Kristian Bjørkdahl: Argumentum ad Solidaritatem: Rhetorical Leadership Strategies in Scandinavia During COVID-19

Chapter in the book Communicating COVID-19: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 2021, Palgrave Macmillan

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Kristian Bjørkdahl, Jens E. Kjeldsen, Lisa Villadsen, and  Orla Vigsø


In this chapter, we examine how Scandinavian leaders motivated and justified the measures enacted in the first phase of COVID-19. We find that leaders in all three countries couched their argumentation in appeals to solidarity, a form of argument so distinct that we dub it the argumentum ad solidaritatem. This appeal varied somewhat, however, between the otherwise similar Scandinavian countries. Specifically, Sweden stood out from the other two in leaving most of the communication to its Public Health Agency rather than to its political leaders, the result being a more technical (i.e. expert medical) form of rhetoric. We argue that this reflects a tradition in Sweden for a social division of administrative labour which is distinct from that in Denmark and Norway. To the extent this tradition is part of Sweden’s political culture, Sweden’s leadership displayed exactly the same rhetorical skills as did their Scandinavian neighbours: They attuned successfully to the rhetorical ‘constraints’ of the situation within their country, and largely retained the trust and confidence of their population. But because the outcomes have differed so strongly between these countries, the Scandinavian case forces us to recognize the difference between rhetorical success and general success in responding to a pandemic.

Published Oct. 25, 2021 9:00 AM - Last modified Oct. 25, 2021 9:00 AM