In This Review

The Norwegian Exception? Norway’s Liberal Democracy Since 1814
The Norwegian Exception? Norway’s Liberal Democracy Since 1814
By Mathilde Fasting and Oystein Sorenson
Hurst, 2021, 280 pp

Norwegians enjoy a well-functioning liberal democracy, a productive free-market economy, stable social relations, and—even more so than other Scandinavian countries—a generous and popular social welfare state. In global rankings of equality, gender balance, happiness, life expectancy, and the rule of law, Norway invariably appears near the top. In this book, two historians seek to explain why the country is so successful. They enthusiastically recount the country’s history, yet they fail to answer the question. Much of Norway’s edge seems to reflect dumb luck: the country benefits from abundant energy resources, peaceful neighbors, and a strong sense of national identity. Elsewhere, however, these things have led to conflict and collapse. The magic ingredient, the authors argue, is trust: Norwegians trust one another and trust their government, which can thus effectively promote the common good. Yet are they trusting simply because their system has always worked, or does their system work because they are more trusting? If the latter, why? In the end, it is unclear what foreigners can learn from Norway’s success.