There is no doubt that Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass-murderer, is a savagely dehumanized, socially disconnected, and incorrigibly evil person. Breivik is also, however, the product of a civilization that is itself dehumanized, whose implacable program of subordinating every aspect of society to a tendentious politics hinders the making of authentic, non-politically mediated personal connections. If Breivik were the monster of the Utøya enormity, Norway’s anti-Western, anti-Christian, anti-historical, feminist, Marxist, Muslim-loving elites – along with the purveyors of a debased popular culture that is now, regrettably, global – would be, collectively, the monster maker.
How to explain Breivik? René Girard teaches that the chief human characteristic is a propensity to imitate other human beings (mimesis) and that institutions are “mimetic.” This explains how babies learn language, and how we all learn the driver-code, but it also explains how people come into conflict, including violent conflict. [i] A man will imitate the aggression of another, or even what he suspects to be the aggression of another; he will seek to appropriate, or to annihilate, all of the advantages of another. Breivik’s violence is mimetic, or imitative, in Girard’s sense, as violence superlatively tends to be, but there is a qualification to this statement. Mimetic violence normally conforms to the order of tit-for-tat: A slugs B and then B slugs A, only harder. This model, while familiar from Herman Kahn’s theory of “escalation,” seems not to fit Breivik’s crime. How to adjust for the discrepancy?
It is the case whether anyone likes it or not that criminal violence in Norway – in the form of an epidemic of rapes and beatings in Oslo and other major cities – comes conspicuously if not exclusively from the largely Muslim, non-Norwegian, immigrant part of the Nordic polity’s recently imported and dictatorially imposed demographic. It is likely that ten years of Muslim immigrant violence against Norwegian autochthons influenced Breivik’s notion that it had fallen to him, in some heroic way, to settle scores. And yet he chose as his victims, fellow Norwegians.
Marshall McLuhan wrote of “retribalization” as a trend in modernity. [ii] Girard has argued that morally there is nothing “beyond” the Prophetic and Gospel condemnation of human sacrifice; there is only a relapse into human sacrifice. Could Breivik be such a “retribalized” atavism, in McLuhan’s – also in Girard’s – sense? When we look at the phenomenon of reciprocal violence in pre-Christian Norway or Iceland, a pattern emerges. [iii] In classic feud, after the instigation of violence (as when A kills B, who is, let us say, C’s brother), retaliation is typically indirect (as when C avoids killing A, directing his ire instead against D, who is, let us say, A’s brother). Feud metastasizes through the ranks of the innocent and non-involved.
This oblique structure of retaliation in medieval feud corresponds to Breivik’s private holocaust. He did not wreak vengeance on Muslims or even on those who have directly fostered the Muslim presence; he killed the children of those who have directly fostered the Muslim presence. In terms of fostering, another Old Norse institution, those Norwegian children were figuratively the brothers and sisters of the non-Norwegian, Muslim immigrants (they were the D to Breivik’s C). The relapse into a peculiarly ritual type of violence could not be clearer. [iv]
There are also tantalizing echoes in Breivik’s bloody Utøya rampage of other heathen customs – of berzerkgång and holmgång. The berserker is often, but erroneously, supposed to be a man who goads himself into a state of wild frenzy. In fact, the berserker makes himself cold and implacable, so that he becomes a sharply focused, unemotional killing machine who succumbs to no distraction on the field of battle. This is Breivik to a T. (It also fits the Beslan killers.) In holmgång, representatives of two feuding factions meet on an island to settle the conflict.
The so-called conservative element in Breivik’s on-line self-representation is opportunistic and unconvincing. In many statements in his manifesto Breivik indeed explicitly repudiates essential conservative positions. He puts science over religion as the vessel of the highest truth; his vision of himself as a Knight Templar is yet another debasement of Nietzsche’s Übermensch, he is a biological materialist, and much else. Far more important in shaping Breivik than any actual discourse was his lifelong immersion in “World of Warcraft” and other violent video games. Set in a pagan fantasyland beyond good and evil, these electronic diversions belong to the sadomasochistic strain of the degenerate popular culture, pornographic and anti-social in character, that actual conservatives constantly and forcefully decry. These games desensitize the player to images of killing and make actual homicide emotion-free and easy. [v]
Judaism and Christianity are anti-sacrificial. Leftwing “progressive” ideology, like Islam, is anti-Semitic and anti-Christian. Islam, which the Left extols, is blatantly a cult of blood offerings. Islam’s supreme value, indicated by its highest reward, is the killing of infidels in the name of Allah. To suppress Judaism and Christianity and to encourage Islam is to open the way for the resurgence of sacrifice. [vi] The ruling Labor Party of Norway actively collaborates with the Fatah Party of Palestine, feral and murderous to its core, and is plausibly the most explicitly anti-Semitic and anti-Christian political party in Europe. [vii]
Leftists who work aggressively to suppress Judaism and Christianity and to encourage Islam should not be surprised when they witness the resurgence of human sacrifice as the solution to social problems, whether perceived or real. The rest of us should not be surprised either even though as people of Biblical conscience we feel badly shaken and rightly appalled.
i Girard writes of “mimetic conflict” and “reciprocal violence” stemming from “imitative desire,” all of which de-individuate the subject, fusing him with the agitated crowd or mob, while stripping him of moral conscience.
ii I would like to thank D. B. for having called my attention to McLuhan’s remark.
iii There is a close relation, in Girard’s anthropology, between spreading violence in a community (“mimetic violence”) and sacrifice: Girard understands sacrifice as a calculated, conspicuous act of violence designed to polarize the community so as to put a stop to other violence. Sacrifice is homeopathic, seeking to cure general contamination through specific use of the contaminant. This is, of course, magical thinking; but historically it has been effective. Biblical morality, insisting on the innocence of the sacrificial victim or victims, necessitates non-violent, procedural methods for dealing with social disintegration.
iv The classic and most accessible example may be found in Hrafnkel’s Saga, but there are instances in plenty of the same.
v A knowledgeable friend advised me that the reference to video games weakened the argument, possibly because it seems to trivialize the cause of Breivik’s bloodthirstiness. I understand the objection, but I cannot shake the conviction that a universal pornography of violence belongs to the “postmodern condition,” and that its baleful effects find an extreme, but by no means astonishing, expression in mass murder. In the USA, for a short time, the Left conducted a tepid crusade against the pornography of violence. That crusade swiftly petered out. This is another way in which the Left has reconciled itself to violence.
vi Christianity came to Norway around 1000 A.D. when the first Norwegian convert, Håkon, began to preach there. Olaf II, an early king, became a convert; in 1024 Christianity became the official faith of the Norwegian aristocracy. Progress was slow. Heathen customs, many of which were innocuous and justified, were tenacious. Nevertheless, by 1940, Norway might well have qualified as one of the most Christian – and most enviably peaceable – nations in the West. We can say, then, that the Christianization of Norway required approximately 1000 years. The de-Christianization of Norway is a recent phenomenon, correlative with the rise of the Leftwing multicultural regime. We can say, then, that partial, but substantial de-Christianization has taken a mere thirty years. This is a case in evidence of how fragile the achievement of the West has been.
vii To the extent that the Norwegian Labor Party has deliberately fused with the Fatah Party and with Palestinian irredentism generally, has it not also fused with, and therefore endorsed, the programmatic violence of the Fatah Party and of Palestinian irredentism generally? It is hard to avoid answering “yes.”