The Madness of Crowds. Gender, Race, and Identity, by Douglas Murray
Reviewed by Nicholas T. Parsons
Carl Davidson1To “deconstruct” something is as significant in academia as “constructing” things is in the rest of society. Indeed, it is one curiosity of academia in recent decades that it has found almost nothing it does not wish to deconstruct, apart from itself.
Douglas MurrayPerhaps it is historically true that no order of society ever perishes save by its own hand.
J. M. Keynes2
In his essay on the Reformation, Peter Marshall points out that “[t]oleration is not the same as tolerance. The latter is a fundamentally modern attitude, implying acceptance of diversity for its own sake, and an attempt to understand opposing points of view.” This insight is fundamental to Douglas Murray’s new book entitled The Madness of Crowds3 which explores the encroachment of identity politics on free thought, free speech, and freedom itself. He shows, with many unpleasant examples, how the zealotry of “intersectionality” (see below) has moved into a commanding space in the media and institutions of a society that used to value such freedoms. The last part of Marshall’s definition (understanding different points of view) has been skipped in the transition from old dogmas to new ones. As Freud warned would happen, the enforcers of new dogmas exhibit the persecutory intolerance of old religion. But even Luther, not a tolerant man, sponsored a Latin translation of the Koran (1542), “not in a spirit of religious openness, but so the views of the enemy could be known and refuted”.4 This is not the spirit of contemporary “victimhood” politics, which seem to have their roots in Herbert Marcuse’s idea of “repressive tolerance”. For a generation of activist students, his disingenuous aphorism successfully misrepresented the freedoms of Western democracies as their opposite. His efforts have now borne fruit.
The idea of gradual progress to a fait accompli has its origins in the prison writings of the influential Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci and was brilliantly crystallized by the student revolutionary Rudi Dutschke in the 1960s. Essentially the strategy for achieving a “Socialist” (for which read “Communist”) society was to be “entryism,” but entryism of a peculiarly sophisticated nature. The idea was that, in societies with a strong capitalist base and infrastructure, the “war of position” (Gramsci) would be waged by using the institutions and mechanisms of that society against itself. In particular, many of the altruistic strands in existing “civil society” could make it vulnerable to exploitation, manipulation, and subversion by what Lenin called “useful idiots”. Many of today’s radical “social justice” warriors in the field of feminism, race, and gender seem willing or keen to play the latter role.
There are four main areas in which the “war of position” may effectively be waged. I list them in diminishing order of visibility to the general public. The first is obviously day-to-day politics and its coverage in the media. This is arguably the least effective forum if there is a free media and debate takes place, although politics at the local level, where the former neo-Marxist leader of the British Labor Party cut his teeth as an activist, can provide an effective and little observed launch pad. The second is social media, which can be useful for driving out unwelcome ideas or opinions and hounding those who hold them. The effectiveness of this is limited by the fact that the same tactics can be used by opponents, although the left has a trump card in “virtue signaling”. This is something that appeals to the idealism of the young and often represents itself as being on the side of such things as tolerance, freedom, support for the minority view, etc., which actually its activists are busy trying to eradicate. The third is the education sector, which is perhaps the most effective and important, in that it can inculcate a general presumption against conservatism, patriotism and traditional values, replacing these with multicultural dogmas or selective victimhood narratives. At the university level, the social sciences, and to some extent the humanities generally have made big strides in conceiving and spreading doctrines that aggressively overturn residual traces of a Judeo-Christian concept of society by weaponizing sexuality, race, and historically based victimhood. This is the core narrative of Murray’s book and he supplies many thought-provoking examples of the tactics used. Recently arisen doctrines are enforced by ferocious bullying in the media or on social media. People who transgress the new dogmas (sometimes even unintentionally) may be harassed into abject Communist-style confessions of error.
Avenues of covert influence exist in all modern democracies, though they may be intertwined with traditional social factors such as nepotism and corruption. Lobbyists are nothing new and in the USA, they are highly paid pushers of commercial interests. They overlap with ideology, but their primary aims tend to be materialistic. Murray points out that the simplistic but effective tactic of the new ideological zealots is based on Michel Foucault’s (he might have added Marcuse’s) perception that “infinitely complex systems of trust and traditions that have evolved over time” should be viewed “solely through the prism of power”5 (italics added). Today’s post-Marxists have also absorbed from Gramsci “their notion of culture as a ‘hegemonic force’ the control of which is at least as important as the working class [was for Marx]”. Translated into action on the ground, these abstract notions become identity politics and the mustering of victimhood “communities”. Radical feminism, for example, assuming the role of spokesperson for the entire oppressed female species, rails against “male privilege”, “toxic masculinity”, “the patriarchy” and so forth. Any resistance to these blanket accusations is treated as itself proof of them – a technique pioneered by Freud, who sometimes interpreted denial of an analysis as evidence of its accuracy. The same tactic is applied to the issue of race, white people being the target. White hegemony, in the mindset of the radical race warriors, is responsible not only for the evils we face today (anything from oppression of minorities to climate change), but also all the evils of the past. Likewise, the privilege of “cisgender” (i.e. being or regarding oneself as male or female in the hitherto customary sense) is by definition a form of oppression of those who are not cisgender. Most hated of all, as veteran feminist Germaine Greer6 has discovered, is anyone who questions the biological authenticity of transgender people, although this issue has also provoked an ideological split in Stonewall, the Gay Rights lobby. Greer and feminists who agree with her are denounced as transphobic TERFS, which stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” (intersectionalists exhibit a mania for shoving people they like or dislike into a pseudo-scientific taxonomy).
Many, perhaps most, people can see such extreme ideological positions as oxymoronic, or at least moronic. But seeing this is quite another thing from saying it, as mild-mannered and impeccably PC academics have discovered. The point of “activism” is not to debate but to intimidate. Murray cites the terrifying experience of President Bridges of Evergreen State College Washington in 2017 who was held hostage by a student mob that had decided something one of his colleagues had tweeted was “racist” (the colleague was, in fact, a left-wing Bernie Sanders supporter and had objected to the organizers of a rally demanding that all white people “stay off-campus” for a day, which he said was not a peaceful demonstration but coercion). Bridges, a long term advocate of social justice who had a social science background, was subjected to lengthy intimidation and violent abuse by students occupying his office. In the end, he and the colleague were forced out of their jobs (as happened to some other academics at other colleges who incautiously defended freedom of thought and speech).7
At this point it is important to meet head-on an objection usually advanced to dwelling on such (admittedly sporadic) incidents, namely that to do so engenders reactionary paranoia and fuels conspiracy theories. However real conspiracy theories are easily recognizable as such (e.g. the politically motivated claims that 9/11 was an Israeli or American plot). But here is the point: the “long march” or Gramsci’s “war of position” is a strategy that openly advocates covert infiltration to achieve a political end. It is no more a product of right-wing paranoid fantasy than Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book is a template for democratic governance. Forums where the aims of the “war of position” might be openly debated are censored (typically by “no-platforming” its critics) in an attempt to place questionable doctrines beyond research or analysis. As to the claim of paranoia, this certainly has some traction, but it is often used as a tactic to belittle persons (whistleblowers and the like) who may have good cause to feel they are vulnerable. Hungarians have epigrammatically expressed this in a very good joke: “Just because I’m paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.”
THE MADNESS OF CROWDS
Murray’s four chapters are entitled Gay, Women, Race, and Trans. Three of them are followed by a reflective “Interlude” (The Marxist Foundations, The Impact of Tech, On Forgiveness). His contention is that new paradigms of sexuality and race are being aggressively pushed upon society not only at a dizzying pace (the goalposts of admissible discourse are constantly being moved) but without any opposing views being allowed. Any attempt to put such a view is met with abuse, excommunication (for example from one of the relevant “communities”), misrepresentation, and intimidation. As the long march finally led to institutional capture, new dogmas metastasized at astonishing speed. Murray points out that even the gay rights group Stonewall was not in favour of gay marriage a decade ago.
MISSION CREEP INTO INTERSECTIONALITY
Insofar as there is a coherent ideology behind the phenomena described above it would appear to be framed by the concepts of “intersectionality”, an ugly name for an ugly idea. It is based, says Murray (p. 91) on the assertion that Western democracies include a range of groups (women, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and others) who are structurally oppressed in a “matrix of oppression”. Essentially it is a political project masquerading as an academic discipline and is fuelled by the burgeoning grievance studies of the social sciences. One might add that this attitude of mind has also leaked into historiography, the consequence being well observed by Theodore Dalrymple, who cites a passage from Orwell’s 1984 describing an official school history text in dystopian Oceania. The history of London is here presented as an unbroken and unalleviated saga of misery, exploitation, and oppression until the coming of the great totalitarian revolution. Dalrymple comments: “The kind of historiography expressed in this satirical passage has become virtually standard in the various branches (feminist, black, gay, and so on) of academic resentment studies, in which history is nothing but the backward projection of current grievances, real or imagined, used to justify and inflame resentment.”14 Apart from that, it is a-historical, a variation of the Marxist tendency to fit history into a convenient pattern in order to back up the contemporary political struggle.
THE LANGUAGE OF VICTIMHOOD
The leader of the left-wing Spanish party, Podemos, once said in an interview; “Reality is defined by words. So whoever owns the words has the power to shape reality.” The most significant part of this observation is the word owns. Intersectionality, for example, lays claim to ownership of the phrase “social justice” (after all, as Murray drily points out, who could be in favour of “social injustice”?). This and other question-begging or open-ended words or phrases can then be loaded with the desired agenda.
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