Inventing History

"History, in general, only informs us what bad government is."
—Thomas Jefferson

If there were an award for the most successful revolutionaries of the 20th century, two relatively unsung yet worthy candidates would be Gunnar and Alva Myrdal. The Swedish husband-and-wife team has exerted an alarmingly pervasive influence upon modern society, in part because their bloodless, bureaucratic revolution was too low-key to inspire the violent opposition that has undermined the revolutionary legacy of so many other candidates.

In The Swedish Experiment in Family Politics: The Myrdals and the Interwar Population Crisis, Allan Carlson, author of a recent study on the contemporary American family, returns to the subject of his doctoral dissertation: the pivotal role the Myrdals played in shaping modern Swedish society. The book, which Carlson calls an "intellectual political biography," reveals how, in the course of four years (1934-1938), one man and one woman decisively redirected the course of an entire society. Carlson highlights the ways in which ideologues can manipulate the often ambiguous data of sociological research and the crucial importance of individuals in perceiving and even inventing historical "trends." His exhaustively researched and documented analysis yields lessons that many other societies have yet to learn.


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