Political scientist Andreas Johansson Heinö’s thesis How much diversity can democracy sustain? The dilemmas of democracy in a multicultural Sweden explores the relationship between democracy and cultural diversity.

Democracies have historically developed within nation-states. National homogeneity has therefore been considered to be a vital prerequisite for democracy. Today these ideas are recurring as part of liberal criticism of cultural diversity.

’There is a widespread belief that diversity and tolerance must be controlled in order to safeguard democracy. While diversity is still considered to be important, many people feel that it should not be promoted at the expense of universalism, equality and secularism’, says Johansson Heinö.

Aggravation of three democratic dilemmas
The study is a critical analysis of the research and debate on the multicultural society, and shows that three democracy problems in particular are aggravated in multicultural societies: it becomes more difficult to define who is included and who is not, it becomes more difficult to create a shared democratic value system and it becomes more difficult to achieve popular legitimacy for democracy.

‘Historically, nationalist ideas have been successful by creating a strong link between democracy and the nation. The main weakness of multiculturalism is that it has not been able to offer any coherent alternative to this link while the main weakness of liberalism is that it tends to underestimate the need for a collective identity in a society’, says Johansson Heinö.

Few democracies have changed as dramatically as Sweden. From having been one of the world’s most culturally and socio-economically homogenous societies, the country adopted many multicultural policies in the 1970s. Today there is a general consensus that the Swedish integration policy has failed. Should Sweden then abandon multiculturalism?
No. Sweden’s problem is not its multiculturalism, but rather its anti-nationalism. While Sweden’s multiculturalism has been good overall, it has been combined with a rejection of nationalism and assimilation. But all states must be built on some kind of shared identification’, says Johansson Heinö. We need a debate about what we should build our sense of community on. Should it be language, culture, history or some particular values?’

Title of the thesis: How much diversity can democracy sustain? The dilemmas of democracy in a multicultural Sweden.

Author of the thesis: Andreas Johansson Heinö, telephone +46 (0)735 967208, +46 (0)31 7864146 andreas.johansson.heino@pol.gu.se