No Contradiction in Denmark

The Danes show that liberal values and opposition to mass immigration can go hand in hand.

A street in Copenhagen, Denmark, April 20, 2013
A street in Copenhagen, Denmark, April 20, 2013 (News Øresund/Johan Wessman)

Hugh Eakin finds a contradiction in the Danish character. He writes in The New York Review of Books that this egalitarian and open-minded people in the north of Europe have reached a consensus that large-scale Muslim immigration is incompatible with their social democracy.

Although Eakin recognizes in the end that the Danes have nevertheless been able to maintain a “more stable, united and open society than any of their neighbors,” he avoids drawing the logical conclusion: that they are prospering because, not in spite, of their shared sense of belonging and refusal to compromise with foreign values.

Getting to Denmark

The renowned political scientist Francis Fukuyama has suggested that liberal democracies everywhere should seek to emulate Denmark. With good reason.

As Eakin points out, the country has the highest income equality and one of the lowest poverty rates in Europe.

Known for its nearly carbon-neutral cities, its free health care and university education for all, its bus drivers who are paid like accountants, its robust defense of gay rights and social freedoms and its vigorous culture of social and political debate, the country has long been envied as a social-democratic success, a place where the state has an improbably durable record of doing good.

Yet this is also the country that produced the Danish People’s Party, the first nationalist party in modern Europe that went mainstream. It was the first in Western Europe to curtail immigrant marriages and just this year cut social benefits to refugees by 45 percent.

Multicultural disillusion

Denmark has experienced the failings of the multicultural society firsthand.

It took a while for the good-natured Danes to accept, but it’s now impossible to deny — even Eakin won’t — that many, predominantly Muslim immigrants “fail to enter the workforce, are slow to learn Danish and end up in high-crime immigrant neighborhoods where, while relying on extensive state handouts, they and their children are cut off from Danish society.”

The Danes have also lived with the consequences of radicalization.

The newspaper Jyllands-Posten caused a stir around the world when it printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005. One of the artists continues to receive death threats up to this day.

Last year, one Dane who attended a meeting in Copenhagen with Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who drew an unflattering picture of the prophet in 2007, was killed by a Muslim fanatic. Three police officers were injured before the perpetrator was shot.


Eakin argues that the Danes are otherwise an unusually homogenous people with a strong commitment to community and self-rule.

Visitors to Denmark will find the Danish flag on everything from public buses to butter wrappers; many of the country’s defining institutions, from its universal secondary education (Folkehøjskoler — the People’s High Schools) to the parliament (Folketinget — the People’s House) to the Danish national church (Folkekirken — the People’s Church) to the concept of democracy itself (Folkestyret — the Rule of the People) have been built to reinforce a strong sense of folke, the Danish people.

Whatever the reason, the Danes pragmatically abandoned cultural relativism when it did not help them assimilate newcomers in favor of restrictive immigration and uncompromising integration policies.

Far from defying Denmark’s open and tolerant society, this has saved it.

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