I see that English-language media have begun to litter their reports of yesterday’s mass killings in Oslo and Utøya with reference to the blond, blue-eyed Norwegian alleged perpetrator being a “neo-Nazi”. The soaraway Sun‘s first edition front page described it as an “al-Qaeda massacre”.
Going by Norwegian-language news reports, what we know with some degree of certainty is that Anders Behring Breivik was a member of the Fremskrittspartiet (Progress Party) until his political views became a little too extreme for an organisation with a similar ideological basis and praxis to that of the French National Front and Danish People’s Party. That is, non-violent, petite-bourgeois constitutional nationalism. Racist, certainly, but not neo-Nazi. We are talking instead about a thoroughly domestic fascism.
Norwegian neo-Nazism is an insignificant political force, and quite unlike the sizeable movement which exists across the border in Sweden: a country that was officially neutral, but which in part collaborated with Nazi Germany during the second world war. Norway suffered greatly under German occupation, and domestic collaborators had a very hard time for many years following the end of the war. Norwegians developed a resistance mentality during the war years, and to some degree this continues.
The people of Norway today are very European in outlook, and from my perspective they are more internationalist than their British neighbours. At the same time, however, the Norwegians keep a certain distance. From everyone. You could interpret this as nationalism, but in my view this would be a mistake. There do exist hard-core Norwegian nationalists, but the prevailing ideology is one of social democracy in one country, and it is this left-of-centre political and cultural hegemony which leads some to develop a visceral hatred of the ruling class, the youth of which was represented in force on Utøya.
Scandinavian social democracy is a peculiar thing. It has created an open, democratic and entrepreneurial society in which the market is relatively free, but the state is central, and seen by the majority as being both useful and benevolent. At the same time, the state is destroying the old order by stealth from within. For example, the Lutheran church has been thoroughly co-opted by the state, and is being throttled by it. The same goes for other institutions of Scandinavian society, and what we have is social engineering that does not require blood sacrifice. But the social democratic hegemony is incomplete, and in some quarters there is resistance to it.
Breivik’s killing of scores of Labour Party youth activists was an act of evil (or “moral insanity”, to use philosopher Anthony Grayling’s preferred term). The details of the perpetrator’s political views are of only limited significance, but significant they are, and one should avoid labels such as “neo-Nazi” unless their use can be backed up by evidence. Breivik’s political heroes are said to include Winston Churchill and Geert Wilders, but, from what I can see, the most interesting influence is that of Max Manus, the Norwegian anti-Nazi resistance fighter and saboteur. This ties in with what I said earlier today about the Norwegians being a hardy people. Hardy, handy, and independent to the core.
Combine hero worship of max Manus and a fear of Norway’s social democratic consensus with a malfunctioning brain and flipped moral compass, and one can conceivably end up with individuals prepared to slaughter innocents in large numbers. Is this what has happened with Anders Breivik? Time and psychiatric reports will tell, but for now one should avoid over-interpretation and extrapolation. Whatever the political and cultural background, what happened yesterday was that an individual adult human being made a free choice, and carried out actions for which he is personally responsible.