"War has a long tail": The Swedish parliament and the early modern roots of the 200 years peace
Sweden has enjoyed peace for more than 200 years: an almost unparalleled achievement in recorded history. But the country was growing more peaceful long before its final war in 1814. Therefore the explanations for Sweden’s long peace should be traced back to the early modern era.
This article argues that the strong position of the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag, explains this development at least in part. There are four interacting reasons for the peaceful influence of the Riksdag, which gain theoretical support both from modern political science and the philosopher Immanuel Kant. First, the representation of broad strata of Swedish society in the Riksdag ensured that it was dominated by men who had more to lose than to win from war. Second, research has shown that states where collective decision-making is the norm are more prone to learn the lessons of war. Third, the Riksdag could channel the opposition to war. Fourth, the internal peace that the Riksdag had helped bring about was easily externalised to foreign policy as negotiations became the preferred means of conflict resolution. The article demonstrates that peace years tended to coincide with the Riksdag enjoying a strong position. Conversely, there were more wars during periods of autocratic rule.
To determine the validity of this proposition attitudes to war in the Riksdag during the period 1642–1710 are investigated along with attitudes to war in a collection of Swedish proverbs from the seventeenth century. The investigation shows that attitudes towards war were more negative than positive among the society’s elite, i.e. the estates of the nobility and the clergy, and grew ever more peaceful during the course of the late 1600s. This can be seen in the replies to the royal propositions presented by these estates during the sessions of the Riksdag. It is also clear that the clergy, together with the estates of the burghers and the peasants tried to influence the rulers in a peaceful direction in different ways. Among the proverbs, negative attitudes to war were far more common than positive attitudes.
Most likely the negative attitudes to war were a consequence of the heavy burdens of war that the inhabitants continued to suffer without reaping the rewards promised by the government. Furthermore, more frequent periods of peace made the subjects believe that conditions of peace, rather than war, were normal and desirable.
The members of the Riksdag thus had both negative attitudes towards war and actively pursued peace. This behaviour provides support for the thesis put forward here, although there were certainly many other factors that are likely to have influenced the outcome. Further studies are required in order to reach a final conclusion on the role of popular legislative assemblies in promoting peace.
2016. Vol. 136, no 2, 149-184 p.