Jay Nordlinger’s analysis of Norway’s Progress Party is off, because he takes everything they tell a foreign conservative writer at face value. He doesn’t consider that maybe they’re popular because they have multiple faces, and the “Reaganite, Thatcherite” face he describes is only one of them.
But he does capture something Norwegian commentators usually miss: Cultural markers, a taste for mischief. Rockabilly, Coca-Cola aka “capitalist water”, Ayn Rand. Potatoes from Israel, a bust of Reagan, posters of Churchill and Barry Goldwater. He’s pointing towards something interesting, and that something is what divides those who read that list and smile and think “that’s hilarious”, from those who react with a stern “oh dear”.
I don’t mean that politics is all about cultural gut reactions, but sometimes they’re what originally motivate people to abandon their ideological safe zones. A sense that a main problem with social democracy is its dullness, that its undeniable successes conceal cultural and intellectual decay. Follow that line of thought and you discover that social democracy isn’t dull, it’s hilarious, with its earnest pretensions and absurd side-effects and “this time it’s really going to work” government programs. And then you can’t stop laughing.
It may or may not “begin with Ayn Rand”, but it continues with the realization that about the most provocative thing you can do in Norway is to have a Reagan bust in your office. And that’s funny because it is silly. The fun doesn’t make it right, but it makes it fun to be right. Viva la Reagan revolucion!