If asked about the comparative political cultures of Europe and the United States, the ordinary European or American, regardless of political persuasion, would be likely to affirm that European—particularly Northern European—societies are essentially socially progressive, in contrast to the United States, which is profoundly “conservative.”

In Sweden, everyone from the radical left to the most extreme right claims that our nation (along with our Nordic neighbors) is at the forefront of “progress.” All sides benefit from this perception. The right can pretend to be busy fighting the most insane leftism humanity has ever seen, and the left can in turn brag about the achievements that supposedly make our countries unique. For their part, many Americans accept the idea that the Nordics are far more progressive than the United States.

Like many stories countries tell themselves, this one bears almost no resemblance to the truth. Scandinavians look at the United States and behold some sort of Bible-thumping theocracy; Americans look at the Nordic nations and see a progressive utopia. Consider, however, that in the far-fetched scenario that Sweden were to be incorporated into the United States, the 51st state would boast one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the Union, limiting the procedure to the first 18 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of severe risk to the mother.