There’s little doubt that the attempt by many on the liberal left to align the mass murder of so many Norwegian citizens on one day with the conservative right rather than the ultra nationalist cause is both malign and ill conceived. But Glenn Beck’s reaction to the news (comparing the dead of Utøya to the Hitler Youth) put me in mind nothing so much as this sketch from Eddie Izzard:
“Cool” is a pursuit of youth, it’s a fashion link thing being cool. It’s linked to the circle- you’ve got “Looking Like a Dickhead” over here, “Average Looking,” “Kind of Cool,” “Cool,” “Hip and Groovy…” “Looking Like a Dickhead”!
More seriously, there is such a thing as an Ultra Nationalist extreme in Europe. It may not have anything to do with the constitutional left or right, but it is a real problem for both; not least because this guy has put action what gets routinely and casually talked about online.
Cass Sunstein talked about this problem a few years back. And in a post from a few years back which acknowledged the dangers (and opportunities) of a growing vacuum in left right politics, our own Pete Baker noted:
“To paraphrase, the erosion of the categories of left and right in the common conversation is, in part, a result of those categories’ failure to adequately “make sense of the complexities of environmental or identity politics, or the savage logics of ethnic and sectarian strife”.
“Sound familiar? The risk, as I see it, is that, as that erosion continues, the apparent certainity offered by the savage logic may seem more appealing to some, not less.”
I’ve no further comment on Mr Beck’s foolish mutterings on the radio show to which he’s already been busted, except that a little bit of Norwegian (or, indeed, any kind of) history might stand him in better stead in future. Last words of wisdom to Stephen Fry:
…knowing is not enough. If you cannot feel what our ancestors felt when they cried: ‘Wilkes and Liberty!’ or, indeed, cried: ‘Death to Wilkes!’, if you cannot feel with them, then all you can do is judge them and condemn them, or praise them and over-adulate them.
History is not the story of strangers, aliens from another realm; it is the story of us had we been born a little earlier. History is memory; we have to remember what it is like to be a Roman, or a Jacobite or a Chartist or even – if we dare, and we should dare – a Nazi. History is not abstraction, it is the enemy of abstraction.
For now, I’d be very careful in taking Mr Breivik’s solicitor’s exasperated conclusion that he’s insane. It may be that we’re witnessing the emergence of a pre-modern political strain borne into reality from the internet which thrive upon the “savage logics of ethnic and sectarian strife”. Such politics are neither ‘left’ nor ‘right’ nor even ‘cool’ (in any sense of that word).
But it demands to be taken seriously in its own terms by constitutional politicians of both the right and the left. At this stage we don’t know how deep, or how wide or how serious this is. It would be foolish to foist it upon some imaginary (and convenient) political daemon in order to make your opponents look like, well, erm, ‘d***heads’.
But now is not the time for further self aggrandising political abstraction.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty