Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Locating Breivik's "Insanity"

Reading around the papers and blogs about events in Norway, it's clear that much attention is being given to the question of whether Anders Breivik was "insane". For instance, in the Guardian yesterday, novelist Henning Mankell said this:
"He cannot be dismissed simply as a "madman", he is something more."
The implicit context for Mankell's remark is surely this - that Brevik's political ideas cannot be "dismissed" from the ensuing process of attributing cause and therefore blame for the cold-blooded murder of more than seventy people. This attribution of blame would then provide a government, not necessarily just the one in Norway, with a political justification for further restriction on the right to free speech. So the question of whether Breivik was "insane", and if so, in precisely what did his "insanity" lie is going to be the fulcrum of the action here.

For two converging examples from very different people, both Nick M, over at CCIZ, and David Friedman have noted that Breivik's actions had a utilitarian rationality to them - if one disregards the objectives. Whilst Breivik's thought does appear to have arisen from some nationalist variant of the collectivist premise, locating his "insanity" only in his objectives strikes me as somewhat artificial - more particularly, it is an artifact of the relegation of ethics into the category of the subjective.

No. Breivik's actions were "insane" because his ethics were insane: for an ethical individualist, murder, along with aggressive violence more generally, is not an ethically legitimate tactic of political challenge - as Martin Luther King taught. To believe otherwise is to commit oneself to a contradiction between means and ends and thus the abandonment of any ethical principle of action whatsoever. Moreover, to the extent that Breivik targeted the Labour Youth movement because of the threat posed by the content of their parent ideology, then there is an ironically practical aspect to consider, which is that ideas themselves, in this case the ideas of the Cultural Marxists (a particular wing of Leftist thought), cannot be destroyed or even threatened by mere human violence.

What Anders Breivik did, in murdering more than seventy people in cold blood, was perpetrate an act of immense evil. That is what is known, quite naturally, as a crime (in this case, an enormous one) - and that's where his "insanity" is to be found.

This point seems to me to be so obvious as to provoke wonder that anybody could be looking anywhere else for his "insanity" - as if mass murder is "sane" so long as you have the right "objectives".

Of course, this matter of Breivik's "insanity" being now a fulcrum for political combat as a surreptitious proxy for honest ideological combat, the people on the Left will start using Breivik's "insanity" loosely. Here is Anne Applebaum in Slate:
"The particular set of obsessions that led him to madness and then to mass murder were not merely racist. They also sprang from an insane conviction that his own government was illegitimate."
Not only does she utter the charge of "racism" reflexively and in contradiction to Breivik's own explicit disavowels of racism*, but her phrasing appears very suggestive of the view that anybody opposed to a democratically elected government is "insane". I do not think that this is accidental either - the Left's domination of the political centre ground of public opinion in the U.S. has been challenged to some extent by the emergence of the Tea Party whose political demands are perceived to be informed by radical free market intellectuals - some of whom oppose the State on principle. What commentators like Applebaum are doing is attempting to use Breivik's mass-murder to surreptitiously besmirch certain criticisms of a democratic Statist order.

Here is Applebaum reaching precisely for that follow-up point:
"Democracy, as a political system, has clear disadvantages, many of which are on display in Washington this week. But democracy has one overwhelming advantage: If conducted according to a pre-arranged set of rules, and if all sides accept those rules, democratic elections produce legitimate political leaders. In addition to being insane, Breivik doesn't accept the rules of democracy in Norway—and now we see the result. Let's hope no Americans ever follow his example."
When weighed against the Lockean vision of limited government instantiated to protect individualist and universal rights, which was the intellectual impetus behind the American Revolution and in which that Revolution was consecrated, Applebaum's "overwhelming" advantage of "legitimate political leaders" would have made even Hamilton blush.

Consider: in that paragraph she has effectively confessed to the belief that having a "legitimate" person in charge of government is the entire point of democracy - its' "overwhelming advantage". It does not seem to have occured to her that democratic political arrangements can be argued to have far more noble and grand purposes, such as that they replace the prospect of war between two sides with the prospect of mere elections, or that democratic arrangements supposedly allow for the humane control of government violence by public exposure of proposed policies to rational criticism.

If people of the Left like Anne Applebaum would open themselves to honest, ideological confrontation, then their ideas would be discredited. Surrepitious smearing and insinuation is the way of a wicked little woman.

*Breivik's words as reported at the LA:
"We have selected the Vienna School of Thought as the ideological basis. This implies opposition to multiculturalism and Islamization (on cultural grounds). All ideological arguments based on anti-racism."

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