Notes From the Margins…

The Paranoid Style in European Politics

  • July 25, 2011
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From the English Defence League to Marine Le Pen’s National Front,  the European far-right has been  at pains to condemn Anders Behring Breivik’s psychotic act of holy war on Friday.  These condemnations may well be sincere, but it is too easy and convenient for these organizations to dismiss the atrocities in Norway as the work of a “violent and sick character” (Gert Wilders) or an isolated act of extremism by a lone fanatic.

Breivik may well have planned and executed the slaughter in Norway by himself, but his ideas and motivations reflect a set of assumptions that spans the far-right and more mainstream political figures and media commentators.  In Richard Hofstadter’s seminal The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Hofstadter identified a certain political ‘style’ amongst the American right in particular that was characterised by  a “sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.”

In Hofstadter’s formulation

The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms – he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date for the apocalypse.

All these characteristics have been evident for some years  in Europe’s shrill and hysterical ‘debate’ about immigration, particularly Muslim immigration.    For more than a decade, Internet bloggers, far-right demagogues and media pundits such as Melanie Phillips and Mark Steyn  have propagated the notion that Europe is in the throes of a new Muslim ‘invasion’ through immigration that is destroying European culture, and that this ‘invasion’ has been facilitated by a liberal/leftist political and cultural establishment driven by ‘political correctness’ and a suicidal ‘ideology’ of multiculturalism.

Even more respectable conservatives such Bernard Lewis and Niall Ferguson have  have accepted the berserko conspiracy theory advanced by the British/Egyptian writer Bat Ye’or, which claims that Europe is being transformed into an Islamic colony called Eurabia and that Europeans have already been reduced to  a state of cultural subjugation or ‘dhimmitude’ by pro-Muslim liberal/leftist elites.

These ideas have  about the same level of intellectual credibility as David Icke’s lizard people.   But they are often recycled by a lazy and often blatantly inflammatory popular press, which routinely publishes  lies, exaggerations and distortions about supposed Muslim cultural domination over European societies that present dominant cultural majorities as an endangered species.  Mainstream politicians have  engaged in opportunistic denunciations of ‘multiculturalism’ and authoritarian demands for immigrants to conform to ‘our values’ or leave –  demands that tend to be directed at Muslims.

All these ideas can be found in the  video 2083: A Declaration of European Independence which Breivik posted on Youtube (now removed) to justify his atrocious act of ‘propaganda by deed’ on Friday.   Accompanied by soundtrack of portentous music, a succession of images, texts and slogans presents a dark vision of European society subjugated by a ‘multi culturalist alliance’ made up of Marxists, ‘Suicidal Humanists’ and ‘Capitalist Globalists’, which aims to ‘to harshly suppress any and all political opposition from cultural conservatives by labelling them as racists, fascists and Nazis.’

For Breivik,  multiculturalism is “an anti-European hate ideology, designed to deconstruct European culture and traditions, European identities, European identities, European Christendom and even European nation states.   As such it is an evil ideology, created for the sole purpose for (sic) the eradication of an entire civilisation.”

The main source of this coming destruction is Islam, whose various jihads (demographic, military, ‘drug distribution’ etc) are all facilitated by the ‘Cultural Marxist ‘traitors.’   Compare this with the following post from the Stop Islamisation of Europe’s website on May 16 2010 on the ‘trinity of evil’ that is destroying British society:

Diversity Political Correctness Multiculturalism

This poison has been used to mitigate the punishment of murderers, rapists, and drug dealers who have enjoyed its all embracing protection.  While every one of us should be outraged that criminals have been given a charter to freely offend, it presents an even greater danger to our way of life. All over the Western world this trinity of evil is easing our country”s slide into abject servitude to Islam.

Like many with similar views, Breivik is fond of unreferenced statistics.  Thus we learn that between 1950-2011 42,500 Europeans have been “murdered by Muslims in Europe, that 750,000 women have been raped by Muslims and 5.5 million have been beaten and robbed – figures which ‘are conservative estimates and are expected to double within the next decade.”

Breivik also singles out the BBC as a particularly egregious component of this multicultural/jihadist conspiracy,  with a satirical mission statement:

BBC: We support multiculturalism and we are proud to facilitate the Islamisation of Europe!  If you don’t support our Cultural Marxist views then you are, by default, a fascist-racist-Nazi-monster and thus, your opinion does not count.

This sense of victimhood is a recurring feature of the European right’s ‘paranoid style’.   Take this characteristically measured response to the phonehacking scandal from Melanie Phillips,  which argued that the BBC rather than Murdoch’s News International was the real threat to British media, because

With some honourable exceptions, whether in its drama, comedy, news reporting or current affairs the BBC”s output rests upon certain articles of faith.  For example, traditional Christians are all fundamentalist bigots; the science of man-made global warming is settled; opponents of mass immigration are racist; Eurosceptics are swivel-eyed fanatics; and all who oppose these opinions and more are Right-wing extremists.

The point about this analysis is that it is not an analysis at all.   It is a set of prejudiced and inflammatory opinions without any empirical basis,  driven entirely by Hofstadter’s “sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy”.

Breivik’s formulations reflect the same tendencies.    But where he differs from some –  not all – of his contemporaries, is in  his resolute determination to ‘act’  in order to prevent the ‘evil genocide’ taking place in Europe.   Potted vignettes of  Charles Martel, El Cid, Richard the Lionheart and – unusually – Vlad the Impaler,  alternate with pictures of the Crusades, and historic  Christian military victories over Muslims at Tours and Siege of Vienna, to support Breivik’s announcement of  a new Knights Templar which will engage in a new ‘crusade’ that will ‘decimate’ the Cultural Marxists and drive the Muslims from Europe.

Breivik insists that these objectives are not racist or ‘imperialistic’, since

We believe that facilitating the growth of competing cultures within a nation will only result in the weakening of the nation through cultural/religious/ethnic conflict.   We believe that the Japanese and South Korean cultural model is the most superior of all existing models in the world today.  This model is similar to the European cultural model from the 1950s.

Substitute the word ‘cultural’ with ‘racial’ and you are back in the 20s and 30s, to the Nazi fantasy of a German ‘reservoir of blood’ defiled and polluted by Jews and other racially inferior elements.  Like so many members of the ‘new’ European right, Bleivik uses ‘culture’ instead of  ‘race’ as a justification and rationalisation for the demonisation of Muslims and a rallying cry for an immigrant-free Europe.

Before this utopia can be achieved however, “The European tree of liberty will be refreshed by the blood of our patriots or our Marxist tyrants” and a new “revolution” spearheaded by the new knightly order,  embodied by Breivik himself, the self-proclaimed ideal of the “Perfect Knight”.

In the last section of the video,  comic book illustrations of sword-wielding knights cut to photographs of Breivik himself, the steroid-taking comicbook crusader,  variously posing as a Freemason,  in some kind of military uniform covered in medals and posing action-man style in a wetsuit with a machine gun.

On one level this video suggests a profile of a narcissistic killer, not that far removed from an American high school shooter, with its combination of  victimhood and persecution,  self-admiration and grandiose dreams of bloody omnipotence.  In the days and weeks to come psychologists and criminologists and the media will pore endlessly over his motives that led him to turn on ‘his own kind’ and some may conclude that he was insane.

But his insanity was also a product and a reflection of the toxic bile that has percolated European politics and society for more than a decade. Those who promote fantasies of an Muslim ‘ invasion’ may well be shocked at the horror that took place on Utoya island on Friday, but they should not be entirely surprised that there are those who take such fantasies literally and engage in their own form of ‘war’.

Breivik is not the first far-right activist to contemplate armed ‘resistance’ in recent years, and he may not be the last.   Faced with this gross act of barbarism, it is incumbent upon both civil society and politicians to challenge and expose the paranoia, xenophobia and concealed racism that indirectly contributed to it,  and find ways to construct a common European home for all its communities – not only those who Breivik and his ideological fellow-travellers have decided have a unique and exclusive ‘right’ to be here.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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