Douglas Murray’s new book The War on the West is a devastating critique of anti-West Westerners and their ideology, which goes under various monikers, from political correctness and identity politics to Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness. The doctrine of Critical Race Theory (CRT) is the pseudo-scholarly version of the creed. The anti-West and anti-white bigots, themselves Westerners and not infrequently white, are hell-bent on creating a new incarnation of Year Zero. Murray does a fine job of evaluating this alliance of fanatics, opportunists and cowards assaulting our civilisation on every front. Wry and insightful in turn, he details their hypocrisy and vengefulness.
The dual prism through which the anti-West Westerners view our civilisation, according to The War on the West, consists of racism and empire. Few today would disagree that shipping Africans across the Atlantic between 1525 and 1866—estimated at 12.5 million people by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Database with some 10.7 million surviving the horrific journey and 388,000 disembarking in North America—was criminal. No ethical justification can be made for slavery because, as Murray asserts, it is opposed to the sovereignty of the individual. Nonetheless, this same disregard for human autonomy must have played a part when other Africans sold their kinsmen to Arab slave-traders. We hear little about Africans sold into Islamic servitude, though their numbers were greater than the Trans-Atlantic trade. A new generation in the West will not learn about non-white forms of slavery (by reading Bernard Lewis’s 1991 book Race and Slavery in the Middle East) because our academics and teachers are still under the sway of Edward Said and his anti-West Holy Writ.
This is a pity because slavery persists to this day in the Greater Middle East. Consider the enslavement of Christian and “polytheist” Yazidi women and children during the Islamic State’s caliphate in Syria and Iraq (2015 to 2019). Affiliates of the Islamic State are still in operation in Nigeria, Libya, Egypt (the Sinai Peninsula), Yemen, Afghanistan and so on. As recently as 2016, according to the Global Slavery Index, 3.3 out of every thousand people in Arab countries were slaves. And slavery is not confined to the Greater Middle East. It is rife in sub-Saharan Africa, North Korea, Belarus, Mongolia and South-East Asia. Although modern-day slavery runs to more than forty million people, it does not occur in Australia, Canada, the United States or New Zealand and is almost non-existent in the UK: the very same countries anti-West Westerners maintain are indelibly linked to slavery.
Murray acknowledges Christianity’s corrective role with respect to slavery in the West. He references, for instance, St Bathilda who campaigned for the abolition of slavery as early as the seventh century. Then there was St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, who outlawed slavery in England in 1102. And let us not forget William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect who, impelled by their Christian faith, campaigned for the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The naysayers could point to these examples, and a thousand other similar cases, as the exceptions that prove the rule—but they would be wrong. David Bentley Hart, in Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (2010), is one of a number of writers who make the persuasive case that one of the effects of Christianity on Europe has been to mitigate against slavery. Even medieval-era serfdom, with all its feudal obligations and restrictions, fell short of what could be called slavery, not least because of the Gospel teachings about the God-given dignity of the individual.
This review appears in the latest Quadrant.
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The West participated in the immoral business of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade but, as Murray points out, most of the nations involved proved capable of (eventually) correcting themselves and seeking some measure of redemption. In America’s Civil War a quarter of a million white northerners died fighting to end slavery in the South. White Britons spent vast amounts of money on the West Africa Squadron. This adjunct of the Royal Navy took the fight against slavery to the high seas after Parliament terminated Britain’s involvement in the slave trade in 1807. At one point, in the first half of the nineteenth century, a sixth of the Royal Navy’s ships and personnel were employed by the West Africa Squadron with the sole purpose of disrupting the slave trade:
The cost of this extraordinary decision was not financial. It was paid for by British lives as well. Between 1808 and 1860, the West Africa Squadron captured 1600 slave ships and freed 150,000 African slaves. They also lost a huge number of personnel themselves. More than 1500 men of the Royal Navy were killed in action during this period, and the acts of bravery and selfless acts of heroism of those men is worthy of some note, surely?
A defining feature of the West is e a Christian-inspired moral compass that intermittently goes missing and yet, given time and the right circumstances, finds its way back to the centre of our thinking. Martin Luther King Jr, as early as 1956, explicitly called on the principles of Christianity to light the way in America’s fraught journey towards a racially harmonious America in which people would judge others by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin: “Taking up the cross is the voluntary or deliberate choice of putting ourselves without reservation at the service of Christ and his kingdom; it is putting our whole being in the struggle against evil, whatever the cost.” King preached, a few days before his home in Montgomery was bombed, that the meaning of the Good Samaritan story is “not what will happen to me if I stop to help this man” but “what will happen to this man if I don’t stop to help him”. In the West, contends Murray, King’s message appeared to have triumphed in the latter years of the twentieth century:
The lesson had seemed clear: treat people as individuals, and reject those who would try to reduce them to membership of a group they belonged to solely by accident or birth … The future was meant to be one in which racial categories mattered less and less. Society and the people in it would be colour-blind, just as they aspired to be sex-blind and blind to an individual’s sexual orientation.
Unfortunately, however, King’s vision of a colour-blind future through “the inoculation of the world with mild Christianity” is now disputed by America’s CRT-observant professoriate and commentariat. The worldview expressed in the 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech—“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood”—is inimical to the anti-racist racism of Black Lives Matter (BLM). King is too important to be torn down (metaphorically and literally) from his pedestal, so anti-racist racists such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Kermit Roosevelt III, author of The Nation That Never Was: Reconstructing America’s Story (2022), seek to explain away the Christian sentiments contained in “I Have a Dream”. Roosevelt, writing for Time magazine, insists that the King who frequently gave “The Other America” speech throughout 1967 and 1968 was less sanguine about the future of race relations than in 1963. There is, as in many of the claims of the anti-West radicals, some truth in this. The 1964 Civil Rights Act might have established political and legal justice, but King in his final eighteen months lamented the economic inequity and private forms of discrimination that remained in the US. He also noted the over-representation of African Americans in the hell that was the Vietnam War. But to reframe King as a vengeful racialist—something even Malcolm X forswore in the last year of his life—is risible.
The purpose of “reframing” the past—in fact, rewriting the history of America and Western civilisation in its entirety—is perhaps best captured by the tawdry “1619 Project” and the even more tawdry BLM-Antifa riots of the summer of 2020 in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Murray skewers the New York Times, and especially the journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and editor of the NYT Magazine Jake Silverstein, which kicked off the 1619 Project with a hundred-page booklet asserting that the founding of the United States was not the 1776 Declaration of Independence but the arrival of the first African slaves 150 years earlier. Hannah-Jones claimed in the opening paragraph of her diatribe that 1619 represented America’s “true founding”. Later, when eviscerated by actual historians, she claimed the 1619 Project “does not argue that 1619 is our true founding”. She and Silverstein asserted that “the Right” had deliberately misinterpreted them; meanwhile, the online editors at the “newspaper of record” furtively excised the pair’s most contentious claims. Nevertheless, a year later when rioters in Oregon tore down a statue of George Washington and proclaimed their insurrection “the 1619 riots”, Hannah-Jones immediately took to social media: “Call them the 1619 riots? It would be an honour. Thank you.”
“The 1619 riots”, which followed the brutal police killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, are rightly regarded by Murray as a high watermark in the success of Black Lives Matter, an anti-white Leninist operation that owes more to the black supremacism of Malcolm X (before he recanted and was assassinated by his former black-supremacist comrades in the Nation of Islam) than the integrationism of Martin Luther King. BLM is an anti-white Leninist operation whose leaders were frequently invited into the White House for tête-à-têtes with the Healer-in-Chief himself during his last eighteen months in the Oval Office.
Barack Obama won the 2008 election on the promise that, as the product of a white mother and black Kenyan father, he would seal the deal on racial integration in the country. In fact President Obama leveraged race at every opportunity, even in the most inappropriate circumstances. In July 2016, for instance, he spoke at the funeral of five white policemen gunned down by a black racist—and chose this moment to caution the grieving family and friends of the five murdered officers that, in the big picture, America was to blame for permitting “poverty to fester so that entire neighbourhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment”. There are numerous other cases, as I argued in “Obama the Great Divider” (Quadrant, September 2016), in which Obama brazenly blamed both the crimes committed by individual African Americans and the legitimate actions of white (and black) police officers on institutionalised racism.
Murray characterises the anti-West polemicists as “bad actors”, a term which implies anything from lying and hypocrisy to things more malevolent. Certainly, the modern leftist (or, if you like, wokist) is a dissembler. Murray points out that the noisy “cancelling” of great thinkers, artists or political leaders associated with the West—be it George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, Immanuel Kant or Winston Churchill—has never been visited upon Karl Marx or Michael Foucault. Kant’s crime, as Murray puts it, was that he used “terms in eighteenth-century Prussia that would not be used at a progressive university in the West in the 2020s”. A so-called “equality working group” attached to the University of Warwick decided that time used teaching philosophy students Critique of Pure Reason or The Metaphysics of Morals would be better spent deconstructing Kant’s racism. On the other hand, as Murray dryly notes, there is no revocation of Karl Marx despite his unambiguous racism. The same exemption applies to Michael Foucault, who had sex with local children while living in Tunis in the late 1960s. As Foucault’s biographer Guy Sorman noted, there was “a colonial dimension to this. A white imperialism.” Neither Marx nor Foucault earns the opprobrium of anti-West Westerners, doubtless because their insurrectionist polemic aligns with our latter-day iconoclasts.
To be blunt—blunter than Douglas Murray—President Obama was the most radical President in the history of the United States. Stanley Kurtz, in his exposé Radical-in-Chief (2012), outlined the perfidy of Barack Obama for all to see. Obama is a bad actor in the way Murray uses that term, but he is also a good actor since he has successfully passed himself off as a uniquely unifying force. In reality, Barry Hussein Obama, from his undergraduate days onwards, has been an out-and-out opponent of American exceptionalism, which we might define as codified personal freedom and national self-determination. His enmity towards Ronald Reagan’s enlightened patriotism is not disputed by either Left or Right. Abroad Obama was the Appeaser-in-Chief, at home the Divider-in-Chief. He has not only been a proponent of CRT and BLM but, as Stanley Kurtz tried to inform his compatriots, a disciple of every whacky anti-America professor on the university circuit, including Professor Derrick Bell, an early proponent of progressive racism.
Obama’s ideological fervour is confirmed by his outlandish response to the recent Uvalde mass-killings:
As we grieve the children of Uvalde today, we should take time to recognise that two years have passed since the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer. His killer stays with us to this day, especially those who loved him.
We need only point out that, as Murray does in The War on the West, George Floyd was no saint, but arresting officer Derek Chauvin should never have put him in a lethal chokehold. A chokehold, Murray reminds us, that has also resulted in the death of white Americans. In other words, institutionalised racism was neither the cause of George Floyd’s unlawful death nor did it play a role in the subsequent arrest and trial of Chauvin. If you still believe the BLM is a new-generation civil rights group, consider the fact that from its inception it has maintained that “policing in the United States is an outgrowth of white plantation owners’ desire to keep Black bodies on their plantation”. This is the radical absurdity that Obama, one of the most privileged individuals in the history of the United States, supports—while all the time posturing as the Healer-in-Chief.
Murray’s writing style is delightfully droll and there were a number of occasions where I found myself laughing out loud. The folly of the British Library’s abortive war against the renowned poet Ted Hughes is one of those. The British Library’s “research squad” proscribed Hughes’s work after discovering he was a direct descendant of Nicholas Ferrier, a man they accused of being involved with the London Virginia Company. This made Hughes, in Leninist terms, a former person who “profit[ed] from slavery” even if Nicholas Ferrier had died in 1592. That was not the only problem. It turns out that Ferrier was not involved with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade; he had, instead, been a public critic of the London Virginia Company. Moreover, Ted Hughes was born in relative poverty in western Yorkshire and went to university on a scholarship, not through the largesse of wealthy parents. The fame and fortune Hughes accrued were entirely the result of his own efforts. The British Library “unreservedly” apologised to Hughes’s family for besmirching his reputation. Two things, in the light of this, Murray wants us to remember about PC experts: they are often “ignorant, sloppy and less than half-informed”; and an identical dogmatism is at work in every PC critique of Western society, not excluding “racist gardening”.
And what is the provenance of this revolutionary dogma? For Roger Sandall, late Quadrant stalwart and author of the ground-breaking The Culture Cult (2000), the origin of what some have aptly termed the “luxury beliefs” of the latter-day Left is not Karl Marx, but bohemia’s “exemplary original”, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Murray cites Sandall’s favourable assessment of Western civilisation when contrasted with pre-modern tribal societies (or any other society for that matter):
[Western civilisation] allows changes of government without bloodshed, civil rights, economic benefits, religious toleration, and political and artistic freedom … Most traditional cultures feature domestic repression, economic backwardness, endemic disease, religious fanaticism, and severe artistic constraints.
Murray references Sandall to make the general point that the anti-West Westerners are not so different from others in history who romanticise less sophisticated cultures in order to condemn their own. Tacitus’s Germania come to mind with its extravagant praise of the “rooted-ness” and “organic-ness” of the Germanic tribesman of the time, notwithstanding that the famous Roman historian never visited Germania and built his “noble savage” account on the basis of Roman stereotypes.
The institutionalisation of bohemia, according to Sandall, received an extraordinary boost with Frank Boas’s opening of Columbia University’s anthropology department in the 1920s to the “would-be writers” Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. Their new notion of anthropology—“heavily didactic semi-fiction”—went on to shape much of our contemporary world, including American-style progressivism: “The effect on American manners and morals would be to legitimise the bohemian counterculture of Greenwich Village.” Sandall cited Disney’s Pocahontas (1997) as the apotheosis of the “noble savage” caricature in which immaculate Powhatan Native Americans exist in a state of sacred harmony until Westerners—“uncivilised” and “ignorant heathens” who are “beasts” and “filthy savages”—descend on paradise like “ravenous wolves” and devour everything in their path. Today’s identity politics, with its hierarchy of victimhood and grotesque generalisations about what we are all thinking, was portended in a mildly entertaining 1990s Disney animation.
None of this is to suggest that European imperialism was an unalloyed good thing; and yet Murray makes the powerful point that outside the West—excluding the People’s Republic of China, Iran and the like—a nuanced debate is possible. As Murray reminds us, even Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian hero of anti-colonialism, admitted the obvious in There Was a Country (2012):
Here is a piece of heresy. The British governed their colony of Nigeria with considerable care. There was a very highly competent cadre of government officials imbued with a high level of knowledge of how to run a country … British colonies were, more or less, expertly run … One was not consumed by fear of abduction or armed robbery. One had a great deal of confidence and faith in British institutions. Now all that has changed.
Achebe is talking about the rule of law, something Hong Kongers lost when Beijing forced its national security decree on them. The anti-West Westerners’ prohibition on discussing any positive legacies of the British Empire is at odds with reality. Why, for instance, did the brave citizens of Hong Kong struggle against Xi Jinping’s new diktat? Why has Beijing just ordered the arrest of the ninety-year-old Catholic priest Joseph Zen? And what kind of trial might Zen—or anyone arrested in Hong Kong or throughout China—expect to receive?
The naysayers will remind us of the horrors of British colonialism, including the 1919 Amritsar Massacre. But, as Murray says, the “brutal shooting at a crowd” leading to the death of 379 people would not be recalled if it had been carried out in the twentieth century by Japanese, Chinese, Soviet or Nazi troops. The perpetrator of the Amritsar bloodbath, General Dwyer, was subsequently “removed from his command, forced into retirement, and stripped of his pension”. Churchill denounced the massacre as “an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation”. Today, in the West, any objective analysis of the benefits and disadvantages of the British Empire is too problematic to deserve any treatment other than outright demonisation. It is taboo in the way a debate about transgender women in sport is off-limits.
Paradoxically, we must look to non-Western scholars to defend the advantages of the West. Take, for instance, the analysis provided by the legal activist He Weifang, formerly one of the most eloquent campaigners for judicial reform in China. He Weifang has argued that “law in the Western sense is the key element of modernity in that it protects the individual, particularly but not exclusively from abuses of authority”. In China, on the other hand, there is no independent judiciary, no rule of law, no liberal constitution, and no genuine democratic body. As a consequence, argued He Weifang before being silenced, the “invisible hand” of the Central Commission of Politics and Law—that is, the Chinese Communist Party—plays a disastrously intrusive role in legal and judicial outcomes. The victims and potential victims of Beijing’s imperialist-Leninism, Tibetans, Mongols, Uyghurs, Manchurians or Taiwanese, are not likely to be treated with “considerable care”. The fruit of Western civilisation was not necessarily superior, maintained He Weifang, with one incontrovertible exception—“law in the Western sense”.
So now we might speak of the West possessing two civilisational assets—a moral compass and the means for providing genuine justice. To this we could add intellectual curiosity, a quality compellingly expounded in Robert Irwin’s For Lust of Knowing (2006). The great Orientalists, starting with Guillaume Postel in the sixteenth century and going all the way to the late Bernard Lewis, shared brilliance of mind and unbridled curiosity. Only anti-West ideologues, such as Edward Said and his acolytes, would advance the malevolent fantasy that the great scholars and adventurers of the West were no more than agents of European imperialism. Egyptology, to take one example, did not exist until it caught the imagination of inquisitive Westerners; for an entire millennium the wonders of Tutankhamen et al were hiding in plain sight of the local Muslim population. Western scholars, in a very real sense, gave the full history of Egypt back to the Egyptians. This is not the only occasion in which such a thing has transpired.
There is no evading the anti-White bigotry of the likes of Michael Moore, Kill Whitey (2004), or Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility (2018). Any white who disagrees with the ideology (Critical Race Theory, for instance) of the new racism is a racist. Any non-white who disagrees with the new racism is ipso facto an apologist for the old racism. Neither white nor black can exempt themselves from the wokist blame game by citing Martin Luther King and asserting their colour-blindness. The “diversity” of identitarianism is not predicated upon diversity of opinion but diversity of skin colour (along with gender and sexual preference), which means that, ultimately, we must be judged by the colour of our skin and not the content of our character. This, in turn, assumes our deepest humanity is defined by some (unchosen) predetermined identity rather than our (self-chosen) actions. Therefore, in this current era, a fourth pillar of Western civilisation is also under challenge from the veritable totalitarianism of the anti-West Westerners—the rights of the individual.
Murray persuasively contrasts what we might generously call positive discrimination with the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. It famously guarantees every individual’s “equal protection of the laws”. Without realising it, perhaps, the anti-West Westerners are returning us to a tribal belief system that our civilisation, more than any other, has attempted to transcend. If the arc of the moral universe, to borrow from Martin Luther King, bends towards freedom, then it is more likely than not to be a Western construct: the Christian Revolution of the fourth century; the 1215 Magna Carta; the 1689 Bill of Rights; the 1776 US Declaration of Independence; the 1920 Nineteenth Amendment of the US Constitution confirming universal suffrage; the 1964 Civil Rights Act; and so on ad infinitum. To destroy the West is to destroy humanity’s best hope for freedom and liberty.
Murray cites a passage from Friedrich Nietzsche to account for the ressentiment that makes identity politics so appealing to the perennial victim who believes “someone or other must be to blame that I feel ill”. Nietzsche, in his telling, has a hard-nosed truth-teller stand over the vengeful and embittered “victim” and tell it to him straight: “Somebody must be to blame but you yourself are this somebody, you yourself are to blame for it, for you yourself alone are to blame for yourself.”
It is on this theme that Douglas Murray concludes his proposal on how we might prevail—as individuals and as a civilisation—in this Age of Unreason. The antidote to ressentiment (not to mention nihilism and spiritual death) is gratitude: gratitude that we are the inheritors of a civilisation, with its intrinsic morality, justice, intellectual curiosity and freedom, that literally draws to it non-Westerners from every part of the globe. There are few Westerners, Gérard Depardieu apart, keen to emigrate to the Russian Federation, let alone the People’s Republic of China, the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Arab Republic of Syria or the State of Eritrea. The unrelenting movement of people, as Murray reminds us, is in only ever in one direction—towards the West, the alleged enemy of all humanity.
Murray is to be admired as one of the truly insightful and eloquent public intellectuals in the world today, and yet his conclusion perhaps places too much emphasis on the personal aspect of ressentiment. There is, agreed, a private dimension to modern-day radicalism. Moreover, Murray acknowledges in a number of passages that submission to identity politics goes beyond petty opportunism or disaffected individuals scapegoating “the system”. Clearly, there is something more fundamental informing the ideology of the anti-West Westerners, something Murray correctly describes as “religious”.
The War on the West exhibits an awareness of this when it cites the former Anglican bishop Michael Nazir-Ali on the extensive take-up of Critical Race Theory by Episcopalians and the Church of England: “As Nazir-Ali said, there is no need for the church to fall for this new religion. For it has a very fine story of its own to tell.” Despite noting a religious aspect to the belief-system of the anti-West Westerners, Murray does not capture the full extent of the religious-civilisational crisis facing the West. The Nietzsche quotation in The War on the West is obviously relevant but this one from the Parable of the Madman in The Gay Science (1882) might be even more pertinent:
“Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him—you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave you the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from the sun?”
The point to be taken from this passage—or, at least, the point I wish to take—is not so different from the one made by Tom Holland in Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (2019): “To live in a Western country is to live in a society that is utterly saturated by Christian concepts and assumptions.” Holland, like Nietzsche, sees the comprehensive interconnectedness between the West and Christianity. Where they diverge is in Nietzsche’s insistence that the death of God in the West “unchained the earth from the sun”. In other words, atheism undercuts a sense of higher purpose and transcendent meaning and makes life intolerable for everyone, apart—in the opinion of Nietzsche—from those satisfied with a pragmatic and unassuming existence.
One obvious refutation of Nietzsche’s contention is the fact that a contemporary public intellectual like Holland can, despite his professed atheism, write positively about the (enduring) Christian foundations of the West. Our civilisation, to extrapolate, is not automatically doomed just because any number of Westerners have lost their faith (or never had any) in the literalness of Biblical truth. Douglas Murray, as per Tom Holland, publicly acknowledges his atheism and simultaneously defends the principles of the West, his latest book entirely approbative about our civilisation: “People growing up in the West today remain among the luckiest people in human history.”
Nietzsche, though, was close to the mark in his prediction that without the strictures of their faith, many in the West would not only go searching for a new religion but for a new world, given that Christianity and Western civilisation are so interwoven. The emergence of this new revolutionary rage, if the mad Leninist experiments of the twentieth century are anything to go by, is not to be encouraged. Murray’s The War on the West is an insightful and witty overview of a destructive movement that will not be satisfied until we all submit to its expanding totalitarian reach. The duty of all sensible people is to resist.
The War on the West: How to Prevail in the Age of Unreason
by Douglas Murray
HarperCollins, 2022, 320 pages, $35.99
Daryl McCann wrote on the war in Ukraine in the May issue and on Kevin Rudd’s opinions on China in the June issue. He has a blog at darylmccann.blogspot.com