Charles XI and Swedish Absolutism

Protestantism wasn’t always liberal.

Lutheranism in particular wasn’t always liberal in Europe. If anything is true, Martin Luther’s political theory was more compatible with nationalism, statism and absolutism than with liberalism which first emerged in England and the Netherlands.

The genealogy of liberalism within Lutheranism traces back to the cultural influence of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schleiermacher and runs through the Enlightenment and Higher Criticism which began in the 18th century. It does not trace all the way back to the Reformation. There used to be no such thing as “religious tolerance” in Northern Europe under Lutheranism.

What was Northern Europe like after the Reformation but before the Enlightenment when church and state were integrated?

The following excerpt comes from A.F. Upton’s book Charles XI and Swedish Absolutism, 1660-1697:

“Charles XI’s worldview was one of simple black and white certainties derived from his Lutheran upbringing. Papists were by definition corrupt and untrustworthy. Louis XIV and the whole French nation were unreliable, for if they perceived some wordly advantage, ‘they would become Turks, for his conduct in recent times is little better’. Calvinists, though they counted as Evangelical, were almost as bad and the king wholly supported the refusal of his clergy to grant them more than the most grudging toleration. The Lutheran Evangelical religion embraced the whole of God’s truth and any deviation from it was destructive and subversive.

It was on this rock of faith that Charles XI constructed his conception of his kingly function. It is easy to simply label this as absolutist. A sermon by Andreas Nohrmoraeus, which the king ordered to be printing in 1673, stressed the duty of absolute obedience; God and king stood together, ‘two great monarchs,’ and the subject who “does not obey Your world in that you command us, he shall die’. …

The other universal interface between authority and the ordinary subject was the Lutheran Church. Its importance cannot be exaggerated; it was fundamental to the working of the system. It is axiomatic that stable government depends not on coercive force, but on its legitimacy in the eyes of the governed, so that its rulings are obeyed not out of fear, but as moral obligation lying on all. All over Christian Europe it was the duty of the Church to provide the necessary indoctrination and therefore it was almost universally agreed that religious dissent was a mortal danger to any society. Svedberg visited England in 1674, and admired almost everything he saw, except the religious dissent, which appalled him. ‘Disunity is of the Devil, who promotes it and provides the greatest satisfaction from it, especially in the teachers of the congregation.’ There was no Catholic threat in Sweden; old practices survived in the countryside, but organized Catholicism did not. The church was neurotic about the menace of Calvinism, and the king shared its anxiety, and supported all measures to exclude it. Foreign Calvinists resident in the kingdom could practice their faith in private, but if they settled must bring up their children as Lutheran. Thus Sweden enjoyed the distinction of being a rare community without religious dissent …

His opponents knew that the suppression of stimulation was the price they must pay to preserve the religious cohesion they enjoyed. So all novelty was blocked out. The king wholly approved of that; a censorship law of 1684 required pre-publication censorship of all printed material, either by the universities, or by the Chancery. A few thought this went too far; Bishop J. Rudbeck commented: ‘no honest man can write anything useful in public, and I would be delinquent if I did.’ Thought control and conditioning was the main business of the Church. It was given total control of education, and all teachers were members of the Estate of the Clergy. The education ordinance of 1693, largely the work of Spegel and Lindschold, confirmed this. There was to be a gymnasium in every diocese, and a system of Trivial Schools to feed them. A national curriculum was prescribed, of a strongly conservative, Aristotelian character. …

Orthodox belief was transmitted by the universities and schools, and through the professional training of the clergy down into the homes of the people. The Church Law, following well established practice, prescribed that the priest must maintain a full list, house by house, of all parishioners and visit them systematically. He was to ensure that all, including wives, children and servants, could read in a book, ‘and to see with their own eyes what God in his holy word commands and orders. There were three levels of competence in reading: to read Luther’s Small Catechism, to read Luther’s Preface to the catechism and finally ‘to learn the language of Scripture on which our faith rests, and also with their own simple words to say whether they understand its true meaning’. This was backed up by the compulsory catechism school every Sunday afternoon, and the work of the parish clerk, who should be literate, and had the duty of teaching basic religious knowledge.”

Liberalism did not exist under Charles XI’s absolutist government.

There was no such thing as religious tolerance. Lutheranism was the official state religion of Sweden. It was the cultural framework of Sweden. Lutheran and Aristotelian values were drilled into the Swedes by the state through the churches and the schools. Sweden was ethnically, culturally and religiously homogeneous with a Finnish minority. Patriotism as opposed to self hatred was taught during the Swedish Empire.

The ideal Lutheran citizen of Sweden was expected to contribute to “the welfare of the realm” by being “upright, moderate, helpful, loyal, honest, sincere, loving, charitable, gentle, peaceable, conciliatory, non-partisan, unselfish, consensual and hard working.” Notice the huge difference between absolutism and liberalism in education was that under absolutism the emphasis was on cultural homogeneity and instilling religion and healthy morals into the public rather than filling their heads with useless knowledge and leaving morality to popular culture.

Note: Sweden even had a foothold in North America.

About the Author

Hunter Wallace
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent

7 Comments on "Charles XI and Swedish Absolutism"

  1. I was raised Lutheran. Like you, Hunter.

    Here in North Texas, there seem to be more Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Lutherans, than Catholics and Baptists. Although every medium sized town, like Paris or Bonham, for example, has it’s Catholic Church. There are also Mennonites in Lamar County, btw.

    As an aside, this confuses Yankees, who seem to think that the only churches here are of the snake handling holy roller variety. But then, they’re surprised that we have electricity, roads, railroads, factories, and use Combines to harvest our wheat, corn and milo.

  2. Slate Slabrock | December 12, 2019 at 2:34 pm |

    The problem with posting these weird totalitarian theocracies to “prove” that not all Christians are liberal, is that they tend to be so awful that they are one of the few things capable of making liberalism look good.

    >All over Christian Europe it was the duty of the Church to provide the necessary indoctrination and therefore it was almost universally agreed that religious dissent was a mortal danger to any society.

    This is not in keeping with the spirit of our people. Whites aren’t a traditionalist race, like the Imperium from Warhammer 40k, no matter how much people try to fit them into that mold.

    We, in the Alt-Right, are religious dissenters and you’re posting an ideology that would censor and physically suppress…us. That same spirit that animates the Alt-Right would force us to criticize Swedish absolutism when it inevitably went bad.

    It’s no surprise that the protestant theocracies were relatively short lived.

    • Christianity was around for around 1,650 years before the earliest glimmerings of liberalism.

      The article above is specifically about Lutheranism in Sweden between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. It was hardly the only case though in which church and state were integrated. It was no different in Catholic Spain. The ideal of religious tolerance and a free society only gradually emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries. Even England was roiled by religious conflict.

      • Slate Slabrock | December 12, 2019 at 6:49 pm |

        From early proto-Protestant sects that were suppressed by force, to the Protestant reformers, to those who defied Protestant Orthodoxy later on, there has been a consistent desire on the part of at least some Whites to move away from totalitarian theocracies of the kind described in this article. And to think for themselves.

        And just as Protestantism eventually led to an unpleasant theocracy, today we live in a post-Protestant theocracy, where the greatest crime is dissent against the liberal orthodoxy. (Thinking for yourself)

        The society described in this article is simply not appealing to most people.

      • Spahnranch1969 | December 12, 2019 at 7:56 pm |

        Our pagan ancestors weren’t so uptight about religious beliefs, as long as they weren’t subversive. The Romans, for example, never forced the Gauls or the Britons to worship Jupiter and Juno.

  3. Esoteric Du30ist | December 12, 2019 at 3:44 pm |

    What, in your estimation or from your perspective as a Lutheran, is the opposition to Calvinism as a system of theology? I was raised in a Presbyterian church that belongs to the most conservative national church organization of the denomination, so it is no surprise that I agree with all five points of TULIP. It has always been my understanding that the five points of Calvinism are simply one way to think about and acknowledge the complete sovereignty of God, but disagreements with other denominations about limited atonement – which doesn’t really mean that Christ only had enough power to die as a sacrifice for some people, though I have heard it said by critics of Calvinists – are certainly not enough to warrant the animosity that apparently exists between them. My own denomination’s motto is “in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

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