enable you to explore online are the Eastern counter-narratives (Putin, Orbán, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow), the Al Qaeda manual, “Management of Savagery” by Abu Bakr Naji and plenty of YouTube clips of radical clerics, telling it like it is.  Maybe one day, muttonheads like Amber Rudd will pay attention, but let’s not hold our breath.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book.  You will get an exceptional amount of bang for your buck.  Stephen Pax Leonard is an erudite and impassioned writer and a man to watch.

© Bark Kantatas

Available from Amazon here.