Danish Democracy

The birth of real social democracy began in Denmark during the middle of the 19th century. The country was still an absolute monarchy but times were changing and a new wave of revolution was sweeping across Europe. Although representative assemblies were set up, these were the preserve of the wealthier segments of society and only 3% of the general population could take part in them. by 1849 a new king, Frederik VII, mindful of the possible consequances of a popular revolt, agreed to a free constitution and the end of absolute powers for the crown.

Denmark still considered itself to be a powerful country but by 1864 the final parts of it's empire were stripped away with the loss of Schleswig and Holstein to Prussia. The country was seeking a new identity. Prior to this pastor, author, theologian, historian and philosopher N.F.S. Grundtvig had set out to form a new society in which everyone in Denmark would be able to contribute towards the political life of the country. This would of course sweep away the old class barriers and bring in complete democracy.

From 1838 onwards he had been lecturing on the need for a community in which everyone co-operated together rather than competed; his thoughts took root and were instrumental in persuading farmers to work together and share ideas, machinery and even their own labour in order to become more efficient. The result was the vast improvement in overseas sales of farm produce which still to this day help underpin the nation's finances.

One of his first acts was to provide a humanist, enlightened education for people in rural areas who were previously isolated from anything more than the most rudimentary education. The result was the folk high school, a concept that survives to this day. The purpose was nothing less than to transform people who had, up until then, had little or no say in the way that their society was run, into enlightened citizens who could play a full part in the new democratic nation.

During the 1960s these folk high schools mutated into more arts focussed institutions but still had (and have), as their aim, the fostering of democratic ideals. Government funding has been reduced of late however, which has had the effect of making it more difficult for less wealthy Danes to attend; the egalitarian principle they were founded under has weakened, but not quite broken.