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Fanaticism, mass murder and the left

In the wake of the Norway atrocity and the reaction it has generated, I have been thinking some more about hatred, fanaticism and moral confusion.

This shouldn’t need saying, but it does: there can be no excuse, justification or rationale whatsoever for the atrocity perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik. The reason it unfortunately needs saying is that I have been reading too many weaselly equivocations about this, along the lines of ‘Yes, it was indeed a most terrible atrocity and one’s heart bleeds for those poor victims; but Norway’s politics towards Israel do stink/Norway’s Labour Party stinks/Quisling’s country, say no more/the Islamisation of Europe stinks/it was only a matter of time before someone was provoked by the railroading of public opinion into doing something like this’.

No, no, no! Any variety of such ‘yes-buttery’ inescapably makes some kind of excuse for the atrocity, however dressed up it may be in suitably pious expressions of horror. There is never any justification for mass murder. None. Any concerns about the Norwegian ambassador to Israel’s disgusting comments or European Islamisation or anything else are a totally separate matter and must be addressed through the democratic process of argument, persuasion and public debate.

Not only can mass murder never be excused, but the notion that ‘it was only a matter of time before someone was provoked into doing something like this’ is itself as nonsensical as it is obscene. Yes, there are a lot of people in Europe who are angry -- very angry indeed -- about a whole host of things. Some of them are decent people who are boiling with rage at being disenfranchised by an entire political class which seems determined to destroy their civilisation. Some of them have deeply unpleasant or racist views about some of their fellow human beings. Some of them are so angry they may join political groupings which resort on occasion to thuggery and hooliganism (the BNP, EDL or the anti-globalisation riots all come to mind). But violent as some of their behaviour may be, they would not travel to a youth camp, invite the teenagers to gather round and then open fire on them all with dum-dum bullets.

The suggestion that Breivik’s behaviour resulted from political rage – let alone from reading thinkers such as John Locke, John Stuart Mill or Winston Churchill – is frankly itself an opinion in need of treatment. The man is either in the grip of a psychosis or he is a psychopath – in other words, a grossly abnormal personality incapable of human feelings of empathy (my money is on the latter). What he himself says about his own opinions or state of mind therefore does not bear examination. Yet throughout the west, apparently intelligent people have been not only ascribing to him rational thought processes but have been poring over his own words to extract clues about what made him do this. Repeat after me very slowly: Breivik did not murder dozens of teenagers because he was ideologically opposed to cultural Marxism; he mowed them down because he was grossly mentally abnormal.

In the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens makes a useful point – and also explains why the frenzy of demonisation being directed at writers and thinkers who were name-checked in Breivik’s ‘manifesto’ is quite so vile, as well as deeply stupid. Observing that Breivik was neither Christian nor conservative but intended to detonate an apocalypse, Stephens writes about this particular pathology:

What it is is millennarian: the belief that all manner of redemptive possibilities lie on just the other side of a crucible of unspeakable chaos and suffering. At his arrest, Breivik called his acts ‘atrocious but necessary.’ Stalin and other Marxists so despised by Breivik might have said the same thing about party purges or the liquidation of the kulaks.

These are the politics that have largely defined our age and which conservatives have, for the most part, been foremost in opposing. To attempt to tar them with Breivik's name is worse than a slur; it's a concession to a killer with pretensions of intellectual sophistication. And it's a misunderstanding of what he was all about.

Indeed. That’s why the relationship between even ultra-nationalistic thinking and acts of terror is very different indeed from the relationship between Islamist radicalism and Islamic acts of terror. The former is characterised by terrorism perpetrated in pursuit of discrete and limited aims. The latter aims to effect an apocalypse in order to bring about the perfection of the world. The former may be appalling in its effects but is nevertheless fundamentally rational since its goal, however noxious, is achievable. The latter is fundamentally irrational since its goal is a utopian fantasy. Consequently those who are in the grip of millenarian apocalyptic fantasies tend to be lunatics or psychopaths; and so it is as ridiculous to ascribe the pathologically murderous behaviour of Breivik to political rage as it would be to do so in the case of Stalin, Hitler or Ahmadinejad.

There is however yet another aspect of the millenarian mindset which should not be overlooked. In my book The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth and Power I consider at some length the millenarian fantasies not just of modern-day Islamists but also of the modern left. (I owe a debt of gratitude to Professor Richard Landes, who generously talked me through millenarian theories when I was writing my book some two years ago and whose own magnificent book on the subject, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of Millennial Experience, has just been published.)

All the totemic creeds of today’s ‘progressive’ classes  -- environmentalism, egalitarianism, multiculturalism, anti-Zionism and so on --- are millenarian, in that they all posit in their different ways the perfection of the world (just like, in their time, the Inquisition, Stalinism and fascism).

Consequently, today’s militantly secular leftists display some astonishing similarities to both modern-day Islamists and medieval Christian fanatics. There is the same belief in the Revealed Truth – Revealed, that is, to them alone – from which no-one is permitted to dissent. Anyone who denies it is a heretic and has to be destroyed. Because the left believes it embodies virtue -- on account of its desire to perfect the world – anyone who dissents or opposes it is evil. Because it is Manichean, all who are not left-wing are right-wing (even if they are in fact liberal). So all who oppose the left are evil right-wingers who must be destroyed. That to leftists is a moral project.

They are therefore in effect a modern secular Inquisition. They are in the same mould as the religious and political totalitarian tyrannies of the past; they make in this respect common cause with the Islamists whose agenda poses a mortal threat to their own lives and liberties and most cherished beliefs; and they share the characteristic of a closed thought system which is totally impervious to reason and destroys all who challenge it with the monsters of history and Anders Behring Breivik.

That is surely why the left seized upon the Norway atrocity with demented joy and detonated a terrifying eruption of distortion and demonisation, irrationality, hatred and sheer blood-lust as it saw in the ravings of Anders Behring Breivik the mother and father of all smears which it could use to crush those who refuse to surrender to cultural totalitarianism.  So those of us who fight for life, liberty and western civilisation against their enemies found ourselves – and by implication, the many millions who share these mainstream views – grotesquely damned as accessories to mass murder by those who actually cheer on religious fascists and genocidal madmen and who are set upon silencing all who resist.

The appalling actions of a Norwegian psychopath tell us next to nothing about our society. But the reaction to that atrocity tells us a great deal more.

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Thank you Melanie for taking such a strong stand against the equivocators. The symmetry of the reaction to Norway compared with the reactions to 9/11 is astounding.
The 9/11 equivocators said "Look at the evils of American Foreign Policy! THAT"S the real cause of the tragedy". And of course you would have no bar of it back then.
Now the other side of politics says: "Look at the evils of Norway's Foreign policy. THAT'S the underlying cause of the tragedy." It's good that you have no bar of it now in the converse.

Posted by Ralph Zwier on 2011-08-03 12:15:17 GMT

Well said. But as well as fanaticism there is also excessive fear from some quarters.For example I have heard so much about London and the growth of, (hold your breath) Islamisation of British society. Stayed in London with Jewish friends, went walking around the West End, the Palace, Covent Gardens, Greenwich, went to the West London Progressive Synagogue - hardly saw a single overt Muslim. Tourists galore, yes, and lots of locals. But very few Muslims. My British friends told me, don"t believe half of what you read in the Papers.

Posted by Peter on 2011-08-03 06:36:31 GMT