Below is a translation by Rolf Krake of an article about former Danish prime minister Anders Fog Rasmussen that appeared in Politiken on May 12th. This was part of a pile of material that accumulated last month while I was in Copenhagen, but the content is not stale yet.
Note: in the article below, the phrase “cultural liberalism” can be taken to mean what is known as “classical liberalism” in the United States:
The New NATO Chief: Western values above all
There is one thing, which stands above all when Anders Fogh Rasmussen looks back upon his time as Prime Minister: Western values
There is almost something symbolic about Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s (Venstre: Classical Liberal) temporary office in the Foreign Ministry.
From the corner office in the State Ministry he is now back on the ground floor again — at eye level with the Danes. Precisely there, at the very place where one way or another the whole thing started.
Because when Anders Fogh Rasmussen today summarizes the project, for which he got the voters’ total support to bring to life in November 2001, it dealt with regaining the voters’ confidence in politicians, who for years had ignored the Danes’ concerns about increasing immigration, the sloppy justice policy, and the elite’s domination and know-it-all attitude.
Proud about the results
Fogh declares that he is proud about the factual results he now has entrusted to Lars Løkke Rasmussen [the new Prime Minister replacing Fogh]. A historically low unemployment rate, a considerable decrease in expanding immigrant family reunions, and a solid ceiling for taxation. Nevertheless it isn’t the “factual account” in Fogh’s administration which occupies him the most, but the bottom line in the battle of values he had put on the political agenda.
A battle which sent Danish soldiers into war in Iraq, divided the parliament and settled the debate with about the cultural radical influx (multiculturalism), that Western values of freedom are better than any other forms of governing.
“First and foremost I want to say that it was and is a values-based and a firm attitude project. One could summarize it in one word and say, what I would like to leave my mark on, is ‘cultural [classical] liberalism’ — And that you are welcome to perceive it as the opposite of cultural radicalism (multiculturalism),” says Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Free-spirited and a firmness on values
The coming Secretary General of NATO is busy putting the words on the project which a majority of the Danes has preferred three times in a row instead of a new Social-Democratic led government, which has been with but a few exceptions the tradition throughout the 20th century.
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“To be a cultural liberal is a combination of a free spirit and a firm attitude towards values. I feel a strong connection with the European tradition of enlightenment. The belief in the individual as a being of reason. The belief based on enlightenment and education. It concludes with the bottom-line attitude that one has to be critical towards the authorities — with that I am in the camp with the know-all expert. We deserve a society with the freedom to be different, a society with multiplicity, where we do not interfere with what people believe, what they eat, how they are dressed — yes, there has to be space for both the funny and ‘far-out’ people.”
Fogh often had to listen to talk about Denmark as just being a country without multiplicity, but he rejects it. Under his leadership the government on the contrary has shown openness in the face of international currents. Openness for active participation in international co-operation plus an engagement to undertake responsibility in the world, he says.
“The extroverted free-spirited attitude — and that combined with a firmness on values, wherein the first element is making demands and setting consequences”.
Demanding is to show respect
“You can’t just pay out money to young people — you have to say, if you don’t want to work, if you don’t want to educate yourself, then you close the wallet. You can’t just say that it doesn’t matter if you contribute or do not contribute. If you have that attitude, that it doesn’t matter, then it is the same as saying that nobody and nothing matters, and from you we can’t expect anything”
Because demanding is to show respect, he affirms.
“To make demands and show consequences is in reality to respect other people: this is so whether we talk about the social system or upholding justice,” says Fogh and turns the conversations towards his battle of values.
“The other part is the firmness of values. That is to say, that there exist as a matter of fact some absolutes in values in our society. That is why I strongly reject cultural relativism — according to which, that you cannot say if something is better than something else.
“Of course you can; freedom of speech is better than censorship and dictatorship. Equality between women and men is better than oppression of women. The separation between politics and religion is better than a so-called theocracy — that is, a society ruled by priests.”
Cultural radicals are deeply pessimistic
According to Fogh cultural liberalism is in sharp contrast to cultural radicalism; liberalism is founded on the belief in progress, believing in the future, whereas you often experience cultural radicals as “deeply pessimistic”. That is why the cultural liberals have taken over the national political agenda, and that is something Fogh isn’t ashamed off at all.
The Danish identity has played a central role in connection with the shift of power, and that is the way it should always be, he thinks.
“I don’t believe in the abstract human being — The abstract cosmopolitan, who doesn’t belong anywhere at all. We are all born into a certain community, an identity, from where our world begins. So a cultural liberal holds that at the same time we are open towards the rest of the world, we have got a clear foundation in our national identity, and are conscious of what it means to be Danish.”
“As a cultural liberal you have the belief that there has to be a strong national community, and a strong national identity. You have to take as a starting point that we are all born into a community. We Danes are born into a national Danish community — that is our identity. And it is my clear understanding, that the stronger the identity, the more you are ready to fight for those values, which is what our democracy is founded on”
Danish special forces in Afghanistan
As a newly appointed Prime Minister back in January 2002 Fogh decided to send Danish special forces into Afghanistan. A difficult decision, but in spite of that he was never in any doubt that it was the right thing. The same goes for the decision to send Danish soldiers into Iraq on a tight political mandate — a historical decision. But Fogh rejects the notion that it divided the Danish population.
“The very fact that I was elected to be the Prime Minister and re-elected twice since disproves that I divided the population. So we have to be careful to distinguish — what is the parliament and what is the people, and what is the media? All the polls are showing a broad majority in support of for example a policy based on [Western] values.”
But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stand for Fogh as natural offshoots from the battle of [Western] values, which he had made his project since 2001.
“It is about values and principles. When the Danes wish for freedom and peace, then we also have to contribute with efforts. We can’t just let it be something others have to fight for”
And principles, values and attitudes will always stand as the final difference between Fogh and his opponents, he thinks. Because since 2001 there has not been any tampering with the project’s foundation.
“The fact is, the case that we won the election with in 2001 is exactly the same when we won in 2005 and 2007. Because, when it comes to the economy, then we have got the tax ceiling, and when it comes to opinion-making, then we have got the immigration policies. Both elements were decisive in 01, 05 and 07.
“Was I at all surprised it would be so decisive? No, in 2001 we knew that we had two positions of strength. Whether these would get us to the point of taking office, we couldn’t know in advance. So in that regard I am positively surprised it has shown such strength,” says the former Prime Minister.