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On the ideology of Anders Breivik

If my experience of the time it takes to read a 1,500 page book is typical, not one of the myriad opinion pieces so far penned on the ideology of Anders Breivik can possibly be based on close textual study of the ideas advanced in his now notorious manifesto.

As the rush to blame Islamists for last Friday’s atrocities in Oslo underlines, it is always wise to regard instant punditry as at best preliminary judgement, offered only until a considered opinion can be reached.

With that qualifier out of the way, I have skimmed ‘2083: a European Declaration of Independence’, and my first impression is of a document lacking any intellectual concision whatsoever. Names – including those of eminent liberal and even leftist thinkers – are dropped widely, but in a way that suggests only cursory familiarity with their thought.

Some rightist commentators use Breivik’s nods to Locke, Burke, Mill, Gandhi and Orwell to insist that he could hardly have been influenced by any of the key themes of contemporary rightist discourse. Sorry, but that contention doesn’t quite stack up.

The available précis suggests that the substantive content is based on popular reactionary arguments that regularly find their way into the pages of Britain’s large circulation conservative newspapers, of which he appears to have been an avid reader.

It is these opinion columns deprecating ‘cultural Marxism’, ‘political correctness gone mad’, ‘the EUSSR’, and ‘the Islamisation of Europe’ that provided Breivik with the raw material that enabled him to form what passes for a worldview.

This has led some leftie bloggers to assert that moral responsibility can be traced back to original purveyors of these positions, in the same way they held Sarah Palin responsible for Jared Loughner. That would be a mistake, too. It surely wasn’t Melanie Phillips’ finger on the trigger at Utøya.

It would be doubly wrong to move on to call for the suppression of wrong-headed ideas falling short of direct incitement to violence, simply because of the risk that they might prove inspirational to the cracked.

In any case, Breivik could just have easily latched on to some other set of syncretisms by way of his search for a theoretical basis. Relatively recent history alone provides examples of leftist and religious terrorism, too.

Plenty of gunmen who go postal – to use a US vernacularism that originated from just such a mass shooting – are strictly apolitical. In that sense, the ideology at work is pretty much incidental.

Unfortunately we have to face the truth that no measures can guarantee against future slaughters of this kind. By all means monitor internet discussion boards, and double check on guys who order fertiliser by the tonne. And then keep your fingers crossed, because after that, you are on your own.


  1. Robert Day says:

    I have come across people of Breivik’s sort before; and if a 1,500 page manifesto and the belief that he is the only person to clearly see what has to be done and that others aren’t radical enough for him isn’t a clear sign of his mental instability, I don’t know what is.

    But I can’t agree with Michael when he says that Breveik’s sources of inspiration have no bearing on the matter. Various right-wing sources fuelled his world-view; he drew more and more on those sources to construct his towering edifice of mental error. But those sources and their apologists are now saying “we can’t be held responsible for what others think”.

    I don’t buy that. If I say “I prefer Shostakovich to SClub7”, then that’s my view, but I don’t expect others to either agree with me or to commit murder in the name of SClub7. If I was saying “I like Shostakovich and those who follow SClub7 are social deviants with no place in our society”, I should be held at least partly responsible if someone took my words so literally that they committed an atrocity at a concert. After all, Henry II regretted uttering the words “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” after Thomas a Becket was murdered, and that only partly because of the backlash he suffered. Pub landlords have a responsibility to stop selling drink to people whose abuse of alcohol is threatening their health and others’ safety; so must it be with political discourse.

    We are all in this world together; we all have a responsibility to make sure we can all safely live in this world together. And before anybody “Yes, but what about other sorts of extremists…”, let me remind everyone that two wrongs do not make a right.

  2. Dave says:

    But Robert, then we get into some real freedom of speech issues. While I accept the ‘shouting fire in a crowded theatre’ argument, virulent polemics against the EU or even immigration are not the same thing. The left should never position itself so that it is seen as stifling free speech or dictating what opinions may or may not be expressed. That may even exacerbate the anger of people such as Breivik.

  3. Treborc says:

    I have seen lads like this before they go off on drugs or drink, they are mostly loners are worried about the world or the country, they worry we are being taken over by the Russians or Black people or Muslims, they do believe in what they are saying and they believe they are right, most of them end up in clinics, I suppose one or two will end up in parties like the BNP. Of course a number of them are harmless.

    sadly this one was more or less insane enough to think a gun would make his dreams come true, the dream of the country thinking he was right. I suspect he will now get a following of people who will think he’s the Messiah or offer him marriage

  4. Patrick says:

    He is no more insane than Bin Laden. He wants to use terrorism and leading by example to mobilise a movement against Mulsim-Marxism which includes anybody left of Norman Tebitt. Anybody who isn’t a Christian fundamentalist and who supports democracy is part of the cultural war on Europe and is a legitimate target for fascists like Breivik.

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