Anders Behring Breivik, master of life and death: Psychodynamics and political ideology in an act of terrorism

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Psychoanalysis and Politics

17 February 2021

Time: 18:00 - 19:30

Price: £ 28

Location: online

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by Siri Gullestad
Part of the Psychoanalysis and Politics digital series Crises and Transmission

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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