Collective identities, Breivik and the national container

Authors: Richards, B.

Editors: Mintchev, N. and Hinshelwood, R.D.

Pages: 165-185

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Place of Publication: Basingstoke


From a starting point in Figlio’s essay on collective memory and German national identity, this chapter pursues a method of reading ideologies as states of mind. An angry fear of 'Islamification' is often the most obvious feature of extreme ethno-nationalist ideology in Europe. But behind this fear there lies an experience of a world in which liberal-democratic governments are seen to have abandoned their own people, and are therefore the ultimate target of rage. In the case of Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, his humiliated rage is coupled with the central importance in his make-up of two other factors: an extraordinarily fragile gender identity, and yet also a grandiosity which enabled him to believe he could transcend humiliation and restore both his culture and his manhood. Inserting Breivik into Figlio’s analysis of Nazism, we can see how his internal experience of the impending annihilation of the self could be warded off only by invoking his omnipotence and inflicting a catastrophe on others in the external world. Significantly, Breivik’s certainty of his mission is not tied to any image of his nation; his outlook is internationalist and global, one of several ways in which he resembles violent takfiri Islamism. In this context, the chapter ends with a discussion of the possibility that certain types of national identity, interlinked with a commitment to democracy, may function as what Figlio calls ‘successful collective identities’, able to tolerate conflict and doubt, and thereby to become containers for catastrophic anxiety.

Source: Manual