Dalrymple interviewed about Breivik in Wall Street Journal

I really enjoyed this interview, entitled “Unraveling the Mystery of Murderous Minds”, of Dalrymple by Brian M. Carney in the Wall Street Journal. Not only does Dalrymple make some great points about the attempt to understand Breivik’s motivation (we can’t), he does so in a way that highlights some of the philosophical undercurrents in the modern world:


The human impulse to explain the inexplicably horrific is revealing, according to Dr. Dalrymple, in two respects—one personal, one political. First, it says something about us that we feel compelled to explain evil in a way that we don’t feel about people’s good actions. The discrepancy arises, he says, “because [Jean-Jacques] Rousseau has triumphed,” by which he means that “we believe ourselves to be good, and that evil, or bad, is the deviation from what is natural.”

For most of human history, the prevailing view was different. Our intrinsic nature was something to be overcome, restrained and civilized. But Rousseau’s view, famously, was that society corrupted man’s pristine nature. This is not only wrong, Dr. Dalrymple argues, but it has had profound and baleful effects on society and our attitude toward crime and punishment. For one thing, it has alienated us from responsibility for our own actions. For another, it has reduced our willingness to hold others responsible for theirs.

Carney also provides a glimpse at Dalrymple’s personality.


…we find irresistible the urge to understand an atrocity like Breivik’s, even as we are repulsed by it. When asked whether we hope thereby to understand something about ourselves, the former prison doctor offers an arch denial: “Well, he doesn’t tell me much about me.” And then, with a morbid chuckle and wary look—”I can’t say for you…”

TD even gets the illustrated portrait treatment — in color, no less.


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