A fight is raging for the soul of the West.
Great civilizations basking in the legacy of the Enlightenment and heroic men such as George Washington and Winston Churchill find themselves faced with an internal enemy. Some citizens of America and Europe, furious about perceived failures of the past, have decided the best way forward is to tear it all down.
But to British writer and commentator Douglas Murray, author of the new book “The War on the West: How to Prevail in the Age of Unreason,” the “games” of self-loathing have only one outcome: utter destruction.
“If we play those games, then yes, of course, it’s over, and others will take our place, as they inevitably would if a civilization turns self-loathing,” Murray says.
Thankfully, a solution is at hand.
“The deepest well we need to draw upon is to try to change around the culture of ingratitude,” Murray says. “We in the West need to transform our societies from societies of resentment into societies of gratitude, to recognize that what we have is highly unusual, and to have some gratitude for that, to feel grateful to that. And if we feel grateful for that, then to add to that inheritance as well.”
Murray joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss his book and offer specifics on winning the war on the West.
We also cover these stories:
- Michael Sussmann, a lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, is found not guilty on charges of lying to the FBI.
- President Biden says he has a plan to flight inflation.
- Supreme Court clerks soon may be required to turn over private phone records as well as sign affidavits, sources say, as part of a probe into the leaked opinion in a landmark abortion case.
- Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, who has dominated in women’s events, speaks with ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Listen to the podcast or read the lightly edited transcript below.
Doug Blair: My guest today is Douglas Murray, author of the new book “The War on the West: How to Prevail in the Age of Unreason,” available now wherever books are sold. Douglas, welcome to the show.
Douglas Murray: Great to be with you.
Blair: Let’s start with the obvious question here. Your book asks, “How do we prevail in the age of unreason?” So, how do we do it?
Murray: Well, one thing is not getting rid of absolutely everything in our past, not destroying everything we’ve inherited, and imagining that we can start from year zero like the Cultural Revolution in Maoist China or Pol Pot’s Cambodia. In America in particular, and the West in recent decades, we’ve deliberately deracinated our histories.
We’ve cleared the public square of all of our history, all of our heroes, our idols, and what’s more, we’ve destroyed our religious inheritance and our secular inheritance. We’ve made our culture this bonfire of accusations, accusations of racism connected with slavery, colonialism, and much more. That unless everything in our history conforms with our specific desires in the present, and our ambitions in the present, and our beliefs in the present, then they’re of no use to us.
And if you do all of these things and imagine that you’re wiser than all of our predecessors, and you know better than them, and much more, then you will go mad. And many people in our age are going mad.
If however you believe that the past is a very good guide to us—it’s not perfect. Of course it isn’t perfect. It’s unsurprising that things from 200 years ago don’t conform completely with everything we currently believe and hold in 2022, just as things we believe in 2022 might seem mad to our successors 200 years from now.
Nevertheless, if you recognize that we have an extraordinary inheritance, a gift in countries like America, and you hold onto that gift and try to improve on it rather than burning it down, you’ve got the start of a way to prevail.
Blair: When I think of this decline of the West, and I imagine when we’ve had a historical decline before, I look to Rome, where they had this vision of what they were in the past, and then they ignored it at their own peril, and then the decline. Is that similar to what we’re seeing here, where we’re seeing a hegemonic power like the West decline as it becomes a little bit more obsessed with immaterial things?
Murray: Well, it’s not inevitable, of course. As everyone likes to remind us, and quite rightly so, the fall of Rome took a good 400 years. So there’s a lot of wreckage in it, if you want wreckage. And that means there’s a significant amount of time in which you could turn it around, if you want to turn it around. And I submit, at any rate, that we should try to turn it around, and we do have time to save ourselves.
But as I say in “The War on the West,” the problem is that we are currently deciding to look at everything in our past and present through the same accusatory lens. Everything is to be erased, everything to do with colonialism, everything to do with slavery, in the mistaken belief that only we were ever guilty of these things, whereas, of course, what really made the West remarkable was that we were the first civilization to throw these things off.
But if we continue down this road of talking about ourselves in this way, looking at ourselves in this unforgiving, unforgivable light, then it’s inevitable that others will take over. And I give examples in the book of times in recent years when we’ve actually glimpsed that happening.
America’s ambassador to the United Nations last year speaking before the United Nations about how racist America is, how from its founding in evil, it had this inherited guilt.
Of course if people said that about any other society, we would have something to say about them. But the American ambassador to the U.N. does that on the floor of the U.N., and the next person up is the Chinese Communist Party’s ambassador, who says, “You have no right to criticize China ever again on anything, because America’s ambassador has come to the U.N. today and done something unequaled in our history and confessed tenacious guilt.”
So yes, if we play these self-indulgent, self-destructive games, it’s way past self-criticism at this point. It’s self-destruction. If we play those games, then yes, of course it’s over, and others will take our place, as they inevitably would if a civilization turns self-loathing.
Blair: Is there any historical precedent where—I guess I’m curious as to how this happens, because I don’t see any particular way that a country can survive or a nation can survive if its own citizenry views it as irredeemably, as you said, racist, or sexist, or bigoted. Is there any historical precedent for how this happens?
Murray: Well, there are little glimpses of it, and I give some examples of that. There are no historical parallels, because there’s none quite so large as us. It’s the West’s contemporary virus that we’ve decided to destroy ourselves in this way.
And as I say, it’s not by any means inevitable that that destruction continues indefinitely. I think it’s quite likely that a countermovement will occur or is already occurring to try to correct it. But the problem is the enormous context collapse, which is unique in the modern West.
The context collapse is the mistake by very large numbers of the citizenry, and I prove this through the polls and others, very large numbers of the citizenry in the West who seem to believe that what we have is the norm, and that therefore you can war on it, and wage war against everything in it, and that this can be done merely to improve. And that if the improvements didn’t work, you would return to the status quo ante of society as it was.
Well, that’s not the case, because representative democracies which regard human rights as being of significance only today exist in what we call the West, and only exist today in the form that we recognize them compared to that of previous centuries. So what we have in America and in the West today is incredibly uncommon historically, and uncommon in the world today.
One point I make in the book is that there are 40 million, four-zero million, slaves in the world today. That’s more than there were in the 19th century. So we regard slavery quite rightly as an abomination, but it’s not an abnormality. Not at all. It’s going on now. So I really urge Americans and others in particular to try to get themselves into a proper perspective.
And one final thing on that. We do know that absolutely anything can happen once a civilization turns to self-loathing. There was a poll out when Russia invaded Ukraine in February. There was a poll asking Americans, I’m sure you saw it, whether they would fight for their country if something similar happened as happened to the Ukrainians. And about a half of Americans said that no, they would hot-foot it and flee if their country was invaded. Now, of course, I have to caveat that people act differently in theory to how they would act to pollsters.
By the way, normally people say to pollsters things they think that will make them look better, so actually the figure might be higher than the one that the pollsters came back with.
But it seems that a large number of Americans think there’s nothing in their country worth fighting for, and that’s because they’ve been told this for more than a generation. As I show in the book, they’ve been told that their Founding Fathers were appalling. They’ve been told that America was founded in sin. They’ve been told that America is a story of appalling racism and bigotry. Why would you stay around and risk your life for a country which was like that?
Blair: So to the topic of your book, it’s titled “The War on the West,” and the West obviously encompasses more than just America. It encompasses this idea of European-derived countries like, obviously, France and the U.K., but also their derivatives like America, Australia, and New Zealand. Is this something that’s mostly explicitly an American phenomenon, or are we seeing this across the continent in Europe as well?
Murray: Well, that’s a very interesting question. The answer is that we see it. We just see it less in the non-English-speaking countries. As I described in “The War on the West,” America has been, for most of my lifetime and most of your lifetime, has been a net importer of bad ideas. In recent years, it has managed to turn this around, and America is now a net exporter of bad ideas.
So things like the [Black Lives Matter] movement moved to countries like the U.K. in no seconds flat. Britain doesn’t need the BLM movement. America doesn’t need it, either. It turns out to have been a shakedown racket. If only it was a movement actually dedicated to the things it claimed it was dedicated to.
But Britain certainly doesn’t need it. We don’t have any of the same police issue that America has, and again, that is highly debatable and arguable, and I explain that in the book as well. But the BLM movement was immediately exported to the U.K.
Whenever we get these moments of iconoclasm, iconoclastic fury, like the kind that broke out in America in 2020, we get them in the English-speaking countries as well. Statues of Winston Churchill get attacked in London and in Canada. Canada starts to do church-burning. Australia and New Zealand start to ransack their history as well and say, “Maybe there are people in our past who don’t conform to 2020’s ideas.”
So this definitely all spreads from America out. And there is a recognition in some countries, most notably France, that it is deadly to import the American virus. The French president himself, Emmanuel Macron, and a number of French academics have actually said, “We mustn’t import this American ideology.”
Macron himself, of course, has said in the past, said in 2020, “Not one statue will come down. Not one monument will be erased amid all of our history.” By the way, that hasn’t quite worked. Voltaire’s statue has been torn down in Paris, and no one quite knows where it is at the moment.
But leave that aside for the moment. Broadly speaking, it is English-speaking countries in the West that get the American virus. Sometimes people call this woke. Woke doesn’t even start to describe the seriousness of what I am describing. The Western anti-Westernism is the American virus that has been exported from America to the rest of the English-speaking West, and other parts of the West are certainly vulnerable, but not as vulnerable as the English-speaking countries.
Blair: As you mentioned, we are seeing the degradation of all of these cultural institutions and sort of historical institutions as well, of Winston Churchill, obviously a great hero. His statues are being torn down. You mentioned the Founding Fathers having their statues torn down and their memories defamed. As these institutions are being degraded, are we seeing them replaced with anything, or is it more just iconoclasm for the sake of iconoclasm?
Murray: Well, a very interesting exercise is to see who this doesn’t get done to. And I have a section in “The War on the West,” as you know, where I say, “Look at the way in which every philosopher of the West has now been lambasted by this so-called social justice movement.”
Look at the way in which everyone from Aristotle, described in The Washington Post a couple of years ago as the granddaddy of scientific racism, criticized among other things by The Washington Post because the writer Charles Murray has said that Aristotle is his favorite philosopher. So you can cancel Aristotle based on one book recommendation 2,500 years after he lived, it seems.
But every philosopher from Aristotle to the philosophers of the Enlightenment and the present has now been lambasted and pulled down by these social revolutionaries of our time. David Hume’s name taken off buildings in his native Scotland. I mentioned Voltaire disappearing in Paris. Endless, endless attacks on the Enlightenment philosophers for their alleged racism and connections to slavery.
I say at one point in the book, “Who is this not done to?” Interestingly enough, Karl Marx. A new statue was put up to Karl Marx only a couple of years ago in his native Germany, paid for by the munificent and generous benefactors of the Communist Party of China. The statue of Karl Marx that went up is normal, because people don’t apply the same standards to Karl Marx.
I explain in “The War on the West,” I go through his private correspondence, Marx’s private correspondence, and his public writings at the time, including in the American press in the 1850s. Karl Marx’s correspondence is littered with racial epithets. He uses the N-word repeatedly, quite often hyphenated with the word Jew, because he was also very, very antisemitic.
Karl Marx had horrible views on slavery, on colonialism. He referred to people of color as gorillas and much more. He was a racist by the standards of his own time as well as the standards of ours, yet I hear no left-wing philosophers calling for the cancellation of Karl Marx.
And indeed, since “The War on the West” came out and since these attacks about Karl Marx have been given greater airing by me, a number of Marxists have come out of the woodwork. And what have they said? They’ve said, “He was a man of his time.” Ah, like everyone, you mean?
So why haven’t they done it to Karl Marx? Well, one explanation I would say is that they want to destroy everything in our past and leave us with only one explanation of what we should do in the future. And it’s the old thing they’ve been trying to make us follow for the better part of two centuries now.
Blair: So it’s mostly a political idea. It doesn’t really seem there’s any genuine—it doesn’t seem like it’s coming from anywhere real. It seems like it’s coming more from a place of pure politics.
Murray: Well, it’s both. I mean, to some people, it’s very real. Some people really do think that their meaning in life will be found by tearing down everything that they have inherited and starting again. Some people find profound meaning in this narcissism of thinking that they can recreate the world to fit around them and their specific—I won’t say half-baked thoughts. They’re not half-baked, even. Very, very raw and ill-formed.
And there are definitely people who find significant meaning in that, people who have been told from the academy down or the academy up that meaning in life is to be found by deconstructing, by pulling everything apart. Literally the point in academia, to deconstruct.
Well, there is a certain fun in deconstructing things and taking things apart. Children discover it early on with things like bicycles. They take them apart and take glee in that. But of course they can’t put them back together again. And there’s a greater joy in putting things back together. There’s a greater joy in creation, in the end.
But unfortunately, in order to explain this fact, in order to explain that the high-octane thrill of destruction isn’t the only desire you should have in your life, in order to explain that, you’d have to have adults in the room again. And our societies in the West have an extraordinary deficit when it comes to adults. We need to say to the young that they’re wrong, that they’ve got this wrong, they’ve got it out of order.
And that includes young people, by the way. There are many very wise, and intelligent, and perceptive young people who realize that they are being sold a crock by their elders. Because it is also revolutionary elders leading people to this mistaken ideology and this anti-Western strain of thought of our time. There are also young people who can do this, who can say to their professors they’re wrong, to correct the lies they’re being told, to add context where there is none.
And this is a very, very important task. We have been through a period of deconstruction in the West, and we need to turn that around and go back to the method of construction again, of being literally a constructive society.
Blair: Right. I guess to wrap this up and to bring this all together, you’ve mentioned that we should go back to that. Is that even possible? Is there a way to reverse this process? What would that take?
Murray: There certainly is, and I lay it out in some specifics in “The War on the West,” but I also lay it out in the deep wells you need to draw upon. The deepest well you need to draw upon, and I’ll have to do it quickly because I know we have not got much time and this is a very important point, the deepest well we need to draw upon is to try to change around the culture of ingratitude.
The ingratitude in our era, which I also refer to the culture of resentment: The world has not given me everything I want. Society has not given me everything I believe I need. Therefore, I will pull it down and attack it all until such a time as I have everything I want.
I write a chapter in the book on resentment, but crucially also an the answer. And the answer to resentment, the answer to turning around resentment is gratitude. And I’ve had wonderful feedback from readers already about this, because they recognize this in their own lives.
As I point out, we all, I suspect, know people who have very little in their lives materially who lead very rich lives. Lives of gratitude, of charity, of much more, of grace. And I think we’ve probably all met people, if we don’t know them well, who may have presumably many material attributes, but who live lives of deep resentment.
So resentment and gratitude are important because, among other things, they transgress all class lines, all socioeconomic lines, all race lines, all fixed gender lines. It’s a human thing in all of us, and we all have the opportunity to fall into being people of resentment or people of gratitude.
And I say that at the deepest level, we in the West need to transform our societies, and I try to explain some of the ways in which we can do this, from societies of resentment into societies of gratitude. To recognize that what we have is highly unusual, and to have some gratitude for that, to feel grateful to that. And if we feel grateful for that, then to add to that inheritance as well. Not to try to pull it down, but to try to build more upon it.
Blair: That was Douglas Murray, author of the new book “The War on the West: How to Prevail in the Age of Unreason,” available now wherever books are sold. Douglas, I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
Murray: It’s a great pleasure. Thank you.
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