On Friday morning Breivik wrote that "today you will become immortal." He seems to have meant it literally. Whatever else might be said of that particular longing, it can hardly be called religious (what then would be the point of an afterlife?), or Christian (murdering children en masse is not a tenet of any Christian faith), or conservative (a political tendency that is fundamentally anti-utopian).Stephens' essay emphasizes a key point I raised in my analysis of the manifesto: "Breivik hopelessly romanticizes an earlier time that is simply not coming back. He's crazy in that sense." Still, it bears remembering that indeed Breivik's influences were in conservative writings, and that's not to discount his the millenarian infirmities. The answer to Breivik is somewhere between Stephens' analysis and Ross Douthat's, "A Right-Wing Monster." That crazed criminal resides somewhere between millenarianism and the rhetoric of cultural conservatism.
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.
Norway, Europe and probably the U.S. will now have anxious debates about xenophobia, populism and the rise of neofascism. These are worthy topics, but they are incidental to understanding what happened on Friday. What we witnessed was the irruption of an impulse—more psychological than political—that defines a broader swath of the ideological spectrum than most people would care to acknowledge. As for Breivik, there ought to be no question as to what he is: evil incarnate.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
From Bret Stephens, at Wall Street Journal, "The Oslo Terrorist is Neither Christian Nor Conservative."