Cultural Revolutions

Old Attitudes Die Hard

Gunnai Myrdal came as the featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Lutheran Council in the USA—yet another public atheist called to give moral guidance to yet another demoralized band of American religious leaders. I saw his presence as a godsend. In a sense, he was to be my dissertation project. The chance to serve as his aide-de-camp and gofer for the whole two days opened glittering research opportunities to a young church bureaucrat and would-be scholar.

His speech to the church leaders was long and occasionally splendid. A discourse on what it meant to be a "cultural Lutheran" and, more broadly, on the American challenge, it was full of historical allusions and philosophical meanderings seldom encountered in religious after-dinner talks. The Philadelphia ballroom was hot, the churchmen and their ladies full of wine and intolerant of ideas beyond the expected social-justice pieties. After the first hour had passed, the mutters and shuffling grew quite audible. Yet Gunnar Myrdal, slightly deaf, puttered on to his conclusion, in the singsong English of an old, pleasantly senile Swede.

My timing proved to be perfect. A feminist scholar in Sweden had just published a book claiming that Alva and Gunnar Myrdal's work on shaping Swedish family and population policies in the 1930's had been a betrayal of true socialism. Their open pronatalism, she hinted, smelled of nationalism and racism. Their...

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