On 22nd July 2011, Europe was put on hold after experiencing one of its most deadly acts of terrorism in history. This act was committed by Anders Behring Breivik, who first detonated a car bomb in the Government District in Oslo, Norway, before killing 69 members of the youth wing of the Labour Party during its annual summer camp. In the hours leading up to his attack, Breivik had emailed his manifesto to roughly one thousand email addresses, mainly people who were aligned with right-wing parties, such as the Belgian anti-Muslim party Vlaams Belang.
In this manifesto, titled 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence, Breivik explicitly presented his extremist ideologies and what motivated him to take action. The things that motivated him, coupled with the underlying sentiments, will be the basis on which this paper adopts the lens of ontological security to demonstrate its applicability in analysing the motivations of a terrorist and her extremist ideology.
To clarify, ontological security refers roughly to “a security of being, a sense of confidence and trust that the world is what it appears to be” (Kinnvall, 2004). Although the concept will be discussed more thoroughly in a later section, it is important to look at drivers of ontological security and assess to what extent these drivers influenced Breivik. The drivers chosen for this research are immigration, threatened self-identity, moral deterioration, and nostalgia for historic greatness.
Consequently, the research question for this paper is ‘Based on his manifesto, to what extent can the terrorist attack of Anders Breivik be explained through his feelings of ontological (in)security?’ In order to tackle this question, there will first be an explanatory section on ontological security based on relevant literature on the subject, followed by a small methodological part and an analysis regarding the validity of the lens of ontological security. Subsequently, a small section on the relevancy of the lens of ontological (in)security in analysing the motivations of an extreme-right terrorist, followed by an analysis of the manifest 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence, in which the focus will be on signs of the aforementioned drivers of ontological insecurity and ways in which Breivik tried to regain his sense of ontological security as motivation for his assault. Lastly, there will be a concluding section that summarises the findings and relates back to the added value of using the lens of ontological security analysing the motivations of Anders Breivik.
In order to answer the aforementioned research question, a selection of relevant literature on ontological security was put together. This literature has been used to identify relevant drivers of ontological insecurity for which passages of the manifest will be referenced to show how these affected the terrorist. These drivers were subsequently coded in a scheme to analyse which played a part, and to what extent. The results of this coding scheme are represented visually through a pie chart at the end of the analysis chapter.
In its most basic sense, ontological security refers to “a stable state derived from a sense of continuity in regard to the events in one’s life and individual experiences” (Bell et al, 2019). This section will discuss the relevant literature surrounding the concept.
The idea of ontological security was first conceptualised by R.D. Laing as a continuous person who seeks stability in their existence which, at its core, summarises what ontological security entails. Laing used the term as an existentialist approach to psychoanalysis, when he argued that mental disorders had both biological and social causes, which helped him to develop a way of thinking that moved away from trying to cure patients towards a way to “reconstruct the patient’s way of being himself in his world” (Rossdale, 2015).
The notion was then developed and converted into a sociological interpretation by social theorist Anthony Giddens, who used it as an explanation for a “person’s fundamental sense of safety in the world”, which includes “a basic trust of other people” (Teo & Wong, 2020). Bell et al, added to this by stating that ontological security is built on trust and can be considered to be a “precursor to generic psychological well-being”, with features such as constancy, an autonomous sense of self, control, belonging and certainty about the future being of vital importance (Bell et al., 2019). In additional literature, ontological security is often described as “a security of being, a sense of confidence and trust that the world is what it appears to be” (Kinnvall, 2003). What is important to note here is that, in order for one to feel ontologically secure, that the world (i.e., every outside aspect of one’s life) not only is what it appears to be, but that there is continuity to a certain extent, thereby giving a person Skey’s aforementioned sense of control. People have to be able to rely on things remaining the same, otherwise “every encounter would have to be dealt with on an ad hoc basis, placing individuals in a permanent state of anxiety” (Skey, 2010).
There are several factors that influence one’s feeling of ontological security. Apart from a person’s psychological well-being, a stable sense of the world is important, together with continuity, an autonomous sense of self, a sense of belonging, and certainty about the future. With ontological security being a notion built on trust, the feeling of being ontologically secure is maintained when “home is able to provide a site of constancy in the social and material environment” (Kinnvall, 2004). This allows for making and shaping a space for oneself which can help when dealing with contradictions and the anxiety of homelessness, which refers to when ‘home’ is not able to provide the aforementioned sense of constancy.
Apart from homelessness, there are other drivers that can influence one’s sense of ontological security. Without a doubt, globalisation is one of, if not the major driver of ontological insecurity. This is mainly due to the fact that, for the ordinary person, in a globalised certainty is absent, as it is an ever-changing world characterised by movement of products, ideas and people. The life one previously led is being contested and changed at the same time, thereby causing existential anxiety (Kinnvall, 2004). When people feel anxious, an often-adopted mechanism is to try to reaffirm their self-identity. However, globalisation has resulted in a smaller world, one in which “events elsewhere have consequences for our everyday political, social, and economic lives, affecting individuals’ sense of being” (Kinnvall, 2004). However, despite the importance of globalisation to ontological security, this paper will not treat globalisation on its own as a driver of ontological insecurity, due to the fact that it is too broad to function in this setting. Instead, there will be a focus on sub-drivers that are a result of globalisation: immigration, a threatened self-identity and nostalgia to past greatness.
There is a certain degree of overlap between these drivers. Some passages of Breivik’s manifest contained elements of different drivers, as they affect one another in various ways. As immigration is one of the main results of globalisation, it affects people’s self-identity. With immigration, there are certain changes in society, resulting in a situation where people feel like they have lost control over their lives as a result of the changing demographic of their neighbourhood. This, in turn, can pave the way for nostalgia for past greatness or, more generally, a past in which people had a stronger sense of sovereignty.
Furthermore, moral deterioration will also be analysed as a driver. It refers to modern development poisoning modern society, thereby leading to a loss of ethical values. Moral decline is often seen as a sign of empty lives without a patriotic feeling. This idea is therefore furthered by globalisation, albeit in lesser degree than the aforementioned drivers.
This section will serve as an analysis of the drivers of ontological insecurity present in 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence. Here, the results of the research will be presented to show how the feelings of ontological insecurity affected Breivik and ultimately resulted in him committing his infamous terrorist attack. The effect of these drivers is interesting for future studies on the subject of right-wing terrorism, as there is a general pattern of influenced behaviour across the spectrum of right-wing terrorists, with many sharing Breivik’s feelings.
With immigration being a direct result of globalisation, it has a destabilising effect on ontological security. What often happens as a result, is people engaging in othering, meaning “placing a person or a group outside and/or in opposition to what is considered to be the norm” (Oxford Reference). By seeing them as different entities, enemies even, one strengthens his national identity, which allows for a renewed grip on life and subsequent ontological security.
In his manifesto, Breivik does this in two ways. Muslims, and especially immigrants and refugees are being framed as external enemies, while the authorities and journalists – what Breivik calls Cultural Marxists or Multiculturalists – are being presented as the inner enemy, responsible for the development of current policies on immigration. Breivik chose to attack the inner enemy, namely the Labour Party politicians in Oslo and their youth branch on Utøya.
There is ample evidence of immigration playing a role in Breivik’s loss of ontological security, as is shown by the following passages:
“Even in Norway and Sweden the number of individuals with the Nordic genotype is reduced annually at a drastic rate due to EU open border program and mass Asian/African immigration” (Berwick, 2011, p.23)
“The Norwegian cultural Marxist government has created a vast network of asylum camps all over the country which will contribute to this [indirect extermination process] substantially” (Berwick, 2011, p.23)
These quotes show how Breivik makes an inner enemy of the Norwegian and European government, stating that they are responsible for the imminent extermination of the Nordic genotype as a result of immigration.
Breivik uses the same technique for immigrants, who he considers external enemies:
“A future cultural conservative regime would be able to ensure sustainable fertility rates without the need for mass immigration from Muslim countries” (Berwick, 2011, p.13)
“Alternatively, [future European Independence Day] could be the day all Muslims have been successfully deported from Europe” (Berwick, 2011, p.39)
Figure 1 adds to this; 33% of relevant quotes relate to the problems caused by immigration, clearly showing the negative effect it had on his sense of ontological security.
According to Giddens, ontological security refers to “the confidence that most human beings have in the continuity of their self-identity and in the constancy of the surrounding social and material environments of action”. An important factor in the threatening of the self-identity comes from the digital revolution, resulting in a world in which there is an abundance of experiences and opinions of others, thereby offering the “potential for invidious comparison of oneself” (Bell et al, 2019). On an individual level, such comparisons can damage one’s self-identity, thereby leading to ontological insecurity. Apart from social media and the online world, trust in others also helps in providing a stable self-identity. When this trust in others is absent or damaged, one’s self-identity can be threatened, resulting in feelings of ontological insecurity. Furthermore, outside factors such as politics can also threaten one’s self-identity, resulting in a fear of what the future might hold.
This threatened self-identity and subsequent fear of the future is omnipresent throughout Breivik’s manifesto:
“The mentality just underlines that multiculturalism is in fact an anti-European hate ideology created to exterminate everything European” (Berwick, 2011, p.23)
“The Nordic genotypes might be wiped out within 200 years” (Berwick, 2011, p.23)
“Multiculturalist doctrines have speeded this “indirect extermination process” up further in many Western European countries so the extinction might happen sooner” (Berwick, 2011, p.23)
Not only does this show Breivik fear for a (future) extinction of ‘his people’, but his self-identity is also threatened by current policies that add to this extinction.
Nostalgia For Past Greatness
As changes stemming from globalisation have taken the “protective cocoon of relational ties that shielded community member and groups in the past”, what happens as a result is people trying to go back to past (or lost) greatness, thereby regaining their sense of ontological security through national identity (Kinnvall, 2004).
In Breivik’s manifesto, there is a clear presence of nostalgia for past greatness as driver in various forms, as shown by the following phrases:
“The battle of Vienna in 1683 should be celebrated as the Independence Day for all Western Europeans as it was the beginning of the end for second Islamic wave of jihads” (Berwick, 2011, p.38)
“It’s just terribly sad that my country has been the victim […] resulting in the complete breakdown of our once great ethical standards” (Berwick, 2011, p.5)
Apart from these quotes, his nostalgia for past (or lost) greatness is also reflected in the title of the manifesto itself. 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence refers to Europe becoming independent from other regions in the world, thereby showing his desire to go back to the days in which Europe did not rely on foreign trade or the influx of immigrants. This is reiterated in another passage:
“Phase out diesel / benzine vehicles (and thus our dependency on Muslim oil” (Berwick, 2011, p.33)
Whilst some drivers are mentioned more implicitly, Breivik’s nostalgia for past (or lost) greatness is certainly not, as is demonstrated by these phrases.
As stated prior, ontological insecurity can also be fueled by moral or ethical decline, pointing to “modern society’s lack of morality, loss of ethical values” (Kinnvall, 2004). The answer to this moral decline, or moral deterioration, is often a return to traditional values and norms in an attempt to regain a sense of ontological security.
Breivik discusses this moral deterioration numerous times in his manifesto, ranging from his views on sexual relations to his proposed view of the family nucleus:
“How are we supposed to have a chance at changing our societies when we refuse to reveal the negative impacts surrounding the disintegrating moral?” (Berwick, 2011, p.4)
“The most direct threat to the family is “divorce on demand”. Sooner or later […] it must be brought under control” (Berwick, 2011, p.12)
These passages clearly reflect modern society’s lack of morality as discussed by Kinnvall, thereby causing ontological insecurity.
The aforementioned answer, returning to traditional values, is also apparent:
“These liberal zones must be completely “ideologically” cut off from the rest of society to avoid cultural contamination” (Berwick, 2011, p.3)
“Our current system produces broken families and prevents traditional norms based on discipline” (Berwick, 2011, p.12)
The importance of this driver is also reflected in figure 1, which shows that 22% of relevant quotes can be attained to moral deterioration affecting his sense of ontological security.
The goal of this paper was to analyse the concept of ontological (in)security and subsequently apply it to 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence, the manifest written and sent out by Anders Breivik. In order to do so, the research question was ‘To what extent can the terrorist attack of Anders Breivik be explained through his feelings of ontological (in)security when reading his manifest?’
Ontological security is grounded in several factors such as continuity, a sense of control and trust that the world is as it appears to be and will stay stable. When these factors are not present, or otherwise affected by world events, a person might develop anxieties that can result in a feeling of ontological insecurity. While globalisation is a major driver, this research focused on sub-drivers thereof such as immigration and nostalgia for past greatness. Furthermore, attention was given to moral deterioration as a driver, as this driver was clearly present from the outset.
This work has illustrated various signs of ontological (in)security in Breivik’s manifesto, with several quotes referring to his lost sense of security and his urge to regain some form of control thereover. These urges culminated on July 22nd, when he attacked those that contributed in his eyes to this loss of ontological security. Furthermore, this demonstrates the validity of using the lens of ontological security in analysing motivations of an extreme-right terrorist, as these underlying sentiments are far from unique to Breivik.