Douglas Murray points to the things that rumble beneath the surface of our culture, those things which we all know but cannot approach for fear of the consequences. Murray’s last book, The Strange Death of Europe was so successful because it said things many people privately believed to be true, or at least worth talking about, but either didn’t know how to discuss or were afraid of doing so. His new book The Madness of Crowds is brilliant and essential reading, and serves as a guide for our times.
Murray’s thesis is that our current fits of mass madness stem from our loss of the grand narratives that gave our societies a sense of purpose. He argues that Christianity died in the 19th century and we now live in its wreckage. What do you do when the story runs out? Murray argues that this has been compounded for younger generations by the financial instability following the 2008 crash and the spread of social media.
For Murray, the answer to the question of “what now?” is the increasing investment by an increasing number of people in our societies in identity politics. This rests on an obliteration of complexity and nuance that ends up denying the messy and complicated nature of humanity itself. This brutal simplification of humanity undergirds the concept of identity privilege, that of being born with a certain skin colour, sex and sexual orientation or gender identity. This worldview is adhered to by more and more of today’s Left. Different groups are ranked on a scale of oppression and privilege using Kimberle Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality, no matter the reality of their lives. Those held to enjoy undue amounts of privilege (often but not always straight, white men) are therefore fair game, and all weapons can be used against them to knock them off their privileged pedestal. The more damage caused in the fall, the better.
This worldview, as Murray demonstrates, is couched in pseudoscientific language regurgitated from the debris of Marxism and its step-child post-modernism, disseminated through various university social science ‘studies’ courses. Murray cites socialist thinkers Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, who argued that the working class failed the revolution, and today’s revolutionaries look to the identitariat at home and the wretched of the earth abroad to bring down western hegemony. Ideas like Peggy Mcintosh’s “white privilege” have now seeped into the mainstream and are poisoning our cultural dialogue. As Murray argues, after Foucault personal and political relationships were viewed in terms of power dynamics, while Deleuze pushed the idea that the individual’s role is “to see through and undo the web that the culture you were born into has wound around you.” The opaque language of these thinkers, exemplified by Murray’s citation of a particularly indigestible passage from Judith Butler in Diacritics, is part of our great deception. We now deny what we knew until yesterday while claiming certainty on subjects today when we know almost nothing about them. This is a web of lies built on sand.