To understand the Emancipation, it is necessary to understand what went before it. In particular, it is necessary to penetrate the propaganda of both sides, and realise that the stril class was neither homogenous nor universally oppressed. As a simple and trivial example, consider these people, all classified as stril:
- A factory worker in the industrial heartland, speaking the same language as his factory owner, having the same skin colour and religion, and with all his opportunities for sabotage.
- A Balt on a grain farm near the Polish border, with feudal privileges stretching back before the initial conquest.
- A black worker on one of the notorious coffee plantations on the Ivory Coast, probably captured from a tribe in the interior, speaking no word of any European language and treated as a beast of burden.
Although the last is the image that the word stril immediately summons up, it is quite inaccurate for most of the Norwegian Empire. The Norwegian overseas colonies were rich and extensive, but they did not, by and large, contain huge populations of conquered natives, as was the case with the English and Spanish territories.
Let us consider the position of a Norwegian-descended factory worker, then, while bearing in mind that there were certainly much lower positions than his in the imperial hierarchy. It is straightaway quite clear that he had very little protection in law, and considerable hindrance: For example, he was forbidden from changing his residence without written permission from his employer – a privilege rarely forthcoming except for troublemakers too petty to be squashed by larger means, and therefore even more rarely sought. He had no formal standing to bring suit either civil or criminal (Norwegian law in any case makes no sharp distinction); no right of assembly; no right (with some minor exceptions such as smallholders with odelsrett; but these had in any case largely been absorbed into the Yngling class) to choose his own work; and most of all, he was hedged in by an absolute forest of petty bureaucracy, governing everything from marriage to, quite literally, where he could build his privy.
However, an excessive focus on formal rights and protections makes it easy to miss what is actually going on. Consider the prohibition on bringing suit. A brief digression is worthwhile here: Norwegian courts are, in legal theory, sub-committees of the regional Ting, tracing their origins back to the days when the wealthy farmers of each region would gather to dispense justice. Although they have acquired the paraphernalia of modernity over time, such as a standing police force (technically, these are licensed bounty hunters hired by the plaintiff, usually at the court’s expense, if the court finds in his favour), year-round sessions, and written law codes, they remain democratic organs, with juries composed of anyone who wishes to volunteer for the duty on a given day. Thus, only those with voting rights at the Ting may press charges. Formally, then, a stril is sunk before he starts. But in actual practice, strils may obtain justice by finding an Yngling to speak for them at the Ting; it is rare for there to be difficulty with this, since most Ynglings feel an obligation to be good stewards to their underlings. It is common for a factory owner to speak for one his workers. If that is not possible, such as when the factory owner is also the accused, a rival, or even an Yngling with an abstract interest in seeing justice done, can usually be found; or, all else failing, some Ynglings make a living from bringing in stril lawsuits in exchange for a share of the judgement – although this is a risky practice, dueling being legal in Norway. Stril-lawyers usually retire young.
We see, then, that even where formal law provides no protection, tradition and noblesse oblige may be almost as strong. Strildom approaches classical chattel slavery only in edge cases, in conquered and still-rebellious native populations in Africa and the Far East, which were no better off under any other masters. To be sure, tradition is a shield with many holes in it; abuses undeniably occurred, and at a greater rate than in a system of formal protections undermined by class privilege, such as England’s. But they were not the norm, as Radical and to some extent even Yngling propaganda would have us believe. (The Yngling tendency to exaggerate the oppression of their underclass is a rather curious phenomenon; it appears to be compounded partly of an arrogant desire to grind other nations’ noses in the fact of the stril system, partly of bragging about Yngling war-skill – certainly, nothing short of a population of martial demigods could keep the strils under control if conditions were really so bad as they are often described! – and partly by genuine ignorance due to simply not examining their own system very closely. One wonders what unexamined aspect of our own culture is obvious to them, which we could profit from learning about.)
Understanding, then, that the strils were a fairly heterogenous class, with ethnic Norse at the top and blacks in the African colonies at the bottom, what was the effect of the Emancipation? In giving Yngling privileges to all Norse (and their immediate families) who had fought in the Twenty-Year War (effectively, everyone living in Scandinavia and speaking a bare minimum of Norse or Finnish, conscription being what it was in the latter stages of that deadly conflict) the edict essentially cut off the economic top of the stril class and added a large mass to the bottom of the Ynglings. The distance between the least influential Yngling and the best-protected stril was thus considerably increased. At the same time, the Yngling class completed its long transition from a ruling family, defined at least tenuously by descent from King Olav, to an ethnic group, a herrefolk, in their own terminology. The contradiction at the heart of the Norwegian Realm was thereby resolved: With no further need to watch their back for rebellion by other Norse, the Ynglings could turn their full attention outwards, towards the oppression of Germans, Balts, Russians, Poles, and all the long list of subjugated peoples.
As far as social organisation is concerned, this actually brought them rather closer to the other European empires, all of which also had a single, more-or-less united ethnic group sitting on top of a large mass of exploited colonial populations; but with this difference: The Yngling empire largely existed in Europe, stretching south into Germany and Poland, and far eastwards into Russia. Thus its subjugated worker class was, to some considerable extent, both white and Christian. The Yngling drive to empire, therefore, could be permitted no leavening of hypocrisy; no “White Man’s Burden” could cloak the logic of conquest when the victim was as white as his ruler. The Ynglings had instead taken things to the opposite extreme, and, scorning the subtle justifications of other empires, lived the doctrine of Might Makes Right. It was this, not any imagined rivalry or differences in the degree of oppression, that made Ynglings so universally hated: In the brutal honesty of their empire, they accused all others of being hypocrites. And – deadliest of sins – they were right.
From Berserker to Battleship: Norway 1066-1920, Bergenhus University Press