There have been a few, gratifying moments during my long career as a writer when people have told me their lives were changed for the better by something I wrote. Yet every writer, particularly those dealing with controversial subjects, has to confront the possibility that his or her words will have, or will seem to have had, baleful influences as well. The Catcher in the Rye is a book still assigned to millions of junior high school students, yet also a work that, when processed by the deranged mind of John Hinckley, seems to have become an inspiration for his attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.
This feature of the writer's life became personal for me last week, when a colleague entered my office with the news that the so-called manifesto written by the now world-famous Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, contains quotes from my writing on global demographics. Indeed, subsequent investigation revealed that Breivik reprinted in full a cover story I wrote for Foreign Policy in 2006, called "The Return of Patriarchy." He also wrote of having reviewed a book I published in 2004 called The Empty Cradle, and cited some statistics from it. I have accordingly spent the last three days reading through Breivik's 1,518-page manuscript, as well as much of the commentary it has inspired around the world, in an attempt to glean whatever lessons can be learned.
Breivik's worldview, if we can call it that, is not easily characterized. Some have branded him a "Christian terrorist." He does write that he hopes the "Church gains more or less [a] monopoly on religion in Europe," but also that "it is essential that science takes an undisputed precedence over biblical teachings." In keeping with this latter view, he lauds the work of Princeton University molecular biologist Lee M. Silver, who is an advocate of stem cell research and human cloning. So Breivik can't easily be described as a religious fundamentalist.
Breivik also wants a big cut in aid to developing countries in the hopes that this will reduce world population by 4.5 billion -- an exercise in population control I don't think the pope, much less Scandinavia's Lutheran Church, would favor. Without pause, he voices admiration for the United States' Tea Party, while calling for more regulation of capitalism and a "Scandinavian light model" of redistribution, including "giving women more incentives to have children in the form of various welfare incentives."
One could call him a fascist, and he does subscribe to Arian racial theory. But Breivik also makes fulsome denunciations of Hitler and belittles today's neo-Nazis as fools. He is certainly hostile to Islam and quotes many right-wing authors and bloggers who obsess about the coming of "Eurabia." But his rants against feminism, Marxism, and Western sexual mores are little different from those made by Osama bin Laden. He doesn't call for Western women to be put behind the veil. But he estimates that 50 percent have slept with more than 20 men and are thus "sluts," thinks society should "discourage" all women from having full-time careers, and blames "current destructive matriarchal policies" for most of what he sees as wrong with Europe.
Tellingly, the targets of his murderous rage were not Muslims, but mostly young, white, progressive Norwegians whom he regarded as tyrants of "political correctness." Indeed, Breivik doesn't anywhere have much good to say about white people in today's Europe, except that he finds attractive those who have "Nordic" features, such as "blond hair, blue eyes, high forehead, [and] sturdy cheekbones." He says he's proud to have descended from Vikings, but apparently only because it has brought him what he regards as his good looks. Breivik even criticizes European imperialism, which is something I thought the Vikings used to excel at back in the day.