Monday, July 25, 2011

The massacre in Norway and cultural theory

I have just skimmed through the 1500-pages-long manifesto of Anders Breivik, the murderer of 83 people in Norway. You can find it here

I deliberately post the link. Many people would say that by doing so I give the views of an unhinged mass murderer the importance they don't deserve. But I firmly believe that the only way to cope with violence is to understand the motivations of its perpetrators. Had German intellectuals in 1923 bothered to read the newly published "Mein Kampf", they would not have been rolling their eyes ten ears later, wondering what planet the brownshirts had come from.

Breivik is a mass murderer but he is not unhinged. His "manifesto" is overlong but coherent, properly documented and reasonably well-written (in English, which is not his mother tongue). It clearly shows that there is a new ideology being formed in the West, which will surely claim more victims in the years ahead. This ideology is not neo-Nazism (Breivik has some positive things to say about Jews and Israel) nor is it traditional racism (hating Islam is not the same thing as believing that Arabs are biologically inferior). Rather, it is radical Christian conservatism.

I don't know of many terrorist manifestoes that begin with a discussion of Adorno and the Frankfurt School. Breivik's does. And this clearly indicates who his enemy is: "cultural Marxism", the loose body of left-wing rhetoric, predicated on on the notions of multiculturalism, secularism, and human rights. Why did he strike at his own people instead of Muslim immigrants whom he ostensibly hates? It is because his hatred and distrust of Islam comes distant second to his hatred and distrust of the "enemy within": socialists, muticulturalists, and liberals. And this is the dynamics we are familiar with, not from Nazism, with which he is associated, but precisely from Soviet Communism with its hunt for traitors and enemies of the people. The more he denounces Marxism, the more does Breivik's own ideology mirror its structure. Tell me who your enemy is, and I will tell you who you are.

So what are the political forces in the contemporary world that inspired Breivik? In the middle of his vituperations against radical Islam (for which radical Islam obligingly provides a wealth of material), Breivik approvingly quotes Thomas Jefferson's adage, beloved of the Tea Party, about the Tree of Liberty needing to be watered by blood. And then he adds: "Refreshing the tree is now long overdue as our countries are in a rapid state of disintegration". Elsewhere he lambasts the welfare state and calls President Obama a member of the "multicultural mafia" that rules the world. For anybody with access to Fox News this sounds numbingly familiar.

Breivik is not a Christian zealot. But he is fighting the same war against the Enlightenment that is being fought by the radical evangelicals in the US and by radical Islam everywhere. He does not hate the Muslims so much as he hates the academics, the freethinkers, and the "elites", which to his mind use the jihadis as their stormtroopers. He hates "Marxism", which he equates with liberal democracy. But perhaps the ultimate irony of this unintentionally ironic - and chilling - document is that real Marxism is precisely what his rhetoric resembles most. After all, was it not Adorno who criticized the "dialectic of the Enlightenment"?