Conservatives who can’t handle the truth

The ridiculous Robin of Berkeley, writing at the website which occasionally deserves the name American Thinker, is complaining about the fact that liberals are calling the right-wing Anders Breivik … right-wing. She is outraged that liberals are not doing what she does, which is to ignore Breivik’s own unmistakable words about his anti-leftist beliefs and plans, and instead focus on the supposed environmental, parental, psychiatric, and unconscious dimensions his homicidal behavior, for which she blames … liberalism!

A madman a continent away in Norway mows down almost 100 innocent people in cold blood. The shooter, Andrers Breivik, grew up a child of divorce, estranged from his father, in a liberal home in a liberal country.

And yet when the press starts pointing fingers, guess which direction they point. Do they gesture leftward, towards a liberal culture that belittles family and religion? Is atheist Europe the culprit for spawning a homicidal maniac? On the contrary … the media chooses the Usual Suspects, that vast right-wing conspiracy.

In the remainder of the article Robin shows that the contemporary left is far more violent than the contemporary right. Unfortunately for her, that fact is entirely irrelevant to the question of Breivik, who is a self-identified cultural conservative and enemy of the left.

It’s one thing to say that there is no necessary, logical connection between opposition to leftism and the mass murder of leftists; that of course is true and I have said it myself. It’s another thing to say, as Robin and various other unthinking conservatives say, that the reason Breivik mass-murdered leftists was not his opposition to leftism, but other supposed motives of his having nothing whatsoever to do with what he himself clearly and at great length said was his motive.

- end of initial entry -

Thomas Bertonneau writes:

I stopped reading Robin of Berkeley some time ago and have not read today’s American Thinker article. Taking your summary of the article as accurate, I would agree with you that Robin is a confused thinker. It is still possible, however, to question the legitimacy of the unqualified contention that Anders Breivik is a conservative. That Breivik thinks of himself as conservative might be true, but then some people think of themselves as Caesar or Napoleon. I am discontented, however, even with the description that Breivik “thinks of himself” as conservative. It would be truer to say that Breivik is a ferocious anti-leftist, in whose search for justification actual conservative discourse became useful. What else was he going to cite? Is Breivik ontologically a conservative? (If you want to know what I mean by “ontologically a conservative,” I mean someone like Lawrence Auster.) Does Breivik’s life in any way embody genuine conservative ideals? Being in outraged reaction against the painful debacle of a broken home engendered by leftwing policy might be the beginning of a conservative conversion, but it does not constitute such a conversion by itself. Neither can the applicability of the label “conservative” rest on mere self-identification, no matter how insistent. Conservatism, like everything else, has a specific nature. To the extent that conservatism is—at its profoundest level—a response both to the Greek Logos and the Gospel Logos, to the extent that the ideal of conservatism is persuasion, not coercion (much less a massacre), then Breivik is not a conservative, no matter how he identifies himself in his inner monologue or in his vast cut-and-paste testament.

Thomas Bertonneau writes:

You write that Robin of Berkeley in the second half of her article “shows that the contemporary left is far more violent than the contemporary right,” but you assess this as “entirely irrelevant to the question of Breivik.” I am not so sure.

An important way of classifying Anders Breivik after we have dealt with the question, is he really a conservative, is to ask the additional question, not what is he then (he is a mass-murderer and a devil), but of what is he a creature? As we add up the clauses in response to that question, it seems to me that it becomes increasingly justifiable to cite liberalism’s leftwing policies in every aspect of life—and liberal tolerance of violence—as ingredients in the ugly recipe of the Utoya killer. The final element, of course, is Breivik’s free will, which he exercised perversely and wickedly.

So, what do we have in Breivik? We have an alienated virtual orphan abandoned by narcissistic parents, an inveterate aficionado of pornographic violence in video games, a reviled “white European male” in a humiliating national multicultural experiment, a typical morally confused “post-Christian” in attitude. These are social conditions and states of mind associated with the liberal experiment, not with conservative principles as the ground of an orderly society. Maybe, in spite of itself, a genuinely conservative society would still have produced its Breivik. What happens, however, when we compare what liberal society is with what conservative society would be if it existed? Do we conclude that liberal society or conservative society is more likely to produce a Breivik? The answer is unavoidable and non-hypothetical, since the society that produced Breivik, Norway’s socialist utopia, is patently a liberal one and has been for the last fifty years at least.

LA replies:

I can’t disagree with your catalogue of the components of Breivik’s background and character, as far as it goes. But I still find your overall conclusion questionable. You say that Breivik is a product of a liberal society, and therefore his homicidal career is a product of liberal society. But we also are products of a liberal society. Our experience of that liberal society has led us to oppose it, just as Breivik’s experience of his liberal society led him to oppose it. We have an anti-liberal position; Breivik has an anti-liberal position. Breivik’s anti-liberalism led him to the conclusion that he had to mass-murder liberals. Our anti-liberalism has not led us to that conclusion. The bottom line remains that his conscious, stated reasons for mass-murdering liberals arise from his opposition to liberalism, not from liberalism.

I also want to say this. I don’t think that the question, “Is Breivik really conservative?”, matters in this discussion. The question is not whether Breivik is conservative in some essentialist sense, nor is it, “What is Breivik essentially?”—a question which, without my reading his whole manifesto, I’m in no position to address. The question that is relevant here, and which we can answer, is whether his critique of the contemporary West, leftist rule, and Islamization is substantially similar to that of cultural conservatives and Islam critics. And of course it is. It can’t be denied that it is. Therefore the effort by some conservatives to deny his commonality with them (of course I’m not accusing you of that) makes them seem silly and timorous.

Thomas Bertonneau writes:

You wrote: “But we [Auster and Bertonneau] also are products of a liberal society.”

I was born in Los Angeles in 1954. My father was a fireman and my mother was a housewife; my father and mother were still married when he died five years ago. Mandatory relativism was not injected into every subject when I attended school, nor had anyone ever heard of multiculturalism. There were no video games. I did not become a conservative by reading Fjordman and Baron Bodissey. I became a conservative by reading Plato and Aristotle and Baudelaire and T. S. Eliot. Etc. Probably you can tell a similar story. I say that you and I (your “we”) are not “products of liberal society” in the same way that Anders Breivik, a thirty-one-year-old, is.

Can you formulate a proposition that enables us to cross what seems to me a fairly small gap between our positions?

LA replies:

I think that particular point is trivial and not worth our discussing further.

But here’s the difference that may matter, if it exists. I say (a) that it’s simply a fact that Breivik was acting to advance what he perceived as a program of defeating leftism, and (b) that we ought to acknowledge that simple fact, regardless of whatever other, possibly liberal dimensions to Breivik’s character and motivations may be brought forward.

Do you agree with my position?

TB replies:

I think this is implied when I say that Breivik was a fanatical anti-leftist who found a ready-made justifying discourse on conservative websites. So to that extent we are already in agreement.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 03, 2011 11:05 AM | Send

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