A comedian, or perhaps a philosopher, (it’s such a fine line) once said that if the entire world were made the same height, hair color, eye color, and religion overnight, the world would still divide into innumerable sects and find another reason to discriminate against each other by noon the next day. 

Last Wednesday, a British soldier was grabbed by Muslims and beheaded in the middle of the street in Woolwich, England. There are a number of things to be said about the tragedy, and a number of things that should not be said. For better or for worse, almost all of those things have been said.

Not long after the murder, police in Sweden shot an elderly Muslim man who was wielding a machete, the same weapon used to decapitate the British soldier. After the killing, mobs of mostly Muslim youths rioted all across the suburbs of Stockholm. Again, there are a multitude of debates that can be brought up in wake of the tragedies. From whether Islam is inherently violent, to whether the West has too lax an immigration policy, or to the cowardly behavior of the Swedish police in failing to confront the rioters.  I will gracefully decline from entering those debates, and would instead like to point out the obvious.

The nation of Sweden is known for its political and economic egalitarianism. It’s often touted by members of the Left as one of Socialism’s success stories. The Right often counters that regardless the size of the state, the private sector is largely deregulated, and therefore powerful despite its size.

All of this however, is completely irrelevant. It doesn’t really matter whether socialism or capitalism is to credit for Sweden’s egalitarianism, and arguing about it is simply a waste of time. How Sweden achieved such egalitarianism is beside the point. All that matters is that Sweden is largely egalitarian and highly values equality and tolerance. The nation is one of the top five in the world that accepts asylum seekers, and has been able to boast of weathering the recession better than the other economies in Europe. However, the unfortunate and obvious fact is that no matter how egalitarian a society was created, it simply did not work. Sweden, the pride of Liberalism and tolerance, was shocked to discover that not all of its citizens could be made perpetually happy.

The riots in Sweden exhibit a fundamental flaw in the thoughts of the modern mind. We assume that the well-ordered society must care primarily for the material well-being of its citizens, but this is a gross oversimplification of the nature of man. Merely putting everyone on an equal footing won’t solve all the problems of society. You may give everyone a car, house, college education, birth control, and whatever else you can dream up, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if everyone is on the same material standing. They’ll find another reason to riot by noon.

In the aftermath of the riots, the Prime Minister of Sweden promised to send money to the “vulnerable” areas. A Danish Newspaper aptly captured the futility of this move by noting that “The millions will not be enough. Because it is not money that will make the difference. This is about a mindset and norms. The problem is not material, but cultural. It is based in a profound difference between the mentality that created the rich and well-functioning Sweden and the foreign mentality as shown by the immigrant youths. It is about time to realize that truth.”

This is why the conservative is skeptical of any philosophy that idolizes economists and calculators. There are some things that simply cannot be reflected in a spreadsheet. You can give people all the free stuff or enable them to advance their material interests all you like, but until there is a defining and unifying ideal to build a culture around, it doesn’t matter.

The modern mind, darkened by materialism, believes it can solve any problem with the proper application of blood and iron. A perfectly logical belief, if we start with the assumption that blood and iron is all that exists in the first place. But the conservative knows there is much more to human nature than meets the eye, and therefore, he knows the meaning of the Apostle’s warning that we wrestle not against flesh and blood.


Brian Miller | George Mason University | @BrianKenMiller