The Relational Nordic Welfare State
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The Relational Nordic Welfare State

Between Utopia and Ideology

Edited by Sakari Hänninen, Kirsi-Marja Lehtelä and Paula Saikkonen

The success of the Nordic welfare state is well known, but the key drivers of its remarkable expansion are not. This book explores the relationships between citizens that constitute the normative groundwork of Nordic societies, arguing that the quality of relations steers welfare development.
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Epilogue: the Nordic welfare state beyond ideology and utopia

Sakari Hänninen, Kirsi-Marja Lehtelä and Paula Saikkonen


The Nordic welfare states have been, so far, a success story. The cumulatively effective truth of this virtuous circle of development can be traced to the dynamic interplay and rational mediation and balancing of opposite interests and forces in society. It can be considered as the humanist Nordic legacy of the civilised variety of capitalism which has provided the common normative core based on social relations such as trust, reciprocity and cooperation. The normative core of the Nordic welfare states has been challenged by neoliberalism which calls into question any and all collective structures that are deemed as obstacles to the smooth running of the market. Since the Nordic welfare states have been constructed in terms of collective interests rather than individual rights, the neoliberal offensive accelerates and is accelerated by the trends towards individuation, privatisation and personal responsibilisation. The neoliberal offensive aims at the restructuration and privatisation of the state which has also advanced quite rapidly in the Nordic countries since the 1990s. Even if the neoliberal tendencies in the Nordic countries are real and influential, their significance in the Nordic countries should not be over-exaggerated. Different chapters in this book have analysed and specified how the strength of the relational Nordic welfare state has been, and still is, its capacity to meet the changing circumstances and to transform without giving up its foundational principles of equality, solidarity, reciprocity, public responsibility, universalism and autonomy. These principles have not only guided the functioning of the welfare state but also that of its most civilising business enterprises. After all, it is the political and social creativity which is the dynamo of these societies now facing truly impressive challenges such as social and environmental sustainability, globalisation, ageing and multiple tendencies of social differentiation.

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