Douglas Murray is the bestelling author of six books, he is an associate-editor of The Spectator, and a frequent guest on both political televison shows and podcasts. Neokohn’s Timea Hajdú talked with Mr. Murray in Budapest, Hungary where he has spent a month as a guest researcher at the Danube Institute.
You published The Madness of the Crowds a year ago, and since then it has become very relevant, especially the chapter on race. After the death of George Floyd, riots broke out in the United States, statues of Abraham Lincoln and Christopher Columbus were toppled. Suddenly politicians started to say that the US is a racist country and that there is systematic racism. Why did large numbers of Americans accept the woke narrative on race? Was it really George Floyd?
That is a very good question and the answer is several things. First, the pandemic cannot be underestimated, people were in every country waiting for a reason to break the lockdown, break the curfew, etc. The death of George Floyd turned out to offer something, that superseded the virus in terms of public interest, which was ‘anti-racism’, and it was decided by some people, that antiracism – a term you should put in inverted commas,- ‘anti-racism’ superseded public health. And indeed a letter signed by a large number of US medical professionals said ‘racism is also a public health issue.’
There was a natural desire to have something to say, just to get out. I’m not saying that a lot of people didn’t believe in it, but I think some of them were just opportunistic. The fact, that it was a presidential election year obviously mattered. As the ‘Covid thing’ has been seen in America – unlike our countries, I mean our countries have all politicized over Covid, but not like to the extent which America has been, which could find no point of national unity.
I think the other element is the very tricky thing – of which I have written about a bit recently – of how you react to a piece of footage, that doesn’t necessarily tell you the full story. Why was there so much interest around the world?
Why were there riots in Stockholm, in Brussels and attacks on the police, and much more? I would say in part it was because a large number of people actually saw the footage or part of the footage of the death of Mr. Floyd and they believed that this was representative of – not just the American police in Minnesota-, but the American police nationwide and by extension America.
They thought America was the country in which you could kill black men with ease, and indeed legally, and of course if that were the case in any country, it would be the cause of absolute scandal. The fact that isn’t the full story is becoming clearer and clearer, as time goes on, and I’m sure it will become even more clear at the trials next year. It’s a major question because people clearly go off in very-very vociferous directions because of a piece of footage that may not show what they think it shows.
And I suppose that one should say there is this specific racial problem that exists in America, has existed in America certainly in the past, some people agree that is in the past, some people believe that it is entirely present. I don’t think either is completely true, I think all countries struggle with the legacy of their pasts. That isn’t unusual, what is unusual is to struggle with your past, but see your present in a uniquely critical and negative light. And that’s what a certain percentage of the American population is persuaded of.
There was one recurring sign at the protests, which said: ‘I know I will never understand, but I stand with you.” This sign seemingly denies the existence of empathy. But if people are not supposed to understand each other how can they live together in a society?
That is a very good point, it’s not just the absence of empathy, it’s the absence of understanding across boundaries. By the way, I think I point out in The Madness of the Crowds somewhere, that this speaks to a confusion of our era which is a confusion that says: ‘You must understand me. You will never understand me.’ And says these two things simultaneously. If I can never understand somebody because they don’t have the same characteristics as me, then human interaction is very limited in what it can achieve or should aspire to. Either we can understand each other or we can’t. And if we can’t then, there is only hell.
When somebody says the phrase ‘I can never understand, but I stand with you.’ It either says ‘I am ignorant, unimaginative, and concede the fact in advance. Or it’s just an attempt to live through the stupid demands of the era.
If you can’t understand where somebody else is coming from then you got nothing left, but violence to sort out any disagreements whenever they arise.
So, I am very against all this discussion of ‘people should concede they can’t understand things, because somebody else has a different skin pigmentation’, this seems monstrous to me.
Do you think the riots had any impact on the election?
Yes, I think they did to some extent actually. I think they brought out a lot more Trump voters. I don’t think they helped rally the Democratic base, but I think they helped rally a portion of the Republican base.
I was touring the US for five weeks before the election. It was very interesting the number of people across seven different states I spoke to, who were surprising themselves by voting Republican. And almost always it had to do with law and order.
After all, as citizens of Hungary know if you see violence break out once, in a place which you thought to be peaceful – it changes your view forever. Once you know that violence is possible, that some people can use that tool, and advance by using it, then everything else seems to be off the table. So I think a lot of voters saw that, they saw the risk, that the mob would descend, and the police would withdraw. Which is terrifying.
After the election some of the democratic pundits started to talk about avenging Trump and all those who supported him. When Republicans marched on Washington DC they were even attacked by Antifa. How can they not see that they are the ones who seem to use fascist tactics?
Antifa is a fascist organization. They have become the thing they pretend to loath. They enjoy it, you can see it. They are also demented, and I say this with caution, but they are demented. Whether through drugs, psychological problems or much more, they actually have a demented attitude towards the world. I have been with them enough now, in Oregon and in DC, to see what they are for myself. They are mentally unstable, morally unstable human beings. They need or needed an intervention a lot earlier by somebody who knew better than them.
Then, why are they underreported in the US?
Well, because the US press thinks they are what they say they are. The American press massively over talks the existence of fascist in America, so when so-called anti-fascists emerge people think: ‘we can make excuses for them because we might need them.’ And you heard Joe Biden ‘they are just an idea.’ No, they are not. They are a movement, they still organize nightly protests across America. Just recently they shut down a section of Seattle again. A group that shuts down sections of major American cities and nightly destroys buildings and attacks people is not an idea it is a paramilitary group.
From a Hungarian perspective, it is very strange that leftist ideas have become very fashionable in the United States. Here we know what communism is like. Whenever leftist ideas were tried, they always failed in the past. Why do you think they want to try them again?
First of all, they don’t believe they failed. Second, they pretend it was something else, not their version. Thirdly, they are wildly ignorant. I said before, and I will say it again; one of the most important tasks for your generation – in this bit of the world – it’s to educate your Western contemporaries about the nature of what countries like Hungary were put through. I would be surprised if one in a thousand American students at major universities knew a fraction of what happened to this country in the twentieth century. But Americans don’t really know European history either. This is the result of an appalling education standard in America.
We have problems with education standards everywhere, but in America, it matters more because the education is clearly worse, the ignorance is endemic and the power is vast.
When the products of an Ivy League American university talk as if they knew what they are talking about; they talk with the lack of empathy, the lack of sympathy, the lack of knowledge, the lack of context, and they do about issue after issue in their own past let alone by anyone else’s. They do have an effect.
Some argue that this whole progressive craze started with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Especially when it comes to American campuses. Pro-Israel students were the first who were harassed, blacklisted, etc. And interestingly enough at every BLM protest, at every Women’s March there are always pro-Palestine signs. What do you think of this?
I wouldn’t say it was the first issue, but I would say it was an early warning sign. The Second Intifada presaged a lot of events. It was certainly one of the first time, at least in my adult life, that good people I knew viewed violence of the most appalling kind with a kind of equanimity. They thought that it was morally explainable in some way for Palestinians to use bombers. So, it was a bad sign, that good people excused horrific things.
So what does BLM or the Women’s March has to do with the Palestinians?
In reality, nothing. But, in their heads, it’s about supporting underdogs. That’s what they think, again, in their world of incredible ignorance. By the way, this was a general thing that changed in European leftists’ and American leftists’ attitude towards Israel. The big change, my friends who lived through it, who were involved, always said that until 1967 and 1973 the left was on board. Harold Wilson a former Labour prime minister wrote a good book on Israel called The Chariot of Israel. The left was always supportive, partly because in its early days Israel appeared to be sort of a socialist state.
What happened was that the left decided, that moral authority only came through suffering, and suffering came from the underdog. And after 1973 Israel was the ‘overdog,’ not the underdog, which of course was wrong in every way because you could argue, that the Palestinians were some kind of an underdog in a specific bit of that conflict, however you couldn’t argue that Israel was the ‘overdog’ regionally or internationally. It is crazily imperiled and has been from the day it was founded. But the left decided that the Palestinians were the underdogs, and you always support underdogs. When you see them carrying these placards at protests, they simply think they are with the oppressed of the world.
They also make one great moral mistake, which is that they think: if you are oppressed you are good. Oppression is a morally neutral teaching force. You can be oppressed and be a shitty person at the same time.
In your country, the Labour party can’t seem to overcome its anti-semitism problem. It seems like the British had enough of these scandals, because Corbyn suffered a historic loss last year. They are always very indignant when anyone says something they consider racist, but when they say something racist it’s always ‘forgive and forget.’
That’s because the left doesn’t believe it’s capable of racism. The left thinks it is an anti-racist movement by definition, so how could they be racist? By the way, this is something which has gone around before. We saw the same thing with the green leftists in Germany in the 60s and 70s who thought they couldn’t be anti-semitic, and then they were, in the most violent way.
By the way, my own view is that all sides have to know that all things are possible all the time. You could have a movement to extreme misogyny from the right, or you could have a movement from the left, you could have a movement to extreme homophobia from the right as you could from the left. There’s no inoculation because of the political side you claim to be on.
Your previous book The Strange Death of Europe dealt with migration and Islam, which were issues that were mostly ignored this year, at least until the attacks in France happened. Why are Western countries preoccupied with fighting the so-called ‘patriarchy,’ and other progressive demons?
Western countries are basically circling the same problem, all the time, and the problem they haven’t themselves identified but I can identify it for them; which is they believe for justice to exist in society, you have to have equity in society. Not equality but equity.
I think they’ve come there for a specific cause, which is the attempt to instigate in a secular fashion the Christian concept of equality in the eyes of God. They sense correctly that is slipping and they are trying to embed it through equality registration.
The problem is that their version of embedding it is equity, which is completely off, because what you need to have is a recognition that people are different, that they must be treated equally in the eyes of the law, they must be viewed with an equal dignity as human beings – but that they will not turn out the same. Just as men and women will not necessarily turn out the same. You will not have an exact proportion ever of – even if you tried to force it – you will not have an exact similar portion of female firefighters as male firefighters. The publishing industry will remain female dominated whatever happens and much more. They have decided that equity is the thing to fight on and they are causing incredible pain.
In your book, you write about an emptiness in society. Many people have lost their purpose. This hole is tried to be filled with this new progressive religion, which however doesn’t seem to answer the most important questions of life. It is a fluid doctrine. As a believer I would say the solution to this emptiness is returning to God, or at least to Judeo-Christian values. What do you think the solution is to this emptiness?
I think that is a solution. If you have a God-shaped hole, you should concede that it is possible the hole inquires God. That’s the cause of the shape. Perhaps this is the only answer. It was made harder by the discoveries of recent centuries.
One could say religion should update its approach to the secular or to the non-believers. I don’t think it has to update its doctrine, but it has to develop a different attitude toward the non-believer. There are too many people I know, like myself, who are believers of belief, who want to be supportive but cannot do the literal believing. That used to be a problem for philosophers, because it’s in the nature of ideas that you don’t want to talk about, which you cannot prove.
Many people I respect make the Kierkegaardian leap of faith, and I respect them for it, but there are those of us for whom that isn’t currently an option, or doesn’t feel like an option.
Finding purpose exists in lots of other ways. I mean, one way I would put it is ‘look for the things that appear to be flares along the path.’ Like a plane seeking to land in a jungle. Keep your eyes out for what appear to be the flares. What appears to be the runway. What appears to be the place to land. My own intuition on this is that this is possible, I don’t think seeking purpose is a fruitless exercise. In the crucial distinction as I see it between whether we are meaning seeking beings or meaning seeking beings for whom there is meaning, I am of the second school.
I don’t think the meaning seeking in us is coincidental. I think it comes from a very deep intuition and a correct intuition, and an intuition that what our society currently, predominantly says about what we are is off.