The violence perpetuated by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway unleashed the usual torrent of blaming anyone who might have influenced the murderer’s thought. He was first described as a right-wing Christian – a description designed to put a certain community on notice. As more evidence rolled in, he has been more accurately described as an anti-Islamic nationalist, but the tendency to pin this violence on any non-leftist is still there.
There were footnotes in his 1,500-page manifesto to many dozens of books and articles – including a few published by the Mises Institute. Looking at the balance of his citations, however, it’s clear that his main influence had nothing to do with libertarianism. His inspiration was a point of view reminiscent of American neoconservatism. He cited articles in this tradition – particularly on the fear and hate of Islam – far more often than any other.
So, does this violence discredit neoconservatism, as when then-President Clinton tried to blame libertarians and the “militia” movement for the Oklahoma bombing in 1995? The point of this game is to silence the opposition, shut down debate, and fundamentally discredit the body of ideas on which the violence can be blamed.
It’s pretty much been this way since the ancient world. Governments can perpetuate violence in war and against the civilian population every day, but when a private person does the same for political reasons, a struggle ensues to see which line of thinking will pay what price.
The truth is that every political point of view can be twisted into a rationale for violence. If you think that the rich should be expropriated, there are generally two ways to bring this about: you and your friends can steal from the rich directly – maybe killing some fat cats in the process – or you can lobby Congress to do it for you.
The second method is preferred in a democratic society. When violence against person and property operates under the cover of the law, it is rarely called out for what it truly is. It is only when the legal cover is removed that the violence shocks and alarms us. But what about the morality of it all, whether we are speaking about private violence, the redistributionist state, or the war-making imperial state? In moral substance, they amount to the same thing.