Method in the Madness: The Political Psyche of Anders Berhing Breivik

In the aftermath of the Norwegian atrocity one question was posed over and over – was Anders Breivik mentally ill? A good few people have claimed that he was. In a way this was inevitable; after all – the event, its sheer depth of horror, provides a stumbling block to our reason – we find it hard to define the massacre in terms of the actions of a rational actor with a coherent agenda. How can we not but detect a flicker of derangement in Breivik’s cold implacable eyes?  


Other commentators have, however, drawn attention to the fact that although diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Breivik seems to exhibit few features of the illness – based on what we know, he does not hear voices and neither does he suffer from hallucinations. Also, and again premised on available information, he is not inflicted by the violent paroxysms of paranoia which wrack the schizophrenic mind – the surreal and hallucinatory awareness of some immanent and dire threat.         


Of course we now realise, courtesy of his 1500 page diatribe, that Breivik did perceive a threat but unlike the paranoid schizophrenic, it wasn’t something directed towards him specifically – there were no UFOs or sinister government assassins lurking in the darkness waiting to target him. Rather what Breivik perceived was a threat to ‘civilisation’ in general; a threat which, according to his bilious ravings, manifested in the guise of a quasi-medieval ‘militant’ Islam.   


And so, in place of the disjointed fantasy of the paranoid schizophrenic, Breivik was able to articulate his ‘enemy’ in a coherent and profoundly ideological fashion. Since the trial began this week, he has described himself as a ‘political activist’ and despite their sheer hideousness, his crimes clearly flow from a specific political affiliation presenting a coherent world view. 


Islamophobia is, of course, a morbidly racist ideological spectre raised in order to justify the oppression of Muslim populations both domestic and internationally whether it be in Afghanistan or Oslo. Though it appears in a fantastical and irrational form – usually as the fictitious proposition of Muslims as a single homogenous mass swarming so called ‘western’ culture – nevertheless such irrationality has at its core a lucid and rational element, for it seeks to legitimate a pre-existing set of repressive social relationships, and that is why its individual agents, the bearers of its ideological poison, can’t be dismissed as mentally irregular or even irrational simply on account of their ideology.                      


Islamophobia is commonplace precisely because it fulfills a definitive and necessary political function especially in the context of the recent and on-going wars in the Middle East.  But what was it about Breivik that transformed him from just another embittered Islamophobe into to a mass murderer?  At first glance his background doesn’t seem to shed much light on the question. He came from a nice middle class family, enjoyed the benefits of wealth and education, and there is no record of abuse or mistreatment during his childhood. In fact there doesn’t seem to be anything extreme or remarkable about his formative years. And yet, Breivik, like many people of his background, was taught he was destined to succeed – through education, through career, through his very essence as a member of a privileged stratum. At the same time this sense of ambition which was absorbed organically was thwarted over and over by a series of rejections and failures. Having been a mildly rebellious teen, his father rejected him wholesale and severed their relations. Such rejection left him in some wise emasculated – the summary dismissal as a son by his father providing agonizing doubts about his own legitimacy as a man – feelings of masculine inadequacy further graduated by what Breivik felt he was left with – a pathetic circle of women.  This, he was later to comment ‘completely lacked discipline and has contributed to feminising me to a certain degree.’      


Spurred by his inadequacy, the youthful Breivik attempted to assert himself more forcefully in order to overcome such ‘feminisation’. He attended the Oslo Commerce School but performed poorly. He was rejected from the army which deemed him ‘unfit for service’.  He lost money speculating and the businesses he instigated failed spectacularly.  In every case the attempt to transcend his dreaded ‘feminisation’ was frustrated. In 2006 he was forced to file for bankruptcy and move back in with his mother, the only respite from ‘feminisation’ here being his long periods engrossed in the computer game ‘World of War Craft’.        


Breivik’s declaration of bankruptcy coincided with an overall fall in the real GDP (2005–2006)of Norway’s economy (in comparison to Sweden whose real GDP rose in the same period from 3.2 – 4.3) and a fall in competitiveness on the world market.  The Norwegian government compensated for this by increasing credit and real wages to boost domestic demand and this created an increase in the levels of immigration. 


These events were crystallised with Breivik’s personal development.  He had utterly failed to realise his ‘potential’ and felt alienated from and rejected by the very social group he belonged to.  But the increases in immigration, along with the world wide fascist cultivation of notions of Islamophobia allowed his personal sense of betrayal and failure to be graduated into a universal principle; he wasn’t hateful of the middle classes because they had betrayed him, no – he was hateful of them because they had betrayed the country by capitulating before ‘multiculturalism’. No longer did he experience himself as poisoned toward them by the unbearable personal sense of inadequacy and failure – now his hatred manifested as a positive political principle which extended far beyond his own life; a fight to protect civilisation in which he appeared as a resplendent fighter poised on the front line. Thus a jaundiced thirst for revenge was transfigured into ‘nobility’ in and through the nexus of political ideology. 


There is a photo of Breivik, after the massacre, sitting in a police car looking out through the glass. In the aftermath he seems eerily calm and there is the ghost of a smile on his face. It is the expression of a man who feels as though he has finally found the success which has eluded his life, and is certain he will never be dismissed again.      


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