Book Review: The War on the West: How to Prevail in the Age of Unreason

DOUGLAS MURRAY LONDON: HARPERCOLLINS, 2022. 308 PP. ISBN 9780008492496. $34.68.

This book could be of assistance to you if you are increasingly finding the content of our daily news programmes (and the direction of travel of our society) difficult to understand. Douglas Murray is a British political commentator who provides a road map to our ever more bewildering age. He says that we are experiencing an anti-Western cultural revolution that started in the US about fifty years ago and which has now moved through all the major social institutions of the Anglosphere. Under particular assault, and defamation, is the Judeo-Christian tradition and the values of liberalism that arose from the Enlightenment.

However, the reach of anti-Westernism is evident everywhere, and it includes what is now demanded in art, music, literature, philosophy, history, public ceremonies, sport, health provision, and public education at all levels. The mechanisms of the attack are bewilderment and uncertainty, and personal guilt and shame, and a remorseless drive for diversity as the answer to endless accusations of racism. This is despite the fact that the diversity plea rests on a precarious presumption that something great will happen when there is representation (and overrepresentation) in every single office of importance. We sense that something is wrong, but maybe it’s just a phase and it should hopefully pass us by. But successive items on the radio and television news tell us that the anti-Western offensive could be coming for all of us. At the time of writing this review, it was the turn of the popular Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival which Creative New Zealand had ruled is "located within a canon of imperialism" and was no longer relevant for a “decolonising Aotearoa.”

The War on the West is the culmination of two of Murray’s previous best-selling books: The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam and The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity. Together these works systematically show how “the steamroller of modern political fashion” (220) operates, and inexorably any other culture is preferable to Western culture. A part of this is also a special veneration of traditional, minority cultures which is associated with a searching for perceived wisdom and an alternative identity.

Meanwhile, the resentful and retributive attacks on Western icons and conventions are on a continuum from the simply disparaging to the purely demented. In the first category would be the current re-evaluations of Sir Winston Churchill, who was previously voted as “The Greatest Briton” of all time, and whose ascension to the prime ministership in 1940 was described by Lord Hailsham as the hand of God intervening in human affairs. Now, Churchill is being reviled by a section of society as a white supremacist. Based on one or two supposed missteps or misstatements, the crucial and heroic things that this man did are to be undone. The author observes that the mob chooses its targets well because if it can bring Churchill down then it will have destroyed a pivotal figure in the Western pantheon. Similarly, perhaps there is also method in the anti-Western madness directed at mown grass lawns. Apparently, a big backyard lawn that is consistently planted with a non-indigenous species of grass is a learning opportunity about colonialism.

Murray suggests that race, and so-called anti-racism, have become the primary tools for understanding, and responding to, the societies in which we now live. According to the revisionists, white identity is inherently racist; and this is manifest in white supremacy and white privilege, and in structural racism and unconscious bias. The mantra also declares that the alleged, consistently negative consequences of colonisation for indigenous peoples are representative of white governance, and they are a source of unimaginable ignominy.

The author says that it is bewildering that this pervasive belief system got underway at the very point in Western history when there was widespread rejection of race-based designations and denigrations. Instead, a new form of racism has arisen, and it has created its own unfair ledger of failings. Murray argues that there are currently a lot of bad-faith arguments in play which often do not bother with the customary conventions of facts and truth, and which give priority to emotional thinking and virtue signalling. This shift to racial narratives and discourses makes it very difficult to have constructive conversations, and especially when even asking a question can be construed as a racist act.

Nevertheless, being in a permanent state of penance (and possibly liable for reparations) does not necessarily suppress conscious awareness of all sorts of deep-seated contradictions and complexities. For instance, how do the anti-racists and post-colonialists explain the success of modern India as the world’s largest democracy? More particularly, how is it that a second-generation Indian migrant can become Conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain? And what precisely should we make of the streams of immigrants who are desperate to enter the United Kingdom, the United States, and other Western nations in preference to living in their own countries of origin?

The question needs to be asked as to where the contemporary racialism is going to take Western societies. One obvious possibility is that we will see an acceleration in the establishment of new entities and communities along exclusionary lines. In effect, the continual allegations of difference and separatism will create the very situations that have been so fervently denounced. Another, and peaceable, option is that we confront one of the great intellectual challenges of our times and strive to make our multi-ethnic circumstances work. Central to this task is respecting both commonalities and differences, while also accepting that this means more than deploying specific social and cultural differences to define all of us.

However, Murray believes we all first need to make some acknowledgements and to show some humility and gratitude. It is a fact that Western civilisation has given present-day people an extraordinary array of singular accomplishments in science, medicine, engineering, food production, arts, entertainment, law, government, and many other fields. Inevitably, white men and women, and other Westerners, make mistakes because they are people as well. It is also a fact that to live in the West today is to be alive at a time of great historical good fortune, and this is largely because of the efforts and sacrifices of earlier generations in these places. In view of the West’s well-intentioned and undeniably positive contributions to humankind, persistent complaints of widespread racism surely present as unfair and unhelpful.

Peter Stanley is retired and lives in Tauranga.