The Politics of Unreason
Far too many today confuse reason with rationalisation. This is not just true of the reactionary right either.
Reading through the various articles posted and published on the internet, I find Anders Behring Breivik described variously as a “right-wing Christian fundamentalist terrorist,” a “Judeo-Masonic terrorist,” a “pro-Zionist terrorist,” a “conservative terrorist,” a “free market liberal, anti-Muslim Zionist terrorist,” a “Christian jihadi,” or a “nationalist terrorist.” I’m quite sure there are others, including some terms Breivik used for himself.
Breivik has become something of a Rorschach inkblot for all sorts of people to read themselves into, pro or con. And reading his manifesto you can indeed find justification for every one of those descriptions (and more). He characterised himself, after all, in many of those same terms. He even modeled himself very closely after Osama bin Laden and his organisation, in both aims, methods, and purposes. But the one you privilege may, in the end, be more autobiographical than it is a completely adequate characterisation of Breivik.
(And if you haven’t already had the opportunity, please read Kenan Malik’s great article on this ironic similarity between Breivik and Bin Laden: “The tragic ironies of Breivik’s terror.”)
I’m content to use the term “reactionary”, which is as applicable to men like Bin Laden as much as it is to people like Breivik. The term should be completely unobjectionable and proper for those who understand what it means — except to those who somehow find excuses or rationalisations for Breivik’s act, which stamps them, too, as reactionaries or radical conservatives.
But don’t expect the reactionary type to be frank and honest about who and what they are, because like the fascists of early times, they have appropriated the language of progressives and now twist it and pervert it to serve their own ends and ideology. Reactionary “new right” conservatives now perversely describe themselves as the true “revolutionaries” or “progressives,” impossibly distorting and pre-empting the authentic political discourse, just as earlier fascists appropriated the language and meanings, (thus pre-empting the possibility of authentic political discourse), of the German socialists by twisting it to serve reactionary ends. By war’s end in 1945, there were so many German words that had become impossible to use rationally that linguists were speaking of the “destruction of the German language,” while the Austrian dissident novelist and one of the most famous authors in his day, Stefan Zweig, committed suicide in 1942 because he didn’t feel he could write honestly and authentically in German any longer.
I know something about this pre-emption and short-circuiting of dialogue, and the misappropriation and perversion of sterling values through the process of propaganda. I spent two years in university, here and in Germany, studying the history and technique of Nazi and fascist propaganda. So, I know something of the tactics and methods of political reactionaries, which is why I often insist on clarifying the origin and history of certain key words whose authentic geneaology has often been deliberately mystified or obfuscated in order to deliberately obstruct and confound our reason and discourse.
(By the way, if you want to know something about how the German language was perverted during the reactionary period, and then struggled to recover afterwards, George Steiner’s collection of essays in Language and Silence has some wonderful insights on this. Much of this is happening again today when reactionary politics is now becoming mainstream or “new” conservatism, and is freely and shamelessly employing disinformation, distortion, falsification, and spin to pervert the possibility of genuine political dialogue, the essence of democratic process. Glenn Beck’s deranged description of the kids killed on Utøya Island as being a “Hitler Youth” is one particularly outrageous example).
This is what I call “the politics of unreason,” and I’m reluctantly coming round to Nietzsche’s view that the only response to its radical perversity and nihilism is suppression.
(Although, I’m willing to entertain contrarian views on that).