Anders Breivik and the Mystery of Judgment


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

Breivik’s lawyers will also summon the recently-jailed Mullah Krekar, founder of Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, to support the claim that ideological extremism is not a psychiatric disorder.

So far,

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 possible that we need a notion not of psychological pathology, but moral pathology? Here is Erich Fromm’s formulation from The Sane Society:

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.


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3 thoughts on “Anders Breivik and the Mystery of Judgment

  1. Anders Breivik was correct in what he did because his once muslim free country has been invaded by muslims. Why are the muslims in Norway? They’re in Norway to cause trouble. Everywhere they go they cause trouble because they don’t believe in Jesus Christ.

    1. ahmen to that, however they are only after your benefits system. We have servere problems in the UK concerning this. Even nurses in the local hospitals are saying its got out of control, people from Bangaladesh and Pakistan come over here every 6 months and get 6 months work of perscriptions for free, then head of back. We spend 400 pounds a week on some for housing yes per week ! I spend 450 per month on my house but I live within my means outside London. I would never expect the taxpayer to give me 1600+ per month because I want to live in London. However, immigrants really don’t care to much about that. You might laugh, but it will come to your country soon, then the schools will be full as they bread like rabbits. Just wait and see the demographics, they will speak volumes in a few years. The top boys name in England is mohammed (taking local variants into consideration).

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