Melanie Phillips: Fanaticism, mass murder and the left
Posted by paulipoldie on July 30, 2011
Melanie Phillips: Fanaticism, mass murder and the left
26 July 2011
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
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