“If the Founding Fathers can be discarded,” Douglas Murray says, “and Abraham Lincoln can be discarded, and everyone else can be discarded from American history, what have you got left?”
In a recent episode of “American Thought Leaders,” host Jan Jekielek and author and journalist Douglas Murray discuss critical race theory, the ongoing assaults on U.S. history in our public square, and the importance of once again taking pride and finding value in Western achievements.
Murray’s latest book is “The War on the West.”
Jan Jekielek: You start off “The War on the West” with race and critical race theory. Is that the most important component of the attack on the West?
Douglas Murray: It’s one of the tactics being used at the moment, even though the West has never been less racist.
In the early 1960s in America, you might have said, “We’ve got intrinsic racism in our society,” and you would have been right. Is that the case in 2022? Obviously not. It’s an unfair attempt to misrepresent society.
Mr. Jekielek: Yet somehow we’ve internalized this attitude.
Mr. Murray: That’s a very interesting tendency, isn’t it? Because it’s not natural. Most people want to think well of themselves, their history, their family, and their culture. You have to be taught to dislike it, unless it’s a completely dislikable culture. I think people in the West have been taught disproportionate criticism of their own society for more than a generation now.
Mr. Jekielek: But how did that happen?
Mr. Murray: Through a range of things. For example, we all live on campus now. These ideas spill out until everything the West did is looked on with disfavor. Anything can be said about the West, but nothing negative must be said about anyone else. This was a trope that came up in the post-colonial years. There are various scholars who were responsible for it. There was also a desire for revenge. People talked of justice, but they meant revenge.
Mr. Jekielek: So how do these things connect?
Mr. Murray: Well, the works of some of the postcolonial thinkers such as Frantz Fanon are imbued with a desire for revenge against the West for the colonial era. And we can see this in the critical race theorists today, in the work of people such as Ibram X. Kendi in ‘How to Be an Antiracist.’
Kendi and others say the correction to past injustice is present injustice wrapped up in the language of fairness, but you’re actually talking about revenge. And you can’t have hypothetical revenge on the culture. You can’t only attack the history of a country or its philosophical foundations or cultural inheritance. You have to attack the people. And the people of the West are majority white.
And they’ve gotten away with it because they’ve terrorized people. To object is to be accused of bigotry. They say, “America has nothing good to be said for it. It was founded with slavery. It only grew as a power because of slavery.”
If an American says, “I feel some pride in my country. I’m fairly sure we’ve done something right,” that person will be accused of racism. It’s a bullying tactic, but it’s been very effective. Almost everybody has been shut up by that tactic.
So they smear people, damaging their reputations and often their livelihoods. It’s a very effective tool.
Mr. Jekielek: What are some other dimensions of this war on the West?
Mr. Murray: The main one is a war on history, where a story of pride, heroism, and striving is turned into a story of shame. That’s been done to America. It’s been done to Great Britain, Canada, and other English-speaking countries. We’ve had our histories reframed and rewritten. It’s also been done to individuals.
When I was growing up, Winston Churchill was one of our great national heroes. For most of us, he still is, but everything written by academics and the media has become so negative that mobs have repeatedly attacked Churchill’s statue.
It’s the same here in America. They say Thomas Jefferson was a racist and therefore there’s nothing to gain from him, and so you must pull down all likenesses of him.
If the Founding Fathers can be discarded, and Abraham Lincoln can be discarded, and everyone else can be discarded from American history, what have you got left?
And the same movement is running through the arts so that Shakespeare and other great figures of literature are now deemed out of date and anachronistic.
Again, take away Shakespeare, take away the canon of Western literature, and what have you got? It’s a form of cultural revolution, and they’ve gotten away with it far too easily to date.
Mr. Jekielek: In the book, you talk about this idea of decolonizing everything. What does that mean?
Mr. Murray: Decolonizing has become an anti-white, anti-West movement, where everything from the West is torn down.
For instance, every single philosopher of the European Enlightenment, who in many cases inspired the Founding Fathers, has now been torn down. And they’ve all been torn down for similar reasons. They all roughly lived around the 18th century—in the era of slavery and colonialism.
So everyone can be tarred by association with it. Some are accused of owning shares in companies that benefited from slavery, others of not having focused on abolishing slavery. Others are accused of saying something we now regard as a racist. And all of this is done in an atmosphere of complete contextual collapse.
Mr. Jekielek: As you wrote in the book, one philosopher has escaped this ire.
Mr. Murray: Karl Marx. By the standards applied to every other thinker, Marx was guilty of every single one of the modern heresies, as I lay out in some detail. Marx was incredibly racist. He uses the N-word all over the place and usually it’s prefixed to Jew. He’s incredibly antisemitic, of course.
If Karl Marx were anyone else, he would have been canceled years ago.
So we’re not talking about honest critics who want to make the West better. We’re talking about people who want to destroy or radically transform the West. Marx is central to these people; therefore, he must stand.
Mr. Jekielek: So what does the West have going for it?
Mr. Murray: The development of everything from science and medicine, everything we think of as modernity, is Western in origin. Then there’s democracy, the idea of liberty, freedom of thought, conscience, and expression, and freedom to vote. Historically, these are uncommon except in the West, where they originated.
There’s also our cultural, philosophical, and religious inheritance, the traditions of Athens and Jerusalem, and unparalleled artistic innovations.
Mr. Jekielek: But the argument is, “That was made on the backs of the rest of the world.”
Mr. Murray: They were made on the backs of a lot of people, including people in the West. The Industrial Revolution was done on the backs of British men and women. Was the West built only on slavery? Certainly not. Was it a part of it? Yes.
People who pretend they’re oppressed by these long-dead things are shakedown merchants and frauds. Nietzsche tells us to be 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.
Look at the ridiculous hucksters in America who present themselves as victims. 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: What’s the path for the West to rediscover its own value?
Mr. Murray: We have to be more careful with our societies. We have to take greater care of them. In his poem ‘The Mower,” Philip Larkin says we should be careful and kind while there’s still time. We should be kind to our own society, as well as others.
Mr. Jekielek: There are people out there thinking, “I want to fight for the West.” What should they do?
Mr. Murray: The first thing is to know their arguments. One of the reasons I wrote “The War on the West” is to help furnish people with their arguments. People need to know how to counter the lies.
And they need to take pride in themselves again, to feel appropriate pride for things that have gone well in their society.
It involves people knowing more than we currently do because we’re dealing with some very bad actors on the national and international stage who want us to be ignorant, who want us to fall for their propaganda and the lies they tell us.
Everybody has a role to play in their own lives, with their families, friends, and communities.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.