Criminality or Craziness?


When the trial of Anders Behring Breivik ended on June 23 in Oslo, the world, as well as the Norwegian justice system, was faced with a dilemma.  Should Breivik, who has admitted, and even boasted, of his murder of seventy-seven persons — most of them young people — during his rampage on July 22, 2011, be sentenced to prison as a criminal or be confined to a secure psychiatric ward until he is pronounced sane?


The prosecution has argued for the latter, ever since psychiatrists early on diagnosed him as being a “paranoid schizophrenic”.  To their mind, Breivick,

despite the appearance of sanity, is largely out of touch with reality, thus incapable of judging right from wrong. (Rather than this being a lighter sentence, psychiatric confinement could also last longer than the 20-year prison term that is currently the maximum in Norway.)


Either way, Breivik and his defense lawyer have argued just the opposite, claiming that he is perfectly sane and if what he did is a crime against Norway’s legal system, then he must be imprisoned as a criminal.  Thus Breivik wants to cast himself as a “modern-day Crusader” who is now playing the role of a martyr. He sees himself  as a witness against society that has failed to comprehend the danger it faces, which he sees as being its destruction by the invasion of aliens, mostly Muslims and other non-European types who have failed to or even resisted quick or easy assimilation into the countries that have provided them with a new home.


Of course, there are many other Europeans (as well as Americans) who feel the same way. Far right, even “nativist”, political ideologies are nothing new.  It is largely what drove the Nazi obsession with racial purity and their systematic elimination of the Jews.  In fact, in the USA, many who complain about the invasion of our country by Muslims, Hispanics, Asians, and others, seem to forget that their own ancestors (whether German, Irish, Polish, Italian, etc.) were the target of similar accusations by Americans whose ancestors arrived here earlier on.  The difference, at least in this case, is that, other than it taking place in Norway, Breivik aimed his violence not at the immigrants, but at his own government and at the younger people — especially all those who were present at that island summer camp sponsored by the Norwegian Labor Party — whom Breivik sees as being far too accepting of these newcomers into Nordic society.  Thus it seemed perfectly logical to Breivik that these politically active young people should be targets of his wrath.  


So is Breivik truly insane?  Certainly he shows symptoms of paranoia, described as, “a mental condition characterized by delusions of persecution, unwarranted jealousy, or exaggerated self-importance…” This latter trait seems especially confirmed by his grand-standing behavior in court and a later diagnosis of  him as suffering from a “narcissistic personality disorder”.  But that he is psychotic in the sense of  “losing touch with reality” seems questionable. It seems to me that his is more a case of being neurotic – which some have decribed as “being in touch with reality but unable to stand it!”  Even his long-winded speech at the close of his trial seemed to confirm what G. K. Chesterton once remarked, “The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” 


In any case, sane or insane, the Breivik case shows how dangerous political extremism can become for the world or for any nation.  In the end, his brand of pseudo-Christian cultural conservatism is not all that different than al Qaeda’s distorted version of Islamic fundamentalism and the violence it attempts to justify.


R W Kropf   6/24/2012                                         Criminality or Craziness?.doc