Douglas Murray – The Strange Death of Europe – Part One – Meaningless Shallowness

I read a lot of books. Some are all time classics (Lord of the Rings, the Brothers Karamazov, Confessions of St Augustine), others are unknown but really helpful. I try to read books from a wide variety of authors, including those I know who will challenge my preconceptions and prejudices.   Some books confirm you in your views, others 61w1m+7KMkL._AC_US218_challenge them and occasionally there comes along one that causes you to change them. I have just finished one such book – Douglas Murray’s surprising bestseller The Strange Death of Europe – Immigration, Identity and Islam.  It is such an important book that I want to spend some time reflecting on it and the implications for us. (I began writing this and realised that it would go way beyond what any sane person would have the time to read – so I am going to turn this into a mini-series – looking at the main themes of the book).

A Game Changer

The Strange Death of Europe seriously is a book that is a game changer – beautifully written, clearly argued and well-evidenced.  It is not a book that I could agree with on everything but even though I pushed back against some of the things I read in it, I have to say that it is a book that has changed my mind on a number of key issues. I wish that as many people as possible could read it – and, if there are any thinking and principled politicians left, I hope that they will read it with an open mind and not just buy into the knee jerk reaction of Murray is a right-wing, Islamaphobic, xenophobic.

Murray himself is a fascinating person. As readers of this blog know I love reading The Spectator, not so much because of its views but because of the quality of its informative writing and the fact that it is one of the few media outlets left where a genuine variety of views are presented.   I first came across Murray as an associate editor of The Spectator. Apparently he was raised in London by a Gaelic speaking father from the island of Lewis downloadand an English mother.   He was educated at Oxford and is a brilliant and provocative writer and speaker. He wrote an excellent biography of Lord Alfred Douglas, when he was only 19 years old. His views on Islam are strong – so much so that having criticized Islam in the Netherlands he cannot travel there without a police security guard.   Murray is openly gay and atheist and yet he describes himself as a Christian atheist. I think this is part of the problem with the book – he analyses the situation in Europe brilliantly, but struggles with the solution. Indeed – in an honest admission – he doesn’t have one.  I love the book though and would love to meet Murray and interview him about it.   It is quite brilliant.

Europe is Committing Political Suicide

The basic theme of The Strange Death of Europe is that the continent having forgotten its Christian roots and replaced it with a mishmash of secular humanism, materialism and the religion of human rights, has found itself unable to cope with the mass immigration of Muslims who do not share the liberal (Christian) values of Western European democracies and who will end up causing the death of Europe. In effect he argues that Europe – or at least its political classes – are inadvertently committing political suicide.   I find his case overall pretty convincing and depressing.   I would like to read a serious challenge to it (not just name calling – ‘right wing’ ‘Islamaphobic’ ‘xenophobe’!).   But meanwhile let me reflect on it as I go through it. I highlighted so many passages and in the rest of this article and series I intend to let Murray speak in his own words and then comment on them .

Are Western European Liberal Values ‘Human Values’?

“For religion had not only retreated in Western Europe. In its wake there arose a desire to demonstrate that in the 21st-century Europe had a self-supporting structure of rights, laws and institutions which could exist even without the source that had arguably given then life…… In the place of religion came the ever-inflating language of “human rights” (itself a concept of Christian origin). We left unresolved the question of whether or not our required rights were reliant on beliefs that the continent had ceased to hold or whether they existed of their own accord. This was, at the very least, an extremely big question to have left unresolved while vast new populations were being expected to “integrate”. P.6

What if the foundation of modern human rights is not something that is universal in human character, but rather has come from a system of beliefs (Christianity) which has now largely been rejected – at least by those who govern us?

Here Murray recognizes something that is absolutely crucial. Something that Larry Siedentop in his great work Inventing the Individual: The Origins Of Western Liberalism, 51DfxpJTRvL._AC_US218_demonstrates and that Nick Spencer in his The Evolution 413hyKBvBNL._AC_US218_of the West does likewise: That modern values which are often assumed to be liberal, humanistic and secular are in factnothing of the sort – at least in their origin. Freedom, equality, diversity and others are in actual fact the fruits of Christian roots. The question raised by Murray is whether the fruits can survive without the roots.

In the quote above he raises the important idea that ‘human rights’ has replaced religion and he argues that rather than being self-evident to all decent thinking human beings, there are different versions of human rights. Something I have written about before.  The Religion of Human Rights is Anti- Democratic – Article in Scotsman

What if the foundation of modern human rights is not something that is universal in human character, but rather has come from a system of beliefs (Christianity) which has now largely been rejected – at least by those who govern us?   Those who talk glibly of open borders (often vague unthinking idealists or the wealthy who don’t have to face the consequences) seem to have worked on the premise that the millions who have come to Europe from non-European cultures would of course want to integrate and accept ‘our’ values. That is why in the UK we get so much talk from the government of ‘British’ values without anyone seeming to be able to either define what they are or what is their basis.   Ironically for people who lay such great store on being anti-racist, their view in practice turns out to be a profoundly racist one.   The default assumption is that our values are de facto human values and that people coming from other backgrounds (by implication, inferior) will automatically want to have and share our values.

This is the same kind of unthinking arrogance that led Tony Blair, George Bush, David Cameron and other Western leaders to think that if only we got rid of dictators in the Middle East and established democracy, then Middle Eastern countries would end up like Western liberal democracies – because that is after all what people want. No consideration was given to the fact either that people might not want it, or that they might not be ready for it. No consideration was given at all to human sinfulness, stupidity and evil (including our own) and so in our blind faith in the obvious value of our own values, we bombed dictatorships and created ISIS.

Today Western governments (at least in public) and most of the media and academic elites feel that they can lecture us in what real Islam is, and what everyone wants. They assure us that millions of Muslims coming to the West will just integrate and that their values are basically the same as ours. But what if they are wrong? Or is it ‘racist’ or ‘Islamaphobic’ to even ask the question?

Meaninglessly Shallow

And then Murray comes up with this brilliant insight:

“in order to incorporate as large and wide number of people as possible it is necessary to come up with a definition of inclusion that is as wide and unobjectionable as possible. If Europe is going to become a home for the world it must search for a definition of itself that is wide enough to encompass the world. This means that in the period before this aspiration collapses our values become so wide as to become meaninglessly shallow. So whereas European identity in the past could be attributed to highly specific, not to mention philosophically and historically deep foundations (the rule of law, the ethics derived from the continent’s history and philosophy), today the ethics and belief of Europe – indeed the identity and ideology of Europe – have become about ‘respect’, ‘tolerance’ and (most self abrogating of all) ‘diversity’. Such shallow self definitions may get us through a few more years, they have no chance at all being able to call on the deeper loyalties that societies must be able to reach if they are going to survive for long.” P.7

Is it true that we have become so ‘meaninglessly shallow’ that we have no ideological basis for our society? Is it the case that whilst our politicians use buzz words like ‘respect’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘diversity’; these words are used in an Alice-In-Wonderland fashion – where they can mean whatever anyone wants them to mean? I think this hits the nail on the head.   I am fed up hearing political soundbites – whether repeated ad nauseam on Twitter, or used at party rallies (what we used to call party conferences) where they make a pretty sound, get the faithful cheering and fit in to the news headlines, but lack any real substance or meaning.

Thus Murray has set the stage – and we are only at page 7! Next week we will move on to what he says about the question of immigration and how we got here.

Meanwhile let me say that this is a brilliant book that is worth any serious thinker buying and reading.  I would make it complusory reading for academics, journalists, clergy and politicians!  And anyone else who cares about what is happening in society.


40 thoughts on “Douglas Murray – The Strange Death of Europe – Part One – Meaningless Shallowness

  1. How ironic it is to discover that it has taken a gay atheist to expose the shallowness of the current sub-, post-, and anti-Christian narrative of the Western secular, so-called progressive liberal agenda.

  2. Many thanks. Looking forward to this series. I’ve felt for some time this is a book to read. I always have a wry smile when I here the powers that be speak of Britishness. They wriggle and squirm in their attempts to put some flesh on this word. And they can’t, for ultimately Britishness is very closely tied up with Christianity and Protestant Christianity at that. Take away the Protestant Faith and there is no ‘Britishness’. In it lay the ‘common values’ that shaped the nation, that shaped the elusive ‘Britishness’.

  3. “A Christian Atheist” Does he not see himself as being part of the problem he describes – Christianity severed from Christ?
    There is mention of flaccid definitions, whereas we have have a society that will not be restricted by definitions, but instead seeks to describe, descriptions that vary and are reduced to supremacy of the subjective, leading to a Pointilist picture that is incoherent and vague, a paternless mosaic.
    Solas, has well dealt with human rights in Andy Bannisters short video.
    The author of the book seems to be looking for firm foundations but without Christ, Christianity is little more than a skeletal system. It Is not, unlike Islam a political system.

  4. “Those who talk glibly of open borders (often vague unthinking idealists or the wealthy who don’t have to face the consequences) seem to have worked on the premise that the millions who have come to Europe from non-European cultures would of course want to integrate and accept ‘our’ values.”

    As a young leftist I’ve not really met anyone who thinks like this. The idea of accepting British values seems to mainly come from the more centrist aspects of the Conservative and Labour parties who seem to accept that we need immigration but want to still come across as tough.

    As for open borders, I once heard a professor use the term ‘circle of empathy’ in that the circle of who we think is ‘one of us’ and who we think is an ‘other’ is constantly expanding. It’s the idea that in the Middle Ages it would not be absurd for two neighbouring cities to go to war (e.g. Dundee and Aberdeen) but that now Dundonians and Aberdonians think of themselves as part of the same community or society. For my grandfather who fought against the Germans, the idea of a unified Europe seems more absurd, but for me, as some of my closest friends are German, I feel as if we are part of the same community. History drifts towards larger more encompassing borders and will continue to do so.

    1. Thanks Frederick for your interesting comments. I have met plenty people and read plenty of those who are and what might be termed the liberal – left spectrum (sometimes I find myself on that spectrum as well!). It is the default position that integration is expected and assumed – – I am quite astonished that you’ve never met anyone who thinks like this! Every single Liberal and Labour politician and SNP politician talks of accepting British or Scottish values.

      History does not drift towards larger more encompassing borders. As a historian I think it is easy to prove that that statement is false. Sometimes there are larger borders – such as in the Roman Empire or the Soviet Union. But often these disintegrate. The idea that we are progressing towards a world without borders is a fantasy – and a dangerous one!

      1. I’m not particularly political but I, and most of my friends, do cringe every time a politician mentions ‘accepting British values’. I’m more for the idea that we can live in respectful disagreement and as long as people aren’t breaking the law, I, as a gay man, don’t really care whether a recent Muslim immigrant from Pakistan or Christian from Nigeria accepts my lifestyle. I certainly don’t think it’s the job of the state to impose values on immigrants. I think British people have a lot to learn from other cultures, including those from Muslim countries and I think the convergence of cultures should lead to a bettering of both sides.

        As for open borders, I don’t believe in a world without borders and perhaps it was hyperbole to say that history moves towards expanded and open borders. But, my point was this – who we identify as being ‘one of us’ is constantly changing and in many cases (for example, the UK) expands. For my grandfather, the Germans were not ‘one of us’ but for myself they are. For myself and a lot of young people I know, the difference between the UK and Germany is no different than the difference between Ontario and Alberta or Texas and New York. And if Ontario and Alberta or Texas and New York can have open borders, why can’t we have open borders with Germany?

      2. Frederick – that does appear a somewhat limited viewpoint. Do you seriously not see the differences between the UK and Germany as being more than those between Texas and New York? You really believe that we already have a United States of Europe? There are many significant differences – language being one of them, culture, politics and many others. And so what? Is it not good to have differences? You seem to be suggesting that there is a ‘European’ identity which then makes ‘Arabs, Asians and Africans’ ‘the other’. Why can’t we have open borders with the whole world? Or is it only Europeans who deserve that?

      3. Frederick asserts that ‘History drifts towards larger more encompassing borders and will continue to do so’—which prompts the question: then how does one explain, for example, the centuries-old association between England (and later Britain) with Ireland, ending a shared history that goes back to at least the 12th Century and Henry II. People are united—until they’re not. Thus, one of the tragedies of civil wars and revolutions is that they split, not only different areas of a once-united country, but communities and even families, as individuals choose which side to be loyal to. See, for one example: McGreevy, Rona. “The Easter Rising family rift that never healed.” The Irish Times. N.p. 24 Apr. 2016. Web. 6 Aug. 2017.

      4. Yet, i suspect Frederick may right. The overall thrust is towards globalisation and globalisation will mean more and more political unity. Believing as I do that there will be a final and ultimate Anti-Christ heading up the nations or many of them, establishing a kingdom opposed to God and providing, for a time at least, the apparent answer to the world’s political, social and material needs and demands, a shift towards globalisation seems very likely.

        Yes, there will be anti-globalisation movements along the way but a world unified (against God) and truth seems to be the the future the Bible envisages. The impulse of Babylon started on the plains of Shinar and will react its peak in the days before Christ’s return. To a humanity unfettered by any suspicions of its own flaws and eager for the kingdom of God without God and his holiness there is a logical impetus to globalisation. From Scripture, it seems clear that rebellion must flourish and appear to succeed; it will be when the world really appears to have come of age in its godless hubris, when it is most ‘succesful’ that it will implode and Christ will return in judgement and destruction.

        And so, I’m afraid Frederick’s utopia is shared by many and is likely to be remorselessly pursued (witness present ttitudes to Brexit) until realised (though even then it will be realised sustained at a terrible cost to many human lives) before beginning to destroy itself (as human kingdoms in a sinful world eventually do) before being finally crushed by God’s kingdom arriving in consummation in Christ.

      5. I must disagree, John, with any historical deterministic view of human behaviour. What happens, will happen; and the only thing that can be foreseen is that a few will pop up afterward to explain why the events that they never saw coming were actually inevitable.

        With specific regard to my point, a better example than the one I provided is Europe at the turn of the 20th Century, where East & West combined totalled 21 countries (including Turkey). 25 years later, 21 countries had become 31; another quarter-century added two (Iceland and partitioned Germany) but subtracted three; and a century later, 1901’s 21 countries had fragmented (sometimes explosively) into 49. Even granting that the EU is trying to return us to that figure of 21 only demonstrates the ebb and flow of time and human currents—unity, division and changing alliances.

        I worry far more if any form of Western Civilisation will last at all, and whether the European races will ‘go gentle into that good night’ (as we currently seem to be doing) or whether we will explode into ethnic civil war, massacre and counter-massacre.

    2. Disagreeing that history drifts to larger borders (when in fact Scottish Nationalism and Welsh Nationalism and Basque nationalism, etc.) demonstrate the exact opposite) – however this is not the point at all. If ‘borders are bigger’ why does that mean it is fine for people to come into our country and change the way it works and thinks? Surely they come here in order to benefit from what is here – if changed then it will no longer be what they wanted to come into. A self-defeating change.

      Further, every nation has to have some form of order and organisation (the individual states in the US demonstrate the need for sensibly sized areas in order for society to be able to work effectively). There is then the obvious point that everyone in Africa (for instance, to exaggerate to make my point clearer for you) cannot come and fit into the UK without it being the most fearful hellhole utterly incapable of providing services and care for those here.

      The consequences of the current openness of borders are clear to see in the UK. Housing is lacking, so lacking that many councils do nothing about those living in garages simply because there is no possible way to house them anywhere else. Schools, especially in London, but elsewhere too, simply cannot cope with the number of children who cannot even *speak* English. The NHS is under pressure as never before simply because it cannot expand at a rapid enough rate to cope – you’d need to add the services of a city larger than Plymouth every year simply to keep up – and it cannot be done (and that appertains to housing, schooling and health care).

      As for Aberdeen and Dundee, you can find out what they really think of one another by attending a football match between the two and listening to the songs they sing agin one another.

    1. As David says, his position would have to pro, in light of what he writes. Unless he doesn’t agree with what he writes…..

  5. The Sea of Faith
    Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
    Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
    But now I only hear
    Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
    Retreating, to the breath
    Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
    And naked shingles of the world.

    Ah, love, let us be true
    To one another! for the world, which seems
    To lie before us like a land of dreams,
    So various, so beautiful, so new,
    Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
    Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night.

    Part of “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold, 1866

  6. John Thomson said: ” ultimately Britishness is very closely tied up with Christianity and Protestant Christianity at that. Take away the Protestant Faith and there is no ‘Britishness’.
    All of my great grandparents were Irish or Welsh. I was born in England, went to university in Wales and have lived in Scotland since 1971. But, apparently, as a Catholic, I lack ‘Britishness’.
    Of course, there was no such thing as ‘Britishness’ prior to 1707 but there was such a thing as ‘Englisness’ and prior to 1533 that Englishness was very much tied in with Catholicism. Then things changed and for a time ‘Englishness’ was associated with being anti-Catholic. So the meaning of ‘Englishness’ changed. Could it not be the case that things have changed again and ‘Englishness’ or ‘Britishness’ are no longer associated with Protestant Christianity?

    1. I believe you are right Mike. The problem is both Catholicism and Protestantism had a defined set of values which shaped culture. Secular Humanism has no defined set of values. By its nature it is relative and so unlikely to produce stable norms.

      ‘Britishness’ so far as it exists is shaped primarily by the prevailing belief system. For centuries that was Protestant Christianity. Of course, Protestant Christianity is not monolithic and of course other belief systems had influence, nevertheless the dominant shaping force was Protestant Christianity and since present society is embarrassed by This faith it wants to say there is an historic Britishness but does not want to identify it with Protestant Christianity or indeed any Christianity. Thus it squirms.

      Of course, while some of Western Europe was Protestant other countries were Catholic so the influence is generally Christian. Whatever differences there may be between a Catholic and Protestant culture they are both Christian at base. Their differences culturally are small compared to the differences each has with Islam are an intrinsically amorphous secular humanism.

      Secular humanism with its vague uncertain shifting values is no match for Islam as time will tell.

      As a footnote, I am British but I no longer identify with much of my culture. Indeed, even when the culture was more shaped by Protestant Christianity it was of course always a corruption of it. No country is truly Christian. In fact all cultures are opposed to Christ. Even C1. Judaism, a culture supposedly shaped by God’s revealed law which was very culturely prescriptive, was opposed to Christ. It is why every Christian will be to a greater or lesser extent an alien in his country for it is not his country; he belongs to a heavenly country and here is and feels himself to be, an alien, a pilgrim.

    1. Thanks Jeannie – an interesting review which acknowledges the strength of Murray’s case but then resorts to ‘yeuch I don’t like it’ ad hom….it sounds right wing etc. I note in the whole review there is not one concrete refutation of any fact that Douglas puts – just I don’t like it. Well, I didn’t like it either – but what if its true?!

    2. My comment would rather be that they should read it for themselves, rather than take the view of a clearly biased (mostly) media/critics which/who simply didn’t want to hear the truth. David’s point that he ‘didn’t like it’ but was challenged by it is surely the point of hearing truths which we are uncomfortable with. We don’t simply dismiss them on the say-so of someone else, but read it for ourselves and then think for ourselves.

      I have also been brought to wonder why you come to this website? Although there is debate and disagreement amongst the commenters on occasions, no-one else comes simply in order to disagree with every thing David writes – which appears to be your purpose, given that it has been your response.

    3. Why, I wonder? I found weeflea’s review sufficiently stimulating to order the book from the library and read it myself. The review you reference, on the other hand, doesn’t make me want to read the book. It silences the book’s arguments by condemning them without answering them. The typical stance of the current media……..

  7. I’m reluctant to register, to read the review in the Times, but the heading indicates that there is a “persuasive polemic, marred by lurid, overheated rhetoric” with the book. So, does that mean he is persuaded, or not, notwithstanding the language used? Or does it mean he is dissuaded from being persuaded because he doesn’t like the words and making a judgement of dislike of author, that overrules or discards the case being made, so that it is not the case that falls, but the way it is put? Is it the coherence and cogency of argument or the advocate that fails. I’d not like the Times critic to be either judge or jury in a law court.

    Sadly, secularism, left or right wing, doesn’t understand Christianity, Islam or any faith. More tragically it doesn’t understand itself, has little or no ability to examine itself, or when it does, it is a disciple of Freud, in denial: “I have examined myself thoroughly and come to the conclusion that I don’t need to change much.”

    Secularism, Left and Right has a common spine, has the lowest common denominator – an intransigent hardness when pushed.

    A strange illustration, I know, but secularism reminds me of an elastomer/gel bike saddle – all nice and soft and squishy, until pressure is applied, then it hardens. After a while it causespain, rendering it unusable. In short, comfortable, as long as it isn’t used for the purpose it was invented – until it is sat upon.

  8. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein.6 May 2015

  9. “Are Western European Liberal Values ‘Human Values’? . . . What if the foundation of modern human rights is not something that is universal in human character, but rather has come from a system of beliefs (Christianity) which has now largely been rejected – at least by those who govern us?” — I think, with what Jesus said about the natural output of the human heart in Mark 7:21-22, what we see when we step outside even a pale penumbra of Christianity, where unconverted people hold a form of godliness but deny the power thereof, is that we’re back to pagan Rome, with its effete cruelty, exploitation, self indulgence and governmental domination and syncretism and paper thin moralism. Or, the world of Game of Thrones with modern technology. Greater is he that is in us, though, than he that is in the world.

  10. So far in the interview with Steyn (approx min18:25) Murray says that nobody asked the big question “Why” at the time of change, at historical points of policy making.
    In “Improvement/change management” there is a simple method to get to the bottom of things: the “5 Whys”. Ask why 5 times. 1 Topic 1 Q Why? 1 Answer, 2 Q “Why?” 2 Answer 3 Q “Why?” And so on. It’s very revealing, uncovers a lot.
    Intriguingly at approx min 33 Murray says we are caught in a competition between justice and mercy and Aristotle says we must be misunderstanding or misapplying one of them, if one takes precedence.
    Christians need to hear and apply that in theology as well particularly today. One song includes the refrain “mercy has triumphed over justice.”

  11. I have just finished this book. Outstanding! It has certainly called into question the many superficial assumptions we have been fed and started me on a journey of discovery of our precious past. A plug here for the work of Jordan B Peterson on this and how to become a better person in the present.

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