I admit to the acts, but not to criminal guilt. I do not plead guilty, I was acting in self-defence.
Those are the words of Anders Breivik at his trial in Norway.
[T]he self-confessed mass killer tried to cast himself in the role of Norway’s lone crusader against the forces of pernicious multiculturalism.
There are people, in Norway, and in other Western nations, who dislike the ideology of “multiculturalism” – the world view behind it. Some detest it. Yet they will not act violently in opposition to it. Some may imagine and warn of an ultimate moment, a turning point, in which developments might force social conditions to a reckoning of forces. Yet as most people will in consideration of extreme, of violent, acts of their own volition, they will put that moment off, rationalize it away.
For many who embrace multiculturalism, the feelings of its foes are a mystery. Many supporters of a multicultural ideal will attribute opposition to it to some degree of malevolence, from mere racism of a kind to the whole ideological nexus behind the imperial epoch. But they, too, will rationalize – which is not to suggest here, necessarily, a variation from reason – some form of normal behavior and not push their assessment of reality to a determination that extreme measures are required.
“I don’t recognise Norwegian courts because you get your mandate from the Norwegian political parties which support multiculturalism,” Breivik told the presiding judge Wenche Elisabeth Arntzen quietly.
An easy rationale, not so well reasoned, but if everyone who reasoned no better drew the conclusion of seventy-seven dead at their own hands, the world would be a mass grave.
There are, nonetheless, individuals, like Breivik, and groups, that will justify horrific violence in this manner. Many, more publically in recent years, have been variously among groups of people Breivik perceives as the enemy. We are told that
The central issue facing the court is to determine his mental health.
Elsewhere we are told that
Two court-ordered psychiatric reports have reached contradictory conclusions. The first, in November, determined that Mr. Breivik was a psychotic paranoid schizophrenic before, during and after the attacks. The second, on April 10, said he was sane, albeit with a narcissistic personality disorder.
These distinct diagnoses suggest how useful, maybe even wise, is the legal notion of sanity, which generally designates consciousness of the consequences and moral weight of one’s act, however one may judge it. In Norway, the crucial consideration seems to be whether a psychiatric judgment is of any form of psychosis. A mere pathology, such as narcissistic personality disorder, does not disable moral consciousness, which Breivik seems clearly to have, however, literally, deviant.
This all points to the modern inclination to medicalize moral wrong. We accept a range of difference in judgment and action. We surely accept a very great range in the capacity to reason well. Philosophically, we argue about how much of a role reason actually plays, contra instinct and emotion, in our moral judgments, but we stand publically on the position that reason plays a central, foundational role. If the action deviates too far from the normal range, we judge it to be faulty, certainly, in reason, and, finally, at the greatest extreme, we tend to think that no psychologically healthy or (in that sense of mental health) “normal” person would act that way.
It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas or feelings proves the validity of these ideas and feelings. Nothing is further from the truth… Just as there is a folie à deux there is a folie à millions. The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.
Note, though, how Fromm moves without distinction from the language of reason – validity – to that of morality – vices and virtues – back to reason – errors and truths – and then finally to medicine – mental pathology and sanity.
We remain very confused in the way we think about this issue.
- The Unsound Judgment of Peter Beinart (sadredearth.com)
- Imagine the Dred Scott Decision Were Still the Law of the Land (sadredearth.com)
- The Wisdom of G.H.W. Bush – and Barack Obama (sadredearth.com)
- Libertarians: Call Them Irresponsible (sadredearth.com)
- Thinking Through the Iranian Dilemma (sadredearth.com)
- Obama, Holder & the Altered Paradigm of War (sadredearth.com)
- “What Must Be Said” Is Nothing (sadredearth.com)
- States Rights and Transnational Law (sadredearth.com)