Working Paper No. 1338

The Fatal Conceit: Swedish Education after Nazism

Published: May 14, 2020Pages: 41Keywords: National Socialism; Neo-Humanism; Progressivism; Sweden; War pedagogyJEL-codes: D70; E65; I20; I28; N44

The Fatal Conceit: Swedish Education after Nazism Gabriel Heller Sahlgren and Johan Wennström

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Sweden dismantled an education system that was strongly influenced by German, Neo-Humanist pedagogical principles in favor of a progressive, student-centered system. This article suggests this was in large part due to a fatal misinterpretation of the education policy on which Nazism was predicated.

Contrary to scholarly and popular belief, Nazi schools were not characterized by discipline and run top-down by teachers. In fact, the Nazis encouraged a nationwide youth rebellion in schools. Many Nazi leaders had themselves experienced the belligerent, child-centered war pedagogy of 1914–1918 rather than a traditional German education. Yet, Swedish school reformers came to regard Neo-Humanism as a fulcrum of the Third Reich.

The article suggests this mistake paved the way for a school system that inadvertently came to share certain traits with the true educational credo of Nazism and likely contributed to Sweden’s recent educational decline.


Heller Sahlgren, Gabriel and Johan Wennström (2020), "The Fatal Conceit: Swedish Education after Nazism". IFN Working Paper No. 1338. Stockholm: Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN).

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