Last year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted a collective fervor in Sweden and many other European nations. Defending Ukraine at all costs and pledging eternal loyalty to NATO and the values of Western liberal democracy became obligatory for politicians and public figures. Many in Washington surely took this as a sign of the enduring legitimacy of the unipolar order overseen by the United States.

In reality, it was the opposite: a harbinger of terminal crisis.

To see why, consider a recent historical precedent. In 2015, Sweden underwent a moral panic in response to the migration crisis unleashed by the Syrian war. The influx of refugees occasioned an explosive—and oddly paranoid—celebration of immigration and diversity. Artists and politicians raced to celebrate migration and multiculturalism, heralding the inexorable march of history toward a post-nationalist utopia. These invocations of commonality and unity were, of course, paired with merciless witch hunts against anyone who voiced dissent. These wrong-thinkers were cast as a fifth column plotting to destroy everything that made Sweden great and plunge us back into a dark age of racism and xenophobia.

To have the wrong opinion was dangerous in those days. Ordinary people were performatively posting statements like, “If you don’t believe refugees are welcome, unfriend me right now!” There were constant purges of people suspected of being insufficiently anti-racist. Voting for the wrong party—namely, the populist Sweden Democrats—was grounds for excommunication from polite society.

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