“Sir Oswald Mosley is the person from history closest to my own beliefs.”
These are the words of the bloody murderer in New Zealand who has shocked the world with gore and reminded us all of the presence of profound evil in our world. It should also remind us of the murderous power of malevolent ideology. Ideology is a force in our world that can and does overcome every theory of decency and morality.
To deconstruct the killer’s ideology, it is best to begin with his own recommendation. Sir Oswald Mosley (1896-1980) was in some ways a clownish figure in interwar English politics, a displaced member of a once-powerful aristocratic class who warmed to fascist ideology and Hitlerian politics. Speaking in parks and rallying his followers in dingy basements, he never tired of whipping up demographic panic, calling for dictatorship, and raging against the race-mixing enabled by modern commercial life.
As events unfolded and Nazism was revealed to be a murderous racial cult bent on the construction of an industrialized killing machine, Mosley was run out of the country and his organization banned. He died in disgraced obscurity in Paris.
The ideology Mosley represented, however, lives on, and remains as exterminationist and deadly now as it was in the interwar years. In the sweep of fascist history, Mosley was a spectacle. He continues life as a folk hero among a certain set of deranged but dedicated opponents of liberalism, along with other popularizers of Hitlerian theory like George Lincoln Rockwell in the United States.
I’ve read the killer’s 87-page manifesto, posted just before the mass murder began. Yes, it celebrates Mosley. It also invokes every trope of what is called alt-right politics, or what is more precisely identified as right-wing Hegelian collectivism, complete with its tribalism, longing for control, exterminationist aspirations, anti-capitalism, and panic about birth rates (the anarchy of human reproduction terrifies them). Even his supposed love of nature and the environment has precedent in certain brands of fascist politics (right Hegelians believed that the commercial use of natural resources is dysgenic).
It’s a long tradition of thought, one born in reaction against the progress of liberalism in the early 19th century. The ideology built a bit at a time over the decades (in parallel to the other anti-liberal tradition of Marxism), rolling out objections to core beliefs of the modern world that were breaking down tribal barriers, blurring class distinctions, increasing contacts between peoples, and diminishing government power and the influence of leaders.
In the mid-19th century, the reigning king of proto-fascist thought was Thomas Carlyle, who decried the end of slavery, the rise of free trade, and the dethronement of great leaders. He despised capitalism but didn’t consider himself a socialist or communist; he was instead a nationalist and reactionary. He set the stage for the rise and persistence of a new ideology of control that was revanchist at its core. It demanded back (what it imagined to be) the old world of hierarchy, separation, and elite control of resources.
The forces of reaction built over time. It was, as I’ve written, contributed to by the protectionist Friedrich List, the romantic Luddite John Ruskin, the reactionary Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the fashionable race theorist Frederick Hoffman, the Darwinian preservationist Madison Grant, the eugenicist Charles Davenport, the IQ theorist Henry Goddard, the communist turned Nazi philosopher Werner Sombart, the officious puritan misogynist Edward A. Ross, the brooding historicist Oswald Spengler, the anti-Semitic poet Ezra Pound, the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, the radio populist priest Charles Edward Coughlin, the pretend-baron and violence worshiping Julius Caesar Evola, the jailed millenarian Francis Parker Yockey, and so many more in the postwar period.
What unites all their views is a worship of power, the sacralizing of violence, the dismissal of individual choice, the loathing of the cooperative commercial society, and the adoration of the state. Of course one name stands out in the 20th century as their martyr and hero.
Despite the vanquishing of the architect of the Holocaust, this ideology continues to have a massive presence in our world. It has virtually no life at all in any academic setting, of course, but it has a huge presence in the darkest corners of opinion in many parts of the world. But precisely because of this chasm between respectable academia and trash-talking racist culture, we can sometimes be deceived about the violent threat this alternative form of collectivism represents to civilization.
As we see from the killer’s manifesto, he was disgusted by commercial life and wanted conflict more than anything. Only a war of tribes would save the world from demographic and environmental disaster, in his view. He was impatient to see it begin. He believed that it was his personal responsibility to give the historical narrative a kick in the right direction, human rights and morality be damned.
It’s possible to commit heinous crimes without carrying around a wicked ideology to inspire and grant cover. But ideology can help embolden the mind with delusions that your evil acts are actually blessed by the forces of history, and that the blood you spill is not senseless killing but rather part of some needed corrective to the unfolding narrative of which you and your people have lost control.
How to combat this wickedness? The post-killing narrative will be filled with calls for gun control, controls on the Internet, controls on social media, more power for states to crack down on association and speech. This is precisely what the killer hoped to bring about in his own words: “To incite violence, retaliation, and further divide… To create an atmosphere of fear and change in which drastic, powerful and revolutionary action can occur.”
The right response is to rededicate ourselves to the worldview that he hated the most, the view that rights are embedded in individuals, that people should have equal freedom to live their lives unencumbered by states and violence, that society contains within itself to capacity to manage itself without the intervention of fanatical ideologues who imagine themselves to be masters of our fate, that every single human life is worthy of dignity and deserving of respect.
The ideology of hate that spilled so much blood in New Zealand is best avenged through a new dedication to a social philosophy of love, cooperation, and freedom for all.