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Law and Order as a Leftist Project? The Case of Sweden

NCJ Number
Punishment & Society Volume: 3 Issue: 3 Dated: July 2001 Pages: 409-426
Henrik Tham
Date Published
July 2001
18 pages
This article discusses a number of elements of and explanations for the sharpening of Social Democratic crime policy in Sweden, which in the past has been associated with leftist/liberal crime-control policies.
Since the 1970's crime policy has become politicized. Conservative parties have launched the law-and-order theme and exploited crime fears in political campaigns. Social Democratic and other leftist parties have more or less reluctantly followed. Since the 1990's, however, the political left itself seems now to take the lead in the reshaping of crime policy in a less liberal direction. Tendencies toward such a development are clearly discernible in Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the Scandinavian countries. This trend in Sweden manifests itself in the increasing emphasis on crime as a problem and the demand for intervention against all types of social ills, in the growing ambition to create a "drug-free society," and attempts to strengthen a specific belief in zero tolerance as a disciplinary instrument in a hardening market climate. This shift apparently occurred around 1980 at a point when the trend toward increasing economic equality was reversed in Sweden. In the future, the electoral base of the Social Democrats faces losses of power, status, and optimism. In this condition of increasing uncertainty about the future and diminishing support for traditional political reform, the issue of law and order will have priority. The crime problem will be perceived with more alarm, thus producing more radical solutions. Deviance will be viewed as a threat to the collective. Consensus and integration must be re-established. Thus, traditional Social Democratic crime policy based on expertise and a Weberian means-end rationality is drifting toward a policy inspired by populism and a Durkheimian problem of order. 10 notes and 59 references


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