To call the book a ‘war’ on the West is an emotional and rather subjective term. After 9/11 we had the so-called war on terror. We have had many a war on drugs. And now we have Putin with his “special military operation” in the Ukraine – the war that cannot be called what it is. Douglas Murray, in the War on the West – takes a broadside on anti-westerners using race and culture to undermine our system.
The war that Murray defines is one made up race, culture with a little gender thrown in. Its essence is one of how some people attack their own country and its culture. Then there is China and Russia, watching in disbelief as Western citizens attack their own country and then Chine/Russia stick their own oar in.
As Murray takes one side – against the war – are no shortages of enemies of this book. Those that support this war will argue that if Western societies are beyond repair (oppressive, bigoted, etc.) then is it time to change the system? If people feel disenfranchised from democracy then does woke offer a solution? The Ukraine war is also posited as an counter-argument by both sides, as a real war, unlike this one.
Murray writes at breathless pace with stories and information to justify there is a war. He spots the gaps by Westerners attacking the West – he cites how examples such as slavery have been around all over the world and is still a thing – “modern slavery”. Yet it was only the Western example of slavery that anti-Westerners choose to quote.
His chapter on race raises how white men are targeted as ineligible to speak on race. The phrase “white supremacy” keeps rearing its ugly head – a phrase that has lost any of its original meaning. Critical Race Theory is dissected for its ability to bring back aspects of racism that were supposed to have been extinguished – divisiveness, segregation etc.
Murray states, “Racism is not the sole lens through which our societies can be understood, and yet it is increasingly the only lens used. Everything in the past is seen as racist, and so everything in the past is tainted.” This may well be the case in certain parts of the education and cultural sector but not in wider society. This is a “war” that is occurring but for mainstream readers it is not affecting their daily lives.
As more and more research is pulled up more famous historical figures are found to have said something stupid on whatever was the Twitter in those times. Murray cites Karl Marx as just another example – yet Marx has not (yet) been cancelled because he is on the left. The lesson from this is that we can either erase all history and learn nothing at all from it, or study it was what is was but with all the facts in front of us.
Race and culture
Murray is an Atlanticist, mixing up what is happening in the UK with USA. He covers how critical race theory has entered so many aspects of culture in the West: theatre, classical music in USA, the British Library, and Kew Gardens in the UK. The story of the Whistler restaurant in the Tate Gallery makes sober reading – how a couple of extreme views can dominate and upturn a consensus.
Unlike other books on this subject Murray chooses not to interview people himself, relying on his own research. This is not a book to read too intensively, the picture is one of gloom, people frightened to speak up because of the public consequences, institutions jumping on the bandwagon to appease a minority of staff. His take downs show that in many cases such as the British Library and the poet laureate Ted Hughes, it had not done its own due diligence when it chose to cancel him from its shelves.
When dissecting anti-Western views Murray brings resentment into play – it is not about justice but about vengeance. He makes a play for resolving the resentment with gratitude for what we have and the work that went into it. It reminds me of parents who scold demanding children by reminding them they should be grateful for what they already have. He mentions Roger Scruton, who referred to his own gratitude, however it was too late as he had cancer. I hope that we do not fall the same way – that people are made aware of being grateful for what the West has given us, only after they have torn it down.
People from disenfranchised from society have an ideology in woke to give themselves something to believe in – gratitude is not going to ameliorate that problem. Having a belief – be it a religion or other ideology – is a moral position about a fairer society, and not necessarily driven by resentment that Murray pushes. What Murray does not discuss is the need for constructive informed debate – without the risk of being cancelled or being sacked from your job – as the next step, albeit not one that is currently viable alongside the ideological positions being enforced.