[Marxism] Scott McLemee on Breivik's ideology

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 10 06:52:41 MDT 2011


Culture War to Shooting War
August 10, 2011
By Scott McLemee

Shortly before the bombing and shooting spree in Norway last month 
that left 77 people dead, Anders Behring Breivik e-mailed a 
thousand people the document he called his “compendium” -- a more 
accurate label than “manifesto,” as some have called it, since 
large chunks of text were cut and pasted from various sources 
rather than composed by the murderer himself. In its opening, 
Breivik says he spent three years preparing the work. It runs to 
1,518 pages in PDF. There is no table of contents or index. Its 
final pages contain a number of photographic self-portraits. In 
one, Breivik is dressed in a uniform with a patch that reads 
“Special Issue Multiculti Traitor Hunting Permit.” He holds a 
weapon, aiming it somewhat to the reader’s left.

Just having the file open on my computer’s desktop for the past 
couple of days has proven to be depressing. I was in no hurry to 
read Breivik’s magnum rantus, and the decision to download it was 
not a matter of morbid curiosity. If anything, I tried to avoid 
learning more about the massacre than absolutely necessary. 
Certain kinds of sensationalism leave you feeling contaminated. In 
any case, the inescapable details proved all too familiar. 
Breivik’s anti-feminism and Islamophobic rage, his conviction that 
“multiculturalism” and “political correctness” are destroying 
civilization, and must be stopped -- all of this is the usual 
stuff of contemporary resentment. Even his "traitor hunting 
permit" is standard-issue misanthropy.

But there turns out to be more to Breivik’s text than the usual 
hateful boilerplate. The killer was also a perverse sort of public 

He devotes almost 30 pages of single-spaced text to a peculiar 
tour of 20th-century thought. It is poorly informed but 
passionate. Breivik thinks of himself as an enemy of critical 
theory, which, by his reckoning, has ruined modern culture by 
undermining the rightful authority of European males. In 
particular, he appears obsessed with the influence of the 
Frankfurt School of philosophers and social scientists who fled 
the Nazis in the 1930s. (Many ended up in the United States; their 
research foundation, the Institute for Social Research, was 
affiliated with Columbia University between 1935 and 1950.) From 
the account in Breivik’s compendium, the school emerges as a 
tireless, ruthless, single-minded force seeking to destroy the 
good old days. This is unintentionally funny, given that a number 
of Frankfurt School thinkers were culturally -- and by the 1960s 
even politically -- rather conservative.

These opening pages of Breivik’s compendium are polemical and 
delusional, in equal measure. But the document is significant for 
at least a couple of reasons. The first is that it is the 
cornerstone of an effort not just to rationalize an act of 
violence, but to encourage others to follow his example. (A few 
hundred pages later, he gives advice on explosives and so forth.)

The other noteworthy thing about Breivik’s section on intellectual 
history is its provenance. All of his ideas came from the United 
States. Even that may be understating it. Nearly every syllable of 
Breivik’s diatribe against critical theory, “cultural Marxists,” 
and militant feminism was taken from a think tank in the 
Washington, D.C., area. His rampage was, in effect, the American 
culture wars continued by other means.

A good summary of Breivik’s opening pages appears in “The Time of 
the Spectacle,” a book now being written by Douglas Kellner, who 
is a professor of philosophy at UCLA. He has published a number of 
volumes on critical theory -- including a study of the Frankfurt 
School figure Herbert Marcuse, who features so prominently in 
Breivik’s text as to be one of the main villains. Kellner provided 
me with some paragraphs from a recent draft of his work in 
progress, and I would prefer to quote his remarks on the 
compendium rather than having to spend any more time reading the 
damned thing.

Breivik uses the term “cultural Marxism,” writes Kellner, to label 
“everything that he opposes, including all forms of left, liberal, 
and progressive thought…. In his genealogies of cultural Marxism, 
he privileges the Frankfurt School whose work he interprets as the 
origins of the ‘political correctness’ movement (i.e. anti-racism, 
anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, and other forms of tolerance)….” 
There is no evidence that the author read a single work by a 
Frankfurt School thinker or anyone else that he denounces. “The 
presentation is generally trite,” notes Kellner, “and based on 
secondary sources.”

Nor, may I add, are those secondary sources always reliable. We 
are informed that the Italian Communist thinker Antonio Gramsci 
concluded that “a Bolshevik-style uprising could not be brought 
about by Western workers due to the nature of their Christian 
souls.” From this we must conclude that the Russian Orthodox 
Church was either pro-Bolshevik or non-Christian. (Of course, that 
would assume some knowledge of the existence of the Russian 
Orthodox Church.)

“At a secret meeting in Germany in 1923,” reads another especially 
silly passage, the Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukacs “proposed 
the concept of inducing ‘Cultural Pessimism’ in order to increase 
the state of hopelessness and alienation in the people of the West 
as a necessary prerequisite for revolution.” Now, the whole point 
of Lukacs’s work was that alienation and disintegration were the 
inevitable products of modernity itself. Besides, nobody had to 
organize a secret meeting to generate cultural pessimism in 
Germany in 1923. If you wanted to find some, you could go out on 
the street.

Examples could be multiplied ad nauseam. The text almost collapses 
under the weight of its own misinformation. But Kellner’s point is 
a bit different. He notes that Breivik’s remarks on critical 
theory open “with the claim that ‘one of conservativism’s most 
important insights is that all ideologies are wrong.’ ” As an 
attempt to trump the Frankfurt School, this misses the point by a 
mile. Their work was never an effort to create an ideology; it 
tried to analyze the logic of social systems, and most of all to 
understand the origins of fascism, but never offered a 
programmatic alternative. (Nor did they find much good to say 
about the Soviet Union. A German Communist once said he wished the 
Frankfurters would join the party just so they could be purged.)

Kellner notes that Breivik’s compendium “clearly [embodies] an 
‘ideology’ in which he imagines Europe was [until recently] free 
of Muslims and all forms of cultural Marxism.” But if all 
ideologies are wrong, then Breivik has negated his own enterprise. 
The whole thing “self-deconstructs,” in Kellner’s appraisal.

Unfortunately, self-contradiction never kept a homicidal maniac 
from completing his mission. And as it happens, the pages in 
question were not actually written by Anders Breivik. The ersatz 
erudition all comes secondhand, from a collection of articles 
called Political Correctness: A Short History of an Ideology, 
edited by William S. Lind, which is readily available online. It 
was published in 2004 by the Free Congress Foundation, a think 
tank founded by the prominent conservative fund raiser Paul 
Weyrich in 1977. (Its offices are currently in the Washington 
suburb of Alexandria, Va.)

The foundation once sponsored a TV network called National 
Empowerment Television, which is now defunct. In 1999, it aired a 
program called “Political Correctness: The Frankfurt School.” One 
of the talking heads appearing on it was Martin Jay, a professor 
of history at UC Berkeley. A substantial chunk of Breivik’s text 
consists of a tendentious chapter-by-chapter account of Jay’s 
study The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt 
School and the Institute for Social Research 1923-1950 (Little, 
Brown, 1973). This summary is taken, more or less verbatim, from a 
chapter of the FCF's book from 2004.

In an essay appearing in the winter 2011 issue of the cultural 
journal Salmagundi, Jay wrote about finding himself involuntarily 
associated with “an odd cast of pseudo-experts regurgitating 
exactly the same line” about the Frankfurters. “When I was 
approached for the interview,” he writes, “I was not informed of 
the political agenda of the broadcasters, who seemed very 
professional and courteous. Having done a number of similar shows 
in the past on one or another aspect of the history of the 
Frankfurt School, I naïvely assumed the end result would reflect 
my opinions with some fidelity, at least within the constraints of 
the edited final product. But what happened instead was that all 
my critical remarks about the hypocrisy of the right-wing campaign 
against political correctness were lost and what remained were 
simple factual statements confirming the Marxist origins of the 
School, which had never been a secret to anyone.”

The NET program is still around, courtesy of YouTube. Jay’s essay 
is not now available at Salmagundi’s website. The magazine ought 
to put it up, simply in the interests of intellectual hygiene.

The claims that the Frankfurt School intended to destroy 
civilization and impose a new tyranny upon the word were expanded 
upon in Political Correctness: A Short History of an Ideology. But 
the book cast its net a little wider than the Frankfurt school -- 
devoting a few pages to deconstruction, for example. Breivik took 
a selection of material from the collection, making it more 
appropriate for the audience he hoped to reach. When necessary, he 
tweaked the text a little. Mentions of the United States or “this 
country” were made into references to Europe.

Not everything could be repurposed, however. The best parts of 
chapter five would not have spoken to the Norwegian condition, but 
I recommend it for its interesting revelation of the American 
political passions infusing the book. The chapter is called 
“Radical Feminism and Political Correctness,” but it goes to some 
places you might not expect from the title.

As much trouble as the Frankfurt School and the cultural Marxists 
have caused, it seems, “the feminization of American politics” has 
even deeper roots than that. It began with “the idealistic 
Transcendentalists” like Margaret Fuller and Henry David 
Thoreau.The problem was not simply that they were feminists. They 
were also “abolitionists, bent on destroying slavery and Southern 
culture as well.” Their ideas "propelled our nation toward Civil 
War.” Things have never quite gotten back on track. And now, 150 
years later, the major political parties hold “’feminized’ 
conventions featuring soft, emotional, Oprah Winfrey-type orations 
and sentimental film clips of the presidential candidates.”

Clearly Ralph Waldo Emerson is just as responsible for this 
totalitarian nightmare as Friedrich Engels -- possibly even more 
so. In any case, we have the Transcendentalists to blame for 
ruining a perfectly good plantation system.

Just before deleting Brievik’s document and related drivel from my 
laptop, I called Stephen Eric Bronner, a professor of political 
science at Rutgers University. He has published a good deal about 
the Frankfurt School, including a recent volume on it for the 
Oxford University Press series of “very short introductions.” Not 
surprisingly, he was aware of the Frankfurt derangement syndrome. 
“It’s the usual mixture of relatively legitimate claims with 
complete nonsense,” he said.

It’s the nonsense that’s toxic, of course. But the imaginary 
gallery of bogeymen is strangely revealing, even so. The real-life 
Frankfurt School thinkers “were concerned with liberty and 
autonomy,” Bronner said, “and opposed to mass society. Their 
entire outlook was shaped by the Holocaust, which also shaped 
their fear of political action, their very deep distrust of mass 
movements. Their outlook was individualist, nonconformist, 
bohemian. This idea that they wanted to dominate the culture is 

Absurd, but not inexplicable, perhaps. Brievik et al. can scarcely 
hide the wish to dominate their own societies. They yearn for a 
mass movement to wipe out any obstacles to that happening.

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a column about a book from 
the late 1940s called Prophets of Deceit. Its main author was Leo 
Lowenthal, a German émigré sociologist and member of the Frankfurt 
School. Lowenthal and his colleague analyzed the speeches and 
writings of a certain kind of demagogue that became prevalent 
during the 1930s. They warned of subversive foreigners and 
sinister elites bent on destroying everything their audience held 
dear. Lowenthal wrote that these figures concocted narrative that 
were “always facile, simple, and final, like daydreams.” They gave 
their followers “permission to indulge in anticipatory fantasies 
in which they violently discharge [their] emotions against alleged 

Sometimes the fantasy is enough -- but not always.“The Frankfurt 
School wanted a more cosmopolitan, civilized, open society,” said 
Bronner. “I think that’s part of why the School has become part of 
these bizarre stories.” That sounds right. They conceived a world 
beyond resentment. It seems like that would be a good thing. But 
not for everyone; for some people, resentment is all they have left.

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