Ideological destructiveness

A psychoanalytic perspective on the massacre of July 22, 2011

by Siri Gullestad                    Feb. 17th at 6 pm GMT

Part of the Psychoanalysis and Politics digital series Crises and Transmission

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According to Anders Behring Breivik himself, his massacre of 77 innocent people on July 22, 2011 in Norway was motivated by ideology: Breivik sees himself as being morally justified to save Europe from multiculturalism and feminism. What makes a person join such an ideology? This paper argues that the demonization of Muslims and Eurabia fits into a psychologically threatened universe and a murderous lust for revenge. Against the background of different sources (the ideological “manifesto,” forensic reports, psychiatric assessment of the mother–son relationship in Breivik’s childhood, and interview material), the mass-murderer’s attitudes are understood as expressing inner dynamic forces. Hypotheses about Breivik’s personality and unconscious motivation are discussed using the concepts of splitting and personal myth and Oedipal catastrophe. The paper argues that the relationship between unconscious motives and ideology must be regarded as dialectical: the terrorist’s actions are founded in a subjective war scenario, expressing personally motivated hatred and vindictiveness, being displaced and projected, and justified with reference to a war “out there.” Thus, the terrorist seeks an ideology that fits unconscious intentions. The ideology, however, is indispensable to legitimate actions.

Siri Gullestad is a Training analyst in the Norwegian Psychoanalytical Society and a Professor  emeritus of psychology at the University of Oslo.

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Image: Paal Sørensen (2011) Utøya, the place of the attack on the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth camp.