Douglas Murray: How the West’s ‘Destructive Games of Self-Immolation’ Derange Society and Empower Dictators
From rule of law to liberal democracy to the scientific method, “everything we think of as modernity is Western in origin,” says author and journalist Douglas Murray. “And the West has given them to the rest of the world not because they’re racist, but because they work.”
Murray’s latest book is titled “The War on the West.”
“It’s a war on the West’s history, its traditions. All of its philosophical and religious traditions are being torn down,” Murray says.
And while many in the West engage in these “games of self-immolation,” the rest of the world is watching.
“I suppose some people might think is strange, but I have this view that an American-led century is much more preferable to a Chinese Communist Party-led century.”
Jan Jekielek: Douglas Murray, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Douglas Murray: Thank you so much for inviting me.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I’ve just had a wonderful time reading “The War on the West,” your new book, being published today. Let me start with this. I became aware at some point that when considering critical race theory, the lens of critical race theory, the question always is, for someone who’s an adherent of critical race theory, how did racism happen in a situation? It never did happen. Of course, it happened. It’s how did it happen? This is the question. And so now that’s been applied to life in general, but when I read “The War on the West,” it strikes me that there’s a parallel here. It’s almost like the question isn’t, is something that the West as a group, done bad, or unfortunate, or even evil, the question is, how is it?
Mr. Murray: Yes, I tried to show as one of many strands in the book, how that form of thinking, critical race theory thinking has sort of just splurged out through everything in our societies, but it’s a form of thinking that has come to its conclusion before bothering to even do all of its questions. It claims to know the answer to everything, because the answer in any given situation is racism. Take an issue like poverty, or ongoing poverty, or lack of educational attainment in certain communities in America. These are highly complex, often multidimensional problems, but not a critical race theory because it just says racism.
So I think in general, that sort of way of thinking, it’s a very seductive one in one way, as well as being wrong, but it’s seductive because it’s simple, because it says you start from a position of knowing everything and then you just have to encounter the world and you get the chance to go out into the world already having all of the answers, which of course is preposterous. But it’s seductive and you’ve just got to beat that drum for your life and that is for you to do your role, apparently.
Mr. Jekielek: You start off with race and critical race theory in the book. It’s your first chapter or section. Would you say that is kind of the most important component of the attack on the West or…?
Mr. Murray: I think it’s one of the ones that’s gained most traction in recent years. Racism sadly exists in, and has existed in all societies in human history in some form or other. Let’s call it in-group, out-group biases and prejudices. It seems to me that it’s intrinsic in our species in some way, that racism itself is a very ugly human trait. Has racism occurred in the history of the West? Yes. Is it the history of the West? Obviously not, obviously not. Any more than you could say, the history of Africa is solely a history of racism, or the history of China is solely a history of racism. This is to massively simplify and frankly unfairly, try to summarize a very rich tradition like other rich traditions.
And I think that it’s just one of the tactics that’s being used at the moment, the accusation that the West is guilty of racism or uniquely guilty of racism, with of course the kick, the rider, this accusation is leveled at a time when the West has never been less racist, when racism has never been more deprecated and looked down upon.
I mean in the 1960s, say in America, in the early 1960s, you might have said, “We’ve got intrinsic racism in our society” and you’d have been right. There were intrinsically racist things in American society at the time written into law. Is that the case in 2022? Obviously not. So it’s an unfair attempt to dishonestly misrepresent a society.
Mr. Jekielek: And to go back to my original question, what struck me as we’re looking through at the way history is approached, the way culture is approached, these different sections of the book. It seems to me like in a very similar way, the answer to any problem, any issue in the world is, according to this, the people that are engaged in the war on the West, it’s the West’s fault.
Mr. Murray: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: The West is evil in its methods and its way of being.
Mr. Murray: Well, I mean, we’ve all been used to that throughout our lives in some form or other. I mean, what’s the most obvious example of it? Take any post-colonial African dictator, poverty occurs in their country. Are they likely to say A, “Because I and my immediate family and circle have looted this country,” or B, “It’s because of Western colonialism”? Obviously B is the more attractive option.
What did Robert Mugabe get away with till the last days of his life, but the claim that the reason why Zimbabwe had become such a benighted society during his leadership of society, in which the average age halved of an average Zimbabwean. Was it the case that Robert Mugabe was ever likely to say, “Well, the problem has been that I and my immediate family just looted our country and just benefited ourselves,” or is it more likely they will say, as Robert Mugabe did until his dying days that the wretched British colonialists were responsible?
The interesting thing in that, of course in part, is that former colonies and I mean, all again, empire and colonialism, which are also regarded now as being original sins of the West, were things which all human societies have engaged in some form. And again, it’s a very ugly trait. It’s something that’s common throughout history of all sorts of societies, but nobody does that game. Of course, if the society goes well, or you don’t hear much complaints about colonialism in Singapore, for instance, because Singaporean society has done very well financially and through other means. There’s no reason to hark back to things that happened a hundred years ago.
Hong Kong, in the good days, people didn’t complain about the colonial era because Hong Kong was thriving. Not anymore, but my point is that when things are going badly, it seems the West provides for a lot of bad actors.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and somehow this was, I don’t know if it was transplanted, but the same attitude that you’re describing that comes from outside, a convenient, let’s say scapegoat, for real problems. Somehow we have internalized this attitude.
Mr. Murray: Yes, yes. That’s a very interesting tendency, isn’t it? Because it’s not natural. I mean, most people naturally want to think well of themselves, their people, their history, their family, their culture. You sort of have to be taught to dislike it, unless it’s a very completely dislikable culture. I think people in the West have had to be taught basically to dislike or find criticism, so much criticism, disproportionate criticism with their own society. They’ve been taught it for more than a generation now, it has to be said.
Mr. Jekielek: But how did that happen?
Mr. Murray: Through a range of things. One was this thing of original sin. The idea that perhaps it was inevitable after the colonial era, postcolonialism. We talked about being in the postcolonial era in certain parts of the world. Actually, a lot of the postcolonial ideas took a very long time to wash across the culture. Scholars like Edward Said, for instance, who sadly, almost all undergraduates still read, in his book, “Orientalism,” makes all these claims about how the West approached the rest of the world. And that used to be just the sort of thing you heard in universities.
And now of course, as Andrew Sullivan and others have pointed out, we all live on campus now. These ideas spill out until we are in this sort of strange situation where everything the West did in looking outward into the world is looked on with disfavor. And anything can be said about the West, but nothing negative must be said about anyone else. This was just a trope that came up in the post-colonial years. There are various scholars who were responsible for it. There was also frankly, to talk at the most basic level, a desire for revenge. People talked of justice, but they meant revenge.
Mr. Jekielek: So let’s talk about that. So how do these two things connect with each other?
Mr. Murray: Well, some of the postcolonial thinkers, like Fanon, Frantz Fanon, who I write about at some length, very influential French speaking author, his work basically is imbued with a desire for revenge against the West for the colonial era. And I think you can see this in the critical race theorists today, in the work of people like the man who has taken the name, Ibram X. Kendi, in his book, “How To Be an Antiracist,” he says, makes it absolutely clear that past depression has to lead to present depression.
In order to correct a past injustice, you must have a present injustice. If in the current day, people are allowed to talk unfairly, and unjustly, and unpleasantly, and unkindly about white people, that is merely an unfortunate corrective to the fact, and a necessary corrective to the fact that in the past, some people spoke in an ugly way about people of non-white backgrounds.
In other words, as I say, in his own words, Kendi and others say that the correction to past injustice is present injustice wrapped up in the language of justice and fairness. You’re actually talking about revenge. And you can’t have hypothetical revenge on the culture. You can’t have abstract revenge. You can’t, for instance, only attack the history of a country and the people, and only attack their religious foundations, or only attack their philosophical foundations, or only attack their cultural inheritance. All of which has been done to the West and I lay out in each chapter of the book, but you also have to attack the people of the West. And the people of the West are majority white.
If you wanted, for some strange and bigoted reason to, for instance, I don’t know, attack Nigeria for all of its past and present inadequacies and any prejudices you claim to find, you could say, “We’re just waring on Nigerian history, and Nigerian culture, Nigerian religion, Nigerian ideas, and writers.” But in reality, at some point you’d have to attack the Nigerian people. It’s impossible to do the first without ending up with the second as well.
You would have to end up making generalizing statements about the people, you’d have to make sweeping claims about them. And so that’s what’s been done with the peoples of the West. It’s not been done with the people in Nigeria and I wouldn’t want it to be done to them. I wouldn’t want it to be done to anybody, but it’s been done to the peoples of the West. And the people who’ve done it, have got away with it for an awfully long time.
And they’ve got away with it because they’ve cowed people, they’ve terrorized people into putting up with it. So that, to even object, if your society is misrepresented in these terms, to even object to it is to be accused of bigotry. If you say, “America has nothing good to be said for it, it was founded with slavery. It only grew as a power because of slavery.” Slavery has been endemic in the culture from the beginning as America was a racist country, all the founding fathers were racist, everybody on the north side, as well as the south side and the civil war was evil.
If you go through all of this, which is all being done to America at the moment, and an American says, “Hang on a minute. I feel some pride in my country. I’m fairly sure we’ve done something right,” that person will be accused of racism. I mean, it’s a bullying tactic, but it’s been a very effective one, hasn’t it? Almost everybody at some stage has been persuaded to shut up by that tactic.
Mr. Jekielek: Or some other slur, I guess. Right?
Mr. Murray: Yes, racism is the most popular slur—bigotry. The other ones I wrote about in my previous book in “The Madness of Crowds,” misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, etc., normative phobia. I mean all of that crap, but I think the racism one is the one that everyone knows is the most damaging. And the most damaging to unfairly wield and the one, by the way, as well, which just doesn’t have any repercussions. Somebody like Kendi, or Robin DiAngelo, or one of these other hucksters of the race industry can just say, and they do that, “These people are racist.” And even if a person isn’t racist, it’s provably not racist. For instance, I don’t know, they’re Black. There’s never an apology. There’s never a retraction.
And the person who’s leveled the claim unfairly never pays any price for it. I mean, normally if you engage in a dialogue, that’s not demented. One person throws out a claim about another person and they have to say, “Oh yeah, prove it.” And if they can’t prove it, the person who’s leveled the claim unfairly is made to retract it. The Kendis and DiAngelos and the other hucksters, they never retract any of the claims, even when they’re totally unfair and unjust.
Look at the things that they say about justice Clarence Thomas, for instance, the first Black Supreme Court justice of the United States. They all say he’s a racist. All these people. They never retract that, they never apologize. They should have apologized years ago. I mean, that’s just an obvious one, but think of the millions of times with less clear, less provable wrongness. These people have gotten away with just smearing people, damaging their reputations, and their livelihoods often, damaging their good names. It’s been a very effective tool.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s a war of words that you’re describing for sure. But what are the other dimensions of this war?
Mr. Murray: Well, the main one is a war on the West’s history, where a story that has to do with pride, and heroism, and striving, and victory against all sorts of odds is turned into a story of shame. That’s obviously been most done on the story of America. I think it’s been done in my own country of birth, Great Britain as well [and] in Canada, in Australia, basically in the English speaking countries in particular. We’ve had our histories reframed and rewritten. It’s been done on individuals.
When I was growing up, Winston Churchill was one of our great national heroes. For most of us in the general public, he still is, but everything in the public square written by academics and pumped out in the media has become negative to the extent that the crowds in London have repeatedly attacked Winston Churchill’s statue.
It’s the same thing here in America with the founding fathers. Now, you may say that there was a sort of… A couple of generations ago, there was too simple a story told about America’s founding fathers that we didn’t know enough about, that it wasn’t well known enough about the involvement with slavery, for instance. You could say that, and there would be justice in that, but there is no justice in simply saying Thomas Jefferson was a racist and therefore there’s nothing to gain from him. And that you must pull down all likenesses of him. And this isn’t an abstract fringe thing.
I mean, the city was sitting in New York City, the legislative chamber in this city, in the New York City council, had a statue of Jefferson until November last year, when by order of the council, by vote of the council, it was pulled down, crated up and wheeled out of a back door because the council in New York said, “Thomas Jefferson no longer represents our values.”
Well, I’m sorry, but if you think that the founding fathers can be discarded, and Abraham Lincoln can be discarded, and everyone else can be discarded from American history and you are now going to wing it from here on in, you’ve got another think coming, to take away all of that and what actually have you got left. Again, do this to any other people and see what the results would be. So it’s a war on the West’s history, its traditions, all of its philosophical and religious traditions are being torn down, torn away.
And the same remorseless movement has now run right through the arts as well, so that Shakespeare and other great figures of literature are now argued to be out of date, anachronistic. They accused Shakespeare of using the language of light and darkness and that this was highly racialized language, therefore problematic, and therefore Shakespeare was no longer useful.
Again, take away Shakespeare, take away all of the cannon of Western literature and what have you got? Take away all of the music by saying that it’s racist. And again, it’s not hypothetical, they’ve done it with every single figure from the arts. They’re still doing it. It’s an amazing thing to watch in real time. It’s a form of cultural revolution. And I think that it’s been gotten away with far too easily to date.
Mr. Jekielek: When I was reading your book, simultaneously, I’m reading a book called “War Without Rules”, which is basically a reader done by Robert Spalding who studied this, you could think of it like a war manual, called Unrestricted Warfare.
Mr. Murray: Oh, yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: Written by two Chinese colonels in 1999. And essentially what they lay out is the battle plan for the Chinese Communist Party to take over the world through unconventional military means, things we wouldn’t think of as war. As I was reading your book, I couldn’t help think, “All these methods that these two colonels, that China has since implemented from their advice, are very much the types of things that are being done here.”
Mr. Murray: Yes. Well, quite often people say to me, “How has this happened? Who’s pushing it?” And the answer is it’s both self-inflicted and very willingly inflicted upon us. It’s a nascent movement that is used now by all of the West’s foes, geostrategically and competitors as well, let us say. There’s a moment, as you know, in the book where I take a step back and say, “What’s the rest of the world doing whilst we are doing this?” Because for a lot of Americans in particular, a lot of Westerners, we’re myopic these days. We don’t really look beyond our own borders. We don’t look very far and we’re not that interested, and we don’t really know. And young people in particular coming out of college, don’t really know.
The rest of the world is not doing this. I give all the examples of Chinese racism. I mean, racism against white people, against Black people and others. It sadly exists in China as in other societies, but when China stands up at the Human Rights Council and talks about racism, condemns it, clearly doesn’t mean it. I mean, it’s totally insincere.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, unquestionably, we have the worst form of racism, which is eradication of a racial group.
Mr. Murray: Exactly. I mean, this is one of the examples I give is what happened to the United Nations in the first months of the present administration, the American ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, herself Black American, very accomplished, says in her remarks on UN International Day Against Racism, gives a speech about how racist America is.
She talks about the death of George Floyd. She talks about what then was claimed by her and others to be a racist incident, which very clearly wasn’t, which was the spa incident that happened when this lunatic shot up a spa with a number of women in it. And people claimed immediately it was a sign of racism, and it seems not to be. He had other reasons to do this dreadful act, but the point is Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, even on an unproven case, a sort of fresh case, said it was another example of American racism.
She does all of this at the UN. And then at the end of her remark says, “There’s also other racism in the world.” And we just remember what is happening with the Rohingya in Myanmar and with the Uyghurs in China. Well, who’s the next person up on the floor, but the Chinese ambassador of the United Nations, who says, “The American representative has appeared today and done something unparalleled in the history of the United Nations. She has come to confess her nation’s guilt and her nation’s racism. And then she has attacked China. How dare she? Because she is guilty in her own light, because her country is guilty, they have no right to lecture the Chinese people.” What a known goal, what an own goal by America.
And that isn’t to say that you have to lie about… Nobody should lie about their present order, but to misrepresent it as Linda Thomas-Greenfield did at the United Nations that day, and then leave the goal open for a regime that is actually carrying out, as you say, the world’s worst current form of racist oppression, is just a sign of the wild ignorance that is going on in the West at the moment. At the highest levels, we are not merely talking anymore about something that comes out from a few campers radicals or a few weird fringe, far-left groups who are talking about government after government, sucking this up and spouting it back out to its peoples.
Mr. Jekielek: So I’m going to put it up on the screen, now an image. It’s part of a tweet from the Global Times, one of the Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces. I’ll read the text. “Hashtag GTC, cartoon, human rights destroyer, Native Americans, refugees from US-initiated wars, Floyds and children separated from their parents at the border will remember the U.S. as the greatest human rights destroyer.”
Mr. Murray: Just amazing, isn’t it? Well, I suppose I think they’re hoping the world is stupid. And they’re hoping that there’s enough of an appetite for people who know nothing to go along with this sort of thing. I mean, the idea that the Chinese Communist Party cares about the separation of families at the Southern American border. I mean, it’s so preposterous. Some years ago, I interviewed the Chinese dissident Chen Guancheng. His big issue was the one-child policy in China and what it actually meant and what it meant in the real way.
So in all of our lifetimes, Chinese Communist Party carried out abortions up to nine months, which consisted of killing babies and ransoming families against the daughters if the daughters disappeared, if they were pregnant for a second time, and they’re murdering the child. People who care about abortion never cared quite enough about that in China, but it’s just so preposterous a regime that does that, did that, does what’s happening in the Uyghurs areas and everything at the moment, can pose as caring about George Floyd or separation of families at the Southern border in the United States. I mean, it’s preposterous.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s a lot of people in the West that seem to admire the Chinese model. I remember back in 2009, Thomas Friedman wrote this op-ed, which made me incredibly angry, which I don’t often get, talking about how the West should adopt governance practices from China, or sorry, the U.S. should, because it’s efficient. And we’ve kind of learned it’s efficient for a reason, or my prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
Mr. Murray: Justin Trudeau. Yeah, of course.
Mr. Jekielek: Talking about the basic dictatorship of China, how he admires it.
Mr. Murray: Amazing comment that, wasn’t it? I still can’t get over that comment.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, there’s an interesting attraction to, well, I suppose you believe it’s simple and you can affect your will quickly and effectively. I don’t know how…
Mr. Murray: Well, the Trudeau one. I mean, it’s possible that he is just profoundly stupid, which I would put out there as being my own thesis on your prime minister, as you say. There is a long tradition of this, as you know, and I write about it in the book. You see it in thinkers like Rousseau talking about any other society but their own as being admirable. And in a way, of course, it’s a very understandable thing. A lot of people have critiques of their own society.
One way to critique, one of the most obvious ways to critique your own society is to compare it negatively with another society. And there are more and less benign versions of that. For instance, I sometimes joke about the Scandinavian tendency that exists in America and elsewhere. People say, “If only we could adopt the Swedish model, or something, or the Norwegian model, the Danish model.”
I would say these are highly unlike us as societies. And these are extraordinarily small, relatively easy societies to run compared to say America. But so that tendency exists in relatively benign versions like that, but then there are these also very malign, very malignant versions of it. Look at the type of person from right and left, who has seen Russia as presenting a sort of positive counterpart to what we have become in the West.
Those of us who don’t like the wild extremes sort of woke liberalism. There are some within that group who, mainly on the right, it has to be said, who saw certainly, Vladimir Putin’s Russia as being a sort of counterpart to it. Well, he doesn’t do transgender toilet nonsense for sure. It doesn’t mean he’s your friend, doesn’t mean he’s not going to invade a neighboring country and commit atrocities and barbarisms.
So that tendency exists everywhere. And it certainly exists with China amongst some people. “Look how efficient they are, look at…” And those people then override all of the other things which should kick in their brain to say, “Well, how did they get there? At what price did they manage it?”
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and so it’s very interesting what you’re saying, because I think what I’m hearing is even among people who are ostensibly proud of the West, proud of America, this type of suspicion to the West and is kind of been inculcated even there. And as I was reading the book, frankly, I found myself a number of times thinking to myself, “Geez, I’ve become a real cynical jerk about some things.”
Mr. Murray: Glad to have helped. In what ways, by the way?
Mr. Jekielek: Well, so imagine you have a section in there where you explain what the West does actually offer or has offered. And it’s something, frankly, I don’t think about very much. And when I was reading this, I found myself almost viscerally wanting to attack some of the things that you postulated as being successes.
Mr. Murray: Yes, I’m sure. Of course, we were almost primed to do that. I say at one point contra the claims of certain parts of the left and others, school children in America are taught about slavery. School children in Britain are taught about colonialism. These are not hidden aspects of our past. By comparison, what child could be encouraged to say without irony, sarcasm or anything else, what the great things the West has produced? Well, we’re in a period, as I say, at one point in the book, of politeness, which I think might be ending.
The politeness is that people in the West don’t talk about the West’s achievements because we pretend that everybody has achievements and we want to be nice to everybody and everyone’s achievements are equal. It’s polite because it’s not nice to go to another group of people and say, “The thing is actually, you just haven’t produced as much as this other group. It’s particularly not polite to say your group hasn’t done as much as my group.”
I’m sorry, but we’re being pushed to this. When for instance, people decide that things like the scientific method is a racist method, or mathematics is systematically racist, or punctuality, or accuracy, or correctly citing sources is racist. They are pushing us to say, “Okay, you know what? These systems that worked grew up largely in the West. They are a Western thing and the West has given them to the rest of the world, not because they’re racist, but because they work.”
We don’t use Aboriginal medicine when we’re searching for a vaccine. Sorry, but we don’t. Other ways of knowing, which is now used as the opposite of the accurate mathematical method. We don’t go to find out what other ways of knowing are available when you want to put up a suspension bridge.
The world uses it because it works. And it came from the West. So even before you get to the cultural achievements of the West, I’m not willing to allow in the name of courtesy and politeness for us not to say these things anymore. They seem manifestly obvious to me. And you have to be deeply dishonest to just try to chuck all of that out as merely being about racism or something. All by the way, always done in the most racist way imaginable. I mean, what the hell is intrinsically white about being on time? I don’t see it, but the race hucksters insist on it.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, so you make me think of this. You talk about this. This is, I think, from the book “Orientalism” originally, but this idea of needing to decolonize everything. And actually you hear that a lot, even it’s become something quite normal. I don’t think anyone understands what it means. What does it mean?
Mr. Murray: Well, decolonizing was claimed to be a sort of… That colonialism ran through literature and maybe politics and other things in society. And therefore you had to sort of strip out this strand from the society. Well, of course there are many things that are ignorant about this claim. One of which is that, all societies are such complex rugs of memories, histories, and interwoven things. You can’t just sort of pull out a strand like that. You can’t just… I don’t know. Let’s take away these 17th and 18th centuries from our culture. How are you going to do that?
Mr. Jekielek: Well, but math apparently needs to be decolonized.
Mr. Murray: Yeah. I mean, well, this is the point actually, where you see it’s not about decolonizing, it’s just anti-white, anti-West, and anti-white. Nobody has come up with the alternative to math. As I say, the only one they do is other ways of knowing. They can never explain what other ways of knowing means other than the claim that these people make that anyone who’s not white is born with some kind of other knowledge of mathematics that they need to teach to white people, but they never say what it is. And it’s absolute hokum, it’s the voodoo of our a day.
But no, the decolonizing to the extent that it used to mean something, or to the extent that Said or someone meant it to mean something, has now become something totally different, which is… It’s just become an anti-white movement, anti-West movement, where everything from the West is torn down.
For instance, every single philosopher of the European Enlightenment, the people who in many cases inspired the founding fathers to found the United States of America. Every single one of these philosophers has now been torn down. And they’ve all been torn down for similar reasons. They all roughly lived around the 18th century, they lived in the era in which slavery was still going on and so was colonialism.
And so everyone can pretty much be tarred by association with it. Some people are accused of owning shares in companies that benefited from slavery, others are accused of not having focused on abolishing slavery. Others are accused of saying something that we now regard as a racist. And all of this is done in an atmosphere of complete context collapse. I mean, again, you could do this to anybody.
I could decide that the Islamic tradition has given the world nothing because every Islamic scholar lived in a time of slavery. Would that be fair? No, it wouldn’t be. It would be a wildly stupid thing to do apart from anything else. And you’ve seen, I’m sure, the videos of various American high schools, where the students decide to decolonize the library by literally just ripping books off the shelf that are suspect and throwing them in the trash can, including, I was quite amused to see recently, a book on Rousseau, who would’ve been baffled about how this had happened to him. But this becomes practical. And of course, again, so often there’s a human incentive for it.
If you strip away all of these people, and all of these things, and if you decide that because Aristotle, two and a half thousand years ago had different views than we do today, that you don’t need Aristotle. And because all of the enlightenment philosophers don’t have our views from 2022, you don’t need these people.
Well, that’s very convenient because it means you don’t have to do any work at all. And it also means that when you stripped all of this away, you get the great God of the era, me, just me. Me, my magical, wonderful self, who doesn’t need to be educated. Doesn’t need to learn. Doesn’t need to be taught. Doesn’t need to do any real work because actually everyone should just venerate themselves before the wonder that is me. It’s sort of end point of a form of individualism as well, which is a narcissism, which is rampant in our day.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s fascinating. But as you write in the book, there is one philosopher that has somehow escaped this ire entirely and quite the contrary, actually.
Mr. Murray: Yes. Karl Marx. As you know, Karl Marx. By the standards applied to every other thinker, Karl Marx was guilty of every single one of the modern heresies, as I lay out in some remorseless detail. I mean, Karl Marx in both his private and public writings is incredibly racist. I mean, wildly racist. He uses the N-word all over the place and usually it’s a prefixed to Jew. He’s incredibly antisemitic, of course.
His views on colonialism and slavery are terrible. If Karl Marx were anyone else, he would’ve been canceled years ago. So why is this not done to him? Why only recently did the Chinese Communist Party pay for another statue of Karl Marx to go up in Germany? Why did a statue to Engels who was the recipient of many of the racist letters that Marx wrote, why did the statue to Engels go up only recently in the north of England?
Why this? Well, I think this reveals something to us. It reveals something of the nature of the project we’re really talking about. We’re not talking in this current era of anti-Westernism, about honest criticism of the West. We’re not talking about critics who want to make the West better. We’re talking about people who want to either completely destroy or radically transform the West. And one of the ways in which some people want to do that is along the old communist Marxist lines. Marx is central to these people, therefore Marx must stand. Everyone else must fall.
You must do away with everyone else in the tradition, every other thinker, everything to do with the Judeo-Christian tradition, all of that. Take away all of that. Believe there’s one prophet. There’s one man still standing, Karl Marx. It’s quite interesting as people have started to notice that I make this argument in the book, certain defenders of his are already leaping out saying, “No, that’s different, because we go to Marx for his economic theories, not for his behavior as a person.”
Well, sure, but nobody goes to David Hume for the one footnote in his writings where David Hume says something racist. Nobody goes to Voltaire for the couple of times he says something racist by today’s standards. We do, by the way, go to Voltaire for, among other things, in Candide, one of the great descriptions of the barbarity of slavery. But we don’t go to any of these people for their character traits, yet you’ve torn all of them down on their character traits. There you see the direction of the unfairness that is being applied to Western societies. It isn’t an accident. At least it isn’t all of the time. For many people, it’s totally directed, very deliberate, highly political.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes. And there’s this a huge irony too, because of course Marx is very Western, a product of… I don’t know.
Mr. Murray: Of course. And as I mentioned, I mean, just going back to something I mentioned earlier, Frantz Fanon. Fanon and the other post-colonialists, consistently, when they talk about former colonies, say that they must shrug off Western imperialism. And what must they replace it with? Marxism. And they never see the irony. And I don’t know whether they blinded themselves or what, but they never saw the irony that they could have said, the response in the post-colonial period would be to leave Western colonialism behind and return to some native tradition, for instance. But people like Fanon didn’t say that. They said, “You must throw off this form of Westernism and replace it with Western Marxism.”
Mr. Jekielek: And there’s a certain kind of activism to this. I think that’s probably a huge understatement. I mean, you reference Chris Rufo in the book talking about how in government, in various agencies, the people that are adherents of this ideology, their project is to make everybody in the government adherents of this ideology. That’s unbelievable.
Mr. Murray: Well, we could also name that ideology. That part of the idea is the diversity, inclusion, equity bit. DIE, as I call it. The diversity, inclusion, equity bit has become the sort of guard of, let’s say NGO government types in most Western countries, where you should venerate the God of diversity above all others. And instead of being a mixed thing, diversity in my mind, it brings some benefits and brings some negatives, but it’s not an unalloyed good, but these people pretend it is an unalloyed good. And the more diverse you have, the better, and the more… And so on.
Mr. Jekielek: But not thought diversity.
Mr. Murray: Oh, no. Of course not thought diversity, but everyone must look different, but actually be the same. And then there’s the inclusion thing, which is the idea that if there’s anything anyone can’t achieve, it’s because they’ve been held back by racism. And then the equity thing, which is that we’ve all got to end up in the same place. Otherwise, it’s proof that systemic racism exists.
So the crucial thing about the whole diversity agenda is that, first of all, it’s not clear at all it’s going to work. It’s not at all clear that you can get results, however much government interference you have, however much reprogramming, however much tinkering with people’s minds through bias training and everything else you do. It’s not clear that you could ever, in fact it seems very clear to me, that you could never actually achieve, for instance, equity in a society, a situation where everybody ends up basically at the same stage, whatever they’ve done in their lives, however they’ve organized their lives. It’s an impossible thing.
Mr. Jekielek: And why is it a moral good?
Mr. Murray: Why would it be a moral good? Exactly. I don’t think that… We don’t see inequality in sports as being a problem. Unfairness can be a problem, but inequality in itself is a problem or lack of diversity in everything is a problem. Again, a lack of diversity in sports doesn’t seem to be a problem. Why is it such a problem with certain symphony orchestras?
So the first thing is it seems perfectly clear to me that you’re never going to be able to achieve this as a goal without forcing people to do things they wouldn’t want to do anyway. And even then you wouldn’t get there. But the second thing, the bigger thing is even if you did. Does America, for instance, in the 21st century outcompete China? It’s not at all clear to me the answer is yes. It’s not at all clear to me that for instance, even if the American government succeeded in reprogramming the thinking of everyone in America, that the end result from that would mean that America outcompeted China in the 21st century.
And that’s one of the things that’s so mad about the anti-Western moment we’re in. Is that even if we did the things that are being urged upon us, we don’t win, it doesn’t improve us. And I don’t think it improves the rest of the world either. I have this view, which I suppose some people might think is strange, but I have this view that an American-led century is much more preferable to a Chinese Communist Party-led century.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m with you on that
Mr. Murray: I’m glad. This room is safe, but not all.
Mr. Jekielek: This wokeness or this movement, appears [as] being used by people to simply avoid accountability for their own poor performance. This came through in a recent interview I did with Luke Rosiak about teachers, that’s his thesis in his book.
Mr. Murray: Yes. Well, I mean, take somebody like the head of the Teaching Union in the U.S., Randi Weingarten, one of the people most responsible for the decision to make American children lose more than a year of schooling in the COVID pandemic. Somebody who has presided over an ever greater ignorance among American school children. Is it a coincidence, I have to ask myself, that at the end of her appalling performance, the head of this Teaching Union should also be arguing against standardized testing?
Because if you keep testing and the tests are in schools, the tests are fair and accurate, you would show that she has presided over a period of worse and worse performance. So what is this teaching union head’s answer, but let’s do away with tests. Why? Because testing is also racist.
Gosh, how convenient for you and how convenient for the teachers who you’ve encouraged to be lazy in the teaching of the next generation of American students, or absent, or diverted, or distracted in that incredibly important task. So yes, a lot of people have done this. It’s a lot easier to do it. It’s a lot more restful to blame an abstract, amorphous thing because you yourself are rubbish at your self-appointed role.
Mr. Jekielek: I just pulled up a quote that I pulled from the book and I thought this was great. You write, “The war against standardized testing, like the war against religion, philosophy, and everything else in the West, does not erase racial differences. It foghorns them.”
Mr. Murray: Yes. Oh yeah, absolutely. Well, what is the best way for a young Black male, for instance, if they’re born into one of the more impoverished city neighborhoods in this country? What is the best way for them to get out of that? Through education. How will they do it through education? Through performing well in testing, by working hard and performing well in testing. And they are then likely, among other things, and have been for generations, to get certain leg ups along the way, once they’ve done a lot of that work themselves, and they’ll have a lot more work to do, but it will get them out of that situation.
Now, I stress that isn’t just a young Black male, for instance, who find themselves a poor person from a very working class, isolated, rural, white community. It’s the same thing. But as it happens, there are a number of things that happen once you try to strip away all pretenses that there are performance differences that have cultural and other implications.
For instance, there’s, first of all, as I say, the one that you take away. You take away the best ladder that some people are going to have in their lives. That’s the first thing you do. And the second of course, you have to pretend that some people don’t outperform others and you have to pretend you’re not interested in why that is.
As you know, and as I wrote about it in “The Madness Of Crowds” a bit, at university level, it’s been proven that a number of universities, most noticeably Harvard, were actively downgrading students of Asian origin because they were outperforming in the tests various other groups, particularly Black Americans. And therefore Harvard had to find a way to try to downgrade them and did so on character trades, amazingly, which is pretty racist in itself.
So you have to play this strange game where you keep down certain talented people and then you’ve got to artificially make other groups or other individuals more talented than perhaps they are, or put them into positions they may not be adequately trained to perform. And you’ve got to do all of this and all the time hope that no one notices, which doesn’t seem very likely. So I don’t think this makes people less racist. I think it makes us think about race a lot more with consequences down the line that could be catastrophic.
Mr. Jekielek: In order to accept this way of looking at the world, you have to be willing to accept a certain amount of unreality. Would you agree with that? I mean, some portion of us as human beings seem to be ready to accept all sorts of things that on the face of it seem like impossible, or unbelievable, or just simply obviously wrong. If we’re, I don’t know. Let’s say that the many media outlets at once say they’re true, but then of course there’s some that don’t do that as well. But it seems to me like the ideologues, the people that are adherents of this ideology, or pushing this ideology, are counting on those people that are willing to accept.
Mr. Murray: Yes. Well, it’s always easier to go along with a prepackaged set of ideas, isn’t it? I mean, that’s the first thing. And the second thing is, of course, we all like to think we’re rational beings and reasonable, but we don’t actually live our lives as completely reasonable or rational beings. Think of the amount it takes, if you’ve been holding a wrong opinion, we always…
I often think of a Harvard study some years ago, that Cass Sunstein and others did, where they introduced people who had actually a provably wrong opinion, a wrong view on something to the thing that was true. You and I would hope that people would correct, but the vast number don’t, they double down on the error. Why? Well, one of the things is because again, we’re not as human beings only reasonable. We also have pride. And once you staked part of your reputation, private or public, on a particular position, you need it to continue to be true or you might have to reverse your opinion and then you lose a bit of your pride.
So for a lot of people, that’s quite an easy one. You double down, you don’t say you’re wrong, you don’t admit errors. We’re all guilty of that. And I think there is, what the late George Steiner described somewhere once as a nostalgia for the absolute, a nostalgia for having one clear belief system, which you could adhere to. And I think that’s one of the reasons why so many people have fallen into the anti-Western thing. It’s a total, very simplistic, very stupid, ill-informed, venomous, but totalistic explanation of almost everything.
Mr. Jekielek: So it seems like you subscribed to John McWhorter’s view that it’s a religion of some sort, or pseudo religion. I don’t know. I …
Mr. Murray: Taking the place of religion.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes. And then, but you mentioned that as a religion, you’ll take the Judeo-Christian tradition over this, I believe you say that. And at the same time, this seems to be deeply embedded now in most of our leading institutions.
Mr. Murray: Yes. Yeah. Well, but that which has been injected can be taken out. It’s a harder task, but it can be. I think it will be. I think it will be in our lifetimes. After all, it’s an unnatural position to be in. As I said at the start, most people want to think well of themselves. They want to be allowed to feel pride, they would like to have forbears that they look up to. They’d like stories of heroism, which are true and inspire them to be heroic in their own lives. And gratitude. As I say, the crucial thing is gratitude. And I don’t think it would work to do what is being done to the peoples of the West.
I don’t think it would work if we were doing it against the minority. I mean, let’s say against a group that was five percent of the population. I don’t think it would work, again, for all the reasons I’ve laid out. People generally don’t want to feel bad about themselves. They don’t want to be taught to feel hatred of themselves and their families and so on. So it wouldn’t work with five percent, it’s sure as hell not going to work in the end against the majority populations.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, but what happens with minorities in these sorts of situations, one is they get at some kind of cohesion typically, or at least that’s my experience. I’ll take the Jewish people over however long. And secondly, what is done to them, some terrible things in the past. So I want to talk a little bit about this gratitude point. Well, okay. First of all, why don’t we just put it down for the record here? What does the West have going for it?
Mr. Murray: Well, first of all, the development of everything that we regard as coming from science and medicine, everything we think of as modernity, is Western in origin. All the developments in medicine, the sciences. Almost every one of them, certainly up until recent years has been Western in origin. Let’s say political order, democracy, the idea of liberty, freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom to think differently, freedom to vote, the freedom to have a say in your future, future of your country, peaceful transfer of power. These are historically speaking, incredibly uncommon except in the West, which is where they originated. The history of most peoples across the world is actually one group coming in and crushing another and taking their stuff. So the West found a way around that in the tradition of liberal democracy.
That’s even before we start on the cultural inheritance, philosophical inheritance, the religious inheritance, the traditions of Athens, and Jerusalem, and the melding of these traditions. It’s before you get onto the fact that the West has produced, apart from as I say, the scientific innovations, the artistic innovations that are unparalleled across the world.
There are places which reach it, none which surpass it. There are systems… Let me put it this way as well. There’s a curiosity about the West, which is unreciprocated. It is Western scholars derided by Said and others as Orientalists, who go to the Indian subcontinent and hand back the ancient languages because they rediscover them.
It is still not the case that any first nations peoples have gone to parts of the world and tried to discover lost civilizations and handed them back to the world. There has been a curiosity in the West, an interest in the rest of the world, sometimes for the worse, for sure, often for the better. Everything we regard in terms of modern trade, and commerce, and the systems of it, the exercise of free capital. And as I say, I’m not even touching on the artistic legacy.
And then I can reel it off in cities. I mean, because what have you given to the world? Say, well, Paris, isn’t bad for starters, Rome, Florence, Venice, Barcelona, Madrid, London, just to start with. The greatest cities of the world and remain so as well, because we happen to have, I hope still do, a veneration for the past and a recognition that there was something we could build on. Not every society has that. I mean, I’m barely scratching the surface as you can feel.
Mr. Jekielek: Of course, of course. I can’t help but think, and maybe this is this programming that we’re discussing, but the argument that’s made is, “Well great, Douglas, but that was made on the backs of the rest of the world.”
Mr. Murray: Yes. Well, first of all, it wasn’t. It was made on the backs of an awful lot of people, including people in the West. The Industrial Revolution, for instance, in the United Kingdom was done on the backs of British men and women, who had very little choice in their own lives by the way. The average man working in a mill in North England died in his late thirties. Was the West only built on slavery? Certainly not, definitely not, probably not. Was it a part of it? Yes.
But then what do people think or who do people think built all sorts of other things throughout history? Does anyone think the pharaohs lugged the stones themselves to build the temples, the pyramids? Did Alcibiades lug the stones to build The Parthenon himself? Of course not. All these things were done on the backs of slaves. That was a system which the world used across civilizations and across much of the world still.
They’re said to be around 40 million slaves in the world today, which means there are more slaves today than there were in the 19th century in the world. I think we have to be very wary in the current era of people who have not suffered themselves in any way, taking upon themselves the mantle of suffering. What I mean by this is people who want to, I mean, since it’s been such a long time, since the colonial era, such a long time now since the era of slavery. None of it has anything to do with me.
I have no guilt for it myself. I’m not interested in pretending I have any guilt, but I’m very wary of these people who pretend that they are oppressed by these long dead things. And I think they’re shakedown merchants and I think they’re frauds. Nietzsche tells us in “The Genealogy of Morals,” to be very wary of people who pick at scars long since healed and then cry about their wounds. There’s an awful lot of those people around at the moment.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, there are but there’s also people that have been convinced in the way that we discussed a little bit earlier that that is the way they should be somehow.
Mr. Murray: Sure. Yeah. Well, because they’d like to live as victims. Partly because we live in an era where we’ve persuaded ourselves that the person with the most victimhood gets the mic. Not something I believe. Sometimes it’s very important to listen to a victim. Sometimes it’s really important, but victimhood itself does not convey wisdom.
And if you pretend that victimhood itself is the principle reason to give somebody the mic, you end up with people pretending to be victims who are no such thing. I mean, look at the ridiculous class of huckster you get in America in particular, who gets wafted up through the whole system, wafted through the Ivy League or the educational system as a whole. And then wafted through the system presenting themselves as a victim. I can name names, but I mean, they’re all over the place. These are people who are tearing at closed wounds and screaming about their pain. And I don’t believe them.
Mr. Jekielek: You made the beginnings of a great case for the West a little bit earlier. It reminded… And this concept of gratitude. I have a lot of gratitude for many of those things. I was reflecting on that a lot as I was reading. This was a fascinating line that I read in there, and I wanted to discuss it with you a little bit. You referenced Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky asks, “Why should gratitude be an emotion that is denied to the devil?” But Dostoyevsky never answers this. And actually, you don’t answer it either, but you say it’s worth reflecting on it. It absolutely is. Have you had any further thoughts on this?
Mr. Murray: Yeah. It’s in “The Brothers Karamazov.” Yeah. It’s an incredibly, incredibly haunting thing. There’s this scene where one of the characters, people who have read the novel will know, one of the brothers is maybe suffering from delirium, delirium tremens or something like it. And he believes he’s visited by the devil at night. And he has conversations with him.
The devil makes this throwaway comment that, “Gratitude is one of the emotions that’s denied to me.” It’s such a brilliant throwaway insight. Only somebody of Dostoyevsky’s genius could throw away an insight like that and not pick it up. What does he mean? In a way it seems obvious. If the devil was able to feel gratitude, he wouldn’t be the devil. He’d become something else. He has to deny himself gratitude. He has to be denied gratitude because he has to remain a person pumping resentment, which is gratitude’s opposite.
And I think Dostoyevsky leaves us a very, very important clue here, that there are people who want to lock themselves in a system of resentment, but they will be devils. They will be terrible people and they will cause other people terrible harm and suffering. And they’ll cause themselves it as well, but in an effort to deny themselves this incredibly important thing, which is gratitude, gratitude for what you’ve got, what you’re lucky enough to have got. If you accept that, then the resentment can start to fade away, but there are people who don’t want it to, who want to only water it, feed it, keep onto it, hold onto it for dear life.
Mr. Jekielek: The question of what to do about all this, given how far the war has come, is not academic. There is communist China, which is very interested in taking control of the world order. I think that’s been pretty well established now.
Mr. Murray: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: How much weakening can the West handle before it succumbs? So what is the path for the West to maybe rediscover its own value?
Mr. Murray: I think there are probably two ways. One is it happens as a nascent thing, is that we start to become aware of the luck to use a loaded term, the luck we have and to try to continue it. A great player, Branch Rickey, described luck as the residue of design. It’s a phrase I’m very fond of. It’s not just luck. I mean, as we speak, the Russians are still carrying out terrible atrocities in Ukraine. And what does it mean there in that position and I’m in this position? And maybe events provoke people into recognizing the good fortune of what they have. And that they can’t play these destructive games of self-immolation forever. We’ve got to not perform societal harakiri not least because it’s culturally appropriated of course.
Mr. Jekielek: And COVID did two things, or rather the response to COVID did two things. I think it revealed on one side to all sorts of people that hadn’t realized how prevalent this way of thinking was in society to those people, especially through, for example, parents watching Zoom classes, and schools, and so forth. And the flip side was it also kind of seems to have accelerated the coming out party, for lack of a better term, of the ideology simultaneously.
Mr. Murray: Yes. Yes, that’s right. Well, it’s been a long couple years, isn’t it? We have to be more careful with our societies, the ones that work. We have to take greater care of them. There’s a Philip Larkin poem called “The Mower,” where Larkin accidentally killed a hedgehog with his lawn mower and was absolutely distraught by it, because the hedgehog sort of lived in his garden, but it prompts this extraordinary, very, very moving line from Larkin.
He says something, we should be careful with each other, we should be kind while there is time. And you see everything happening in the world and you see what we’ve all been subjected to some extent. And you see footage like people of Shanghai leaning out of their windows and screaming. Those of us who live in societies that are free, we should be careful with each other, we should be kind while there’s time. Kind to ourselves as well.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s people out there that are thinking, “I want to fight for the West.”
Mr. Murray: Sure.
Mr. Jekielek: I know among our audience, there’s those people. So what should they do?
Mr. Murray: The first thing is to know their arguments. I mean, it’s one of the reasons I wrote “The War on the West” is to try to help furnish people with their arguments, to get things in their proper perspective. I think people have to be aware of what’s being done. They need to gird themselves for it. They need to know how to counter the lies.
They need to know how to feel respectful, decent, and good pride in themselves again. They need to feel an appropriate sense of pride for things that have gone well in their society. They need to know the things that their society’s accused of that are fair and the things their society is accused of, which are unfair. But the most important thing is to know it’s only a totally subjugated society of people who are made ignorant, who are made ignorant, who could go along with this.
And I think if everyone knew more, and argued more, and didn’t give in more, and didn’t give up a bit more, and didn’t go, “Yes,” whenever they’re told to more, I think it’s going to be fine. But it involves people knowing more than we currently do because we’re dealing with very, very bad actors on the national and international stage who want us to be ignorant, who want us to fall for their propaganda about us, who want us to fall for the lies they tell about us. This is very, very concerted.
And everybody has a role to play in pushing that back. In their own lives, with their own families, with their own friends, with their own societies and communities because this whole anti-Western wave flooded in like that. I think we can push it back out like that.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Douglas Murray, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Murray: It’s a great pleasure.
Mr. Jekielek: Thank you everyone for joining Douglas Murray and me on American Thought Leaders. The book again, is The War on the West. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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