Who Is To Blame?

In New English Review Dalrymple admits to some anxiety about his name appearing in the Norwegian murderer’s “preposterous manifesto” and, in what seems to be very honest self-examination, wonders whether anything he has said might have unwittingly provided fuel to the man’s fire.
Is it possible, then, that by emphasising the less attractive aspects of modern society and culture, by repeatedly drawing attention to the deleterious social and psychological effects of welfare dependence, by criticising multiculturalism as a doctrine and as corrupt bureaucratic opportunism, I may have contributed, if only a mite, to the poisonous, paranoid, narcissistic, grandiose and resentful brew in the mind of Breivik, who took what I wrote, even if at second-hand, in completely the wrong way and drew ludicrous but murderous conclusions from it? And if I did contribute that mite, does it mean that I should now retire into guilty silence, lest there be other Breiviks in the world?
In writing on the subject of immigration, for example, I have always felt an undertow of anxiety and guilt, not only because I am myself the descendent of a long line of refugees, but because I know that this is a subject on which the vilest passions and basest emotions are quickly aroused. There is, after all, a long history of such vile passions and base emotions in many, perhaps in most, countries. Thus to say anything about mass immigration other than it is an excellent thing is potentially to give intellectual succour to some very nasty people.   
But while history provides us with analogies, they are never exact. As human beings, we are condemned – it is both our glory as well as our burden – to live in perpetual near-novelty, and therefore to have to make continual leaps in the dusk if not in the total dark. We cannot treat the present as if it were a mere repetition of the past. To be mesmerised by precedent is as foolish as to take no notice of it whatever. It is said that generals always fight the current war with the strategy and tactics of the last; in like fashion, social commentators and reformers are reluctant to let go of past problems in favour of the problems that confront them now. A phenomenon – immigration – can keep its name while changing its nature; and it is obvious that the social consequences of immigration depend on the qualities of the immigrants as well as on the quality of the society into which they immigrate.
To be reduced to silence on an important subject, to decree in effect that only one opinion on it may be openly expressed, for fear of filling the minds of the unstable with murderous resentment, is to place a great deal of subject matter hors de combat. It is true that as yet no climate activist has killed people, and that ‘only’ three bank employees lost their lives in the riots in Athens (and probably not by the direct intention of the rioters at that), but there is no reason to suppose that extreme climate activists or protesters against finance capitalism are, and must forever remain, immune from murderous impulses. The human mind is capable of finding a casus belli in almost anything, and of rationalising violence when it wants to commit it. If an environmental activist were to act in imitation of Anders Breivik, I should not blame those who warned against global warming, nor even Anders Breivik himself.
As always in New English Review, the essay is free.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.