Does the Norway Atrocity Make Nationalism Illegitimate? A Reply to Stephen Walt

Charles Dodgson


My first thoughts on learning about the mass murder committed by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway on 23rd July 2011 were mixed with emotions. That such atrocity could be committed in the name of something I also believe in–the defence of the West from Third World colonization–was sickening. Should I feel shame? Perhaps. I certainly felt fear. As a parent I could imagine how those youngsters’ parent felt and my own children being targeted for my beliefs.

Then shame or a sense of impending shame began to take over. Viewing Breivik’s video and skimming his book forced the realization that this was not an aimless rampage but an act carefully thought out to achieve a goal. Breivik may be a psychopath, but he is a psychopath with a purpose. And his purpose is also mine. I had a moral dilemma.

The dilemma was this: If defending Western identity inevitably leads to atrocity, to the killing of innocent people, how can I justify participating in identity politics? How can I be a White loyalist and live with myself? It is easy to make excuses and brush the issue under the proverbial carpet. Most nationalists are not killers. We have a just cause. The other side does bad things. Some immigrant communities are prone to violence. Etc. etc. Still, if our side descends to atrocity, that is something for which we must take responsibility.

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The problem can seem intractable if one believes that Breivik was a good soldier for his people, that he understood the problem and did what needed to be done. It is still worse if one believes that the warrior mind-set will be vital to mounting a fight-back against our treacherous elites. The intelligence of his views is the most depressing thing. He is a bright, thoughtful man. Perhaps ethnic nationalism is too emotive an idea to keep under control. Perhaps this ideology arouses such passions that it is, in a sense, too hot for politics to handle; an unfortunate necessity in times of war but never in peace time. To reiterate: If our most promising advocates are liable to forego politics and start a civil war, should we call off  the struggle?

With this question in mind I followed the various comments on Breivik. Those rare few who extolled or excused his actions were overwhelmingly outvoted by people like Kevin MacDonald and Pat Buchanan who condemned him. Marine Le Pen suspended a National Front member who praised Breivik. The consensus among credible White activists and Western cultural nationalists is that Breivik’s tactics, not his goals, are illegitimate. And the goal does not imply violence. The goal of accumulating resources is not discredited by thievery, though an eye should be kept on obsessive profit-seeking. Love of family is not discredited by feuding, though clannishness can be a trap. And the goal of ethnic advocacy is not discredited by genocide, as long as a stand is taken against murder. Breivik did not do what had to be done. He was a fanatic in search of a cause. Killing innocent people runs counter to the values of the West. Defending the West necessarily entails defending its way of life by living it. We can be relentless in warfare, but civilians are not legitimate targets. Breivik condemned Hitler for discrediting European nationalism with his barbarism but then shot unarmed boys and girls. My guess is that his arguments are rationalizations of an obsessive mind desensitised by ego-shooting computer games.

Then I read Stephen Walt’s comment, “Breivik’s Warped Worldview”, in which he condemned Breivik’s goals in addition to his tactics. His comment is so appalling in its confusion of values and reason, so evocative of the depths to which our elite culture has sunk, that it has swept away remaining doubts. I’ve snapped out of it. Ours is a just cause.

Stephen Walt is an eminent scholar of international relations at Harvard. He has courage. He co-authored The Israel Lobby with John Mearsheimer, which dissected the inordinate control exercised by the organized Jewish community over American Middle Eastern policy. But at least on this occasion this incisive mind is not much in evidence.

Consider his argument.

Breivik was seeking to defend a “fixed and sacred notion of the ‘Christian West’ which is supposedly under siege by an aggressive alien culture.” Walt criticizes this world view. Firstly, Norway’s Muslims constitute only 4 percent of the population. Also, and this is the main thrust of Walt’s argument, the West has changed dramatically. It is not fixed. Christianity was developed by a Jewish sect and imported to Europe from the Middle East. Walt continues:

Moreover, even Christian Europe is hardly a fixed cultural or political entity. The history of Western Europe (itself an artificial geographic construct) featured bitter religious wars, the Inquisition, patriarchy of the worst sort, slavery, the divine right of kings, the goofy idea of “noble birth,” colonialism, and a whole lot of other dubious baggage. Fundamentalists like Breivik pick and choose among the many different elements of Western culture in order to construct a romanticized vision that they now believe is under “threat.”

In fact, Walt believes, immigrants generally benefit societies, if the latter are willing to change in order to assimilate the newcomers. He berates Brievik for assuming that Norway is the best society available while believing this superior society is so brittle that a handful of immigrants present a shattering threat. Previous generations of Americans made the same mistake, seeing immigrants as a threat instead of a perpetual boon.

How credible are Walt’s claims?

Why is it irrational to seek to prevent 4 percent foreigners becoming 10 or 20 percent? That is prudent, not irrational, if the thing being measured is unwanted. Why do so many Norwegians and other Europeans not want more Muslim immigrants? Breivik discusses some immigrant characteristics such as high crime rates. A high proportion of rapes in Scandinavian countries are committed by Muslim immigrants. Walt does not mention rape. Muslim immigrants also take more than their fair share of welfare. They are free riders in welfare states that were developed in homogeneous, high-IQ, frugal, hard-working societies. Walt’s failure to allow for any negatives from immigration is the most disappointing element of his comment. For whom does he write?

Regarding national identity, I find it puzzling that an intelligent liberal can criticise identity politics without trying to comprehend the values at stake. Walt’s position really allows no room for any valid concern about identity. The important thing, the only thing really, is acceptance and tolerance. But to make that case it is necessary to understand the subject, to get inside his head and heart. The starting point is to accept that most people, especially in non-Western societies, value their ways of life and their ethnic groups. They cannot say with scientific precision why they feel that way or what precisely they seek to defend. But they know a threat when they see it. Walt’s writing on the Middle East evinces great sympathy for the Palestinians suffering under Israeli occupation. Can it be that he has failed to grasp their sense of territorial violation, of loss of autonomy, of rage at seeing other Palestinians humiliated, of seeing Israelis always dominant and Palestinians always subservient? Is it possible for an observer of Palestinians’ humiliation and dispossession to only see their economic loss? To grasp these things, to feel empathy for the Palestinians, should be easy for anyone who feels protectively about his own people.

Let me return to particulars, starting with the idea that because Christianity was imported from the Middle East two millennia ago, it is not a valid component of European identity. Actually Christianity has been transformed in Europe. There was the Germanisation of the early Church that reshaped a “world rejecting” primitive Christianity to conform to a “world accepting” Indo-European folk religious pattern. There was the fusion of Church and society in a seamless whole. There was the Church’s protection of the lower orders from aristrocratic polygyny and Jewish exploitation, as analysed by Kevin MacDonald. There was the Church’s fostering of science and philosophy culminating in the university. There was the Reformation, and yes, religious wars. There was Christianity’s moderating influence on colonialism, leading to the outlawing of slavery.

Despite all this, for Walt Christianity is nothing more than an import. It is not part of us in a uniquely European way. He should understand that traditions are developed in dialogue with the peoples that bear them. They do not need to be fixed to be valid components of identity.

Next, Walt tells us that Europe is an “artificial geographic construct”. Perhaps this means that Europe does not hang together as a geographical unit. Funny, it is really a peninsula with an island perched on top. Not very large. Looks like a neat package to me. Or Walt could mean that the cultural similarities of Europe’s sub-regions are the product of propinquity. If the European peoples had been spread across the continents, they would have nothing in common. If that is what he is asserting, then it amounts to an admission that Europeans are bound by a shared culture. He cannot have it both ways. But of course the shared culture is anything but an “artificial construct” because it evolved over millennia. Europe’s racial identity evolved over a much longer period, but for the time being we are dealing with culture.

Finally Walt lists some negative European historical events and asserts that failing to include these as part of Europe’s identity is irrational. But identity rests on distinctive qualities while the negative traits Walt mentions are common to humanity. Religious strife, patriarchy, slavery, kingship, aristocracy, and empire are not special to Europe. How can a Harvard professor not know this? I suppose it could be argued that Europe conducted these activities on a larger scale or at a higher level of sophistication than did other peoples but that is a matter of capacity, not morality.

Walt also fails to note that most of these traits were not evenly distributed across Europe. The worst religious wars took place in central Europe following the Reformation. Most European countries never knew “patriarchy of the worst sort”. Pologyny is common to stratified societies but there was never the harem system found in Asia and Africa. And Christianity all but eliminated polygyny in Europe, a unique achievement among civilizations. Many European countries were not involved in the African slave trade or colonialism. There were various inquisitions which varied in scope, administrative bodies and penalties. Walt seeks to brand Europe with attributes that have never been common to the region while ignoring general traits such as the positive achievements of Christianity and the Greco-Roman inheritance, not to mention racial features, to be discussed presently.

In attempting to belittle European identity Walt also confuses interests and morality, missing the nepotistic character of patriotism. This is distilled in the saying “My country right or wrong”. Love of family or people is to a large extent independent of the morality of the object. The attachment is not primarily due to attribution of goodness but to individual bonds and shared identity which we experience due to evolved predispositions. That is why wrongdoing by a son or daughter causes such pain. We are psychically torn. And that is why U.S. senator Carl Schurz who coined the phrase in 1872 took care to describe the moral tension that unconditional bonds can create:

My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.

Walt’s criticism of European identity appears even weaker if viewed from an evolutionary perspective. Yes, cultural identity is important, but our genetic stake in preserving Europe and descendant nations intact would remain even if they converted to Islam. A parent might not like it when a child adopts a different religion. But the parent retains a vital interest in the welfare of the child. Some conversions are adaptive if they help foster families and communities. The change from paganism to Christianity was one such conversion, infusing primitive cultures with the Greco-Roman cultural tradition. Conversion to Islam would almost certainly increase the Western birth rate as a result of subjugating women. Most will consider that too high a human price to pay, and there would be other costs such as dumbing down the culture and opening borders even further to the Islamic world.

The most adaptive course for Westerners is to find a way to restore a sustainable birthrate and ethnic consciousness within the framework of the Western tradition, which forms the vital cultural aspect of our identity. That cannot be achieved if we misconstrue the content and nature of Western cultural identity, as does Stephen Walt, or if we apply military tactics to what is an intellectual, cultural, and political problem, as did Anders Breivik.

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