In politics, it is not enough to give one’s opponents enough rope to hang themselves; one must also ensure that they stay hanged. Bjørnar Svenson could maneuver his opponents into starting an unpopular and unsuccessful war, and thus create a consensus for peace within Norway; but he could not force the other Powers in the world to abide by his policies. Thus, in the 1890s the Channel Crisis was only ended by Norway’s emergency cession of England-south-of-Thames to France, the alternative – it was believed – being war with a coalition led by France and Indonesia. The ensuing panic led to an immediate fivefold expansion of the regular army, a vast programme of fortifying the Atlantic coastline, and the fall of the administration. Similarly, the Hindustan Crisis, although eventually resolved to Norwegian satisfaction, forced the further upgrading of both army and navy. Numerous smaller crises, tensions, espionage scandals, and all the general frictions bound to occur when self-consciously imperialistic nations industrialise and seek resources outside their borders, further reinforced the impression that Norway might be peaceful, but the world was not. In particular, the exponential rise in French industry – and the proportion of it which the dirigiste French state diverted into war materiel – caused anxiety all over Europe.
These were fertile waters for agitators and demagogues to fish in, nor did they fail to appear. An unregulated free market, particularly one whose culture emphasizes self-sufficiency and strength, cannot fail to have losers as well as winners, and these were inevitably drawn to collectivist ideologies which promised them bread and work. The prosperity of a booming economy kept the underclass small enough that the appeal of a redistributive socialism could not become mainstream, but welfare was not the only string in the collectivist bow. The poor were even less immune than the wealthy to the siren call of an aggressive nationalism.
In a period full of fringe parties demanding one policy or another, dissolving, splitting, and merging with each other sometimes on a weekly basis, there is nonetheless one name that stands out: Magnus Vidarsson, and his National Labour Alliance. His program was simple: Cease accepting immigrants; bread and work for all Norse; and the forceful acquisition of resources which Norway lacked. It was not an original agenda – many agitators had pointed out how immigration kept wages low, and denounced it as a device of the wealthy – but Vidarsson was by all accounts a powerful, almost hypnotic speaker, and the NLA effortlessly absorbed other workers’ movements wherever he went. Agitation, however, was one thing; getting men elected to the Ting, quite another. Vidarsson could cause or quell a riot – for bread, victories, or immigrant-beating, as the mood struck him – by his mere presence, but riots are not elections. For all his flamboyance and high news profile, the majority of the population remained satisfied with the status quo, and voted accordingly. The National Labour Alliance thus remained a fringe party, although one with a national presence – strongest in the industrial region south and east of the Great Lakes, but with at least a few adherents in every city in America.
A populist party could not be more than an annoyance in the absence of a great disaster to shake men from their accustomed patterns. Rallies, riots, and rants could not change the fundamental political truth in Norway, which was that the landowners and industrial magnates controlled the Ting in New Bergen, and intended to remain in control. And disasters which destroy the wealth of the middle class and force men to worry about the next day’s bread are not so easy to come by; they occur on no man’s schedule. But a patient man, one willing to spend twenty years building a party to take advantage when the disaster does strike – such a man might go far; and the end is not yet.