The title of the sophomoric 1,518-page manifesto is “2083 — A European Declaration of Independence,” and its author, Anders Behring Breivik, is the self-confessed murderer of 93 people by current count. Nothing can justify his Breivik’s cold-blooded brutality, but the concerns that motivated him are both perfectly understandable and shared by many of us. Only hours before his first attack, Breivik published a document on the Internet in which he not only recorded the details of his preparations but also presented a long explanation for them. It was written in English, for the obvious purpose of gaining an international audience. In this he may have succeeded. As a self-declared “Justiciar Knight Commander for Knights Templar Europe” and “one of several leaders of the National and pan-European Patriotic Resistance Movement” — organizations police are investigating at this very moment — Breivik produced a concoction of facts, romantic fiction, historical data, and quotations from both academic sources and wacky commentators alike.
Nevertheless, his manifesto, based on references to many more-or-less reliable websites and on literature from Shakespeare to Burke and Churchill, and from Jefferson to Hayek and Scruton, together with historical examples from the Crusades to the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683, puts one in mind of someone who correctly spots a problem but draws a conclusion that the moral law plainly forbids. It is a remarkable document for being so right in presenting facts, so wrong in determining their underlying cause, and so utterly deplorable in deriving a justification for murder. It also gives us occasion to reflect on what the legitimate Catholic path might be in a situation of obvious cultural decline.
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There is no doubt that the West — and through Western educational dominance, most of the world — has come under the sway of a form of relativism that Breivik refers to as “cultural Marxism.” Multiculturalism, feminism, socialism, and other collective ideologies have been foisted upon us by the media, by our schools and universities, and by governments at an accelerating pace. In many cases, the defense of Christian positions rooted in both reason and natural law — such as the sanctity of life, of marriage and the family, or of education that teaches what is true and truly good — has become an indictable offense. Breivik identifies many of the ills of a culture that has given up the values of Christianity, humanism, and even the Enlightenment. Pope Benedict XVI has referred to this movement as the “dictatorship of relativism,” as objective categories of true and false, and right and wrong, are relativized to accidental membership in groups by nation, sex, race, or class. In his admirable 2006 University of Regensburg speech — to which Breivik actually refers — the pope argued that this movement undermines the rationality of the logos that Western tradition has inherited from the Greeks and combined with the monotheistic faith of the Jews to develop a singularly successful culture.
The fruits of relativism can be seen everywhere in the Western world in what John Paul II called a “culture of death” — declining birth rates and population growth, high rates of abortion and divorce, ailing families, indebted households and governments, young people without prospects and optimism. We have forgotten what is good for the human person, for society, and for nature, according to God’s plan. We have started to believe that all boundaries can be shifted, and so we legalize homosexual “marriage,” allow indiscriminate immigration without integration, glorify promiscuity, enjoy debased entertainment, and destroy families by making regular, well-paying work hard to find. This is the world against which Breivik revolted, and many of us can understand his frustration.
Breivik’s (literally) fatal mistake is in having misdiagnosed the source of our cultural and political malaise. Manifestations of relativism do not occur in a haphazard and unrelated fashion. They can be reduced to an underlying cause — man’s belief, at least since the Enlightenment, in autonomy, and thus his abandonment of God. Alas, Breivik’s act of autonomous violence was an expression of precisely this culture rather than a countercultural act of resistance. In embracing nationalism, he still subscribes to a collectivist ideology. Why should the identity of a person be defined more by being Norwegian, or French, or Moroccan, than by being Asian, or female, or a factory worker? Catholic social thought, and even old-fashioned humanism, places the individuality of the person before membership in any group. The dignity of humans is inviolate regardless of other properties, and it therefore extends to all.
Nor is the cultural problem of Europe heavy immigration as such, whether from Muslim countries or elsewhere. The real problem is the lack of integration, which is merely a function of weak political will. Governments have buckled to Islamic pressure and allow immigration without integration, to the extent of even admitting Sharia law in their own courts. They have failed to pursue an effective two-step strategy — to select appropriate immigrants and then make them fully functional parts of society. The political failure to handle Muslim immigration correctly has been paid for dearly — by riots in the banlieues of Paris, self-contained ghettos in British cities, and social tension in much of Europe. Between 1979 and 2009, the Muslim population of Europe more than doubled, and it will have doubled again by 2015. In Brussels, the top seven baby boys’ names recently were Mohamed, Adam, Rayan, Ayoub, Mehdi, Amine, and Hamza. In Marseilles and Rotterdam, more than 25 percent of the population is Muslim, in Malmö more than 20 percent, and more than 10 percent in London, Paris, and Copenhagen. For many Europeans it is perfectly understandable that French law since 2004 forbids conspicuous religious symbols in public primary and secondary schools, including Muslim headscarves or veils (but also kippot and large crosses), and since April 2011 also bans face-covering veils. Several other countries have similar laws at local levels or are discussing national legislation to prevent the further growth of parallel societies.
Breivik erred not in overlooking the problem but in drawing the wrong conclusion. Vigilante action — whether in the form of the Unabomber or of Muslim suicide bombers — is always morally wrong, not least because its victims are not responsible for the perceived predicaments. Breivik’s rampage reminds one of those priests (and now typically ex-priests) in Latin America who believed in seeking social justice according to their own judgment by means of violent revolution. The Catholic answer is that responsibility is individual, while action is social and is carried out through the political process or non-violent forms of resistance. There is a venerable tradition of Christian just war theory that defines the clear conditions by which war may be justified as a last resort. It can never be waged by one person alone. Even the Crusades were collective actions authorized by the highest legitimate authorities — the pope, the emperor, and kings — for a specific religious purpose.
The press has already started to brand Breivik as a “Christian conservative.” Despite the biblical citations in his manifesto, he is very far from that. One wishes that he had read Benedict’s encyclical Spe Salvi (2007). It lays out the case for hope being based in faith and argues that no situation is dismal enough for us to lose that hope. We must act morally, under the guidance of practical reason, and within the community of the Church. Hope and action then form a virtuous circle where each builds up the other. Despite his reading, in his ideological obstinacy, Breivik missed the point. As the pope made clear: “Christianity did not bring a message of social revolution like that of the ill-fated Spartacus, whose struggle led to so much bloodshed.” Christians are called to work for a cultural revolution by building on “a hope which transforms life and the world from within.” That was Breivik’s error: He went looking for a shortcut, and found only violence.