The Madness of Crowds – A Review of Douglas Murray’s Latest Book

(This is my latest article in Christian Today – you can read the original here – good to see that Douglas retweeted it!)  This was the title they gave it….

The gay atheist who made me weep and pray

march
(Photo: Unsplash/Ben Mater)

Every now and then a book comes along that feels as though it has a brilliance that is enlightening or even a prophetic significance. These ‘five star’ books are rare enough, but, from a Christian perspective even more astonishing when the author is a gay atheist! Douglas Murray’s latest book, The Madness of Crowds, published by Bloomsbury, is already causing a stir – and rightly so. In fact if there is one book I would urge you to read this year, Murray’s would be the one.

Subtitled Gender, Race and Identity, it does what it says on the tin. Murray has four large chapters entitled ‘Gay’, ‘Women’, ‘Race’ and ‘Trans’. They are separated by three interludes on ‘The Marxist Foundations’, the ‘Impact of Tech’ and ‘Forgiveness’. The writing is excellent, there is much new information and the reasoning is clear and devastating.

Although writing from his own perspective, it is clear that Murray has a lot of time for, and appreciation of, Christianity. In fact there are times when he expresses a biblical understanding better than some popular Christian authors. I wondered why this was the case. Perhaps it is because he is not seeking to compromise in order to be nice to people? Perhaps it is because he sees clearly where our society is going whereas so often as Christians we can have a limited or blurred view.

Murray cites Chesterton: “The special mark of the modern world is not that it is skeptical, but that it is dogmatic without knowing it.”

It is this dogmatism, which is excellent at deconstructing, but hopeless at rebuilding, which Murray exposes and evidences. He also looks at the results that stem from it – in particular, the book’s title, The Madness of Crowds. It’s as though there is a collective insanity gripping the Western world, an insanity that will cause us to destroy ourselves unless we wake up. This book is about as clarion a wake up call as you could wish for.

the Madness of Crowds

In case, like the Guardian, you think this is just an angry rant, I would suggest that you read the interlude on forgiveness. It is one of the most beautiful, insightful and moving pieces of writing I have read in years. Murray points out that the collapse of the barrier between public and private language, and the situation that technology has got us into, means that forgiveness has become an even more necessary but rare phenomenon. We have still retained the Christian concepts of guilt and shame, but have lost the means of forgiveness and redemption that Christianity offers. We either offer forgiveness only to those people we like (thus enhancing the increasing tribalism in society) or we bow to the pressures of the mob. We go along with the dogmas of the progressive elites: ‘no questions allowed. No questions asked’.

You will almost certainly not agree with everything Murray writes, but he will challenge, stimulate and cause you to think. As a Christian, this atheist caused me to weep and pray. At a time when so many Christians are compromising with the culture in order to ‘win it’ – and thereby losing both the culture and the church – it is wonderful that the Lord gives us a gay atheist who sees and speaks truth!

There will of course be Christians who read this and it will only add to their sense of despair. Whilst Murray’s analysis is as good as any you will read – his solutions are somewhat limited. That is because the problem is so deep that only Christ can fix it! Even the return of Christendom, as Murray seems to long for, won’t cure the Madness of Crowds, only the sanity of Christ. And that is why we should not despair. We should speak the Light into the Darkness. But in order to do that effectively we need to understand how great the Darkness is (both within and without). Murray will help with that.

In a week when social media is filled with angry political views and Parliament is filled with politicians behaving as though they are on Twitter, I leave you with this helpful insight that Murray gives into the danger of letting politics give you meaning:

“In an era without purpose, and in a universe without clear meaning, this call to politicise everything and then fight for it has an undoubted attraction. It fills life with meaning, of a kind.

“But of all the ways in which people can find meaning in their lives, politics, let alone politics on such a scale – is one of the unhappiest. Politics may be an important part of our lives, but as a source of personal meaning it is disastrous.

“Not just because the ambitions it strives after nearly always go unachieved, but because finding purpose in politics laces politics with a passion – including a rage – that perverts the whole enterprise.

“If two people are in disagreement about something important, they may disagree as amicably as they like if it is just a matter of getting to the truth or the most amenable option. But if one party finds their whole purpose in life to reside in some aspect of that disagreement, then the chances of amicability fade fast and the likelihood of reaching any truth recedes.” (p.255)

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

20 thoughts on “The Madness of Crowds – A Review of Douglas Murray’s Latest Book

  1. O to be “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife“ (cf. Thos Gray’s Elegy)!

    The strife of the madding crowd may yet issue in Babel-like mutual destruction, as with feminism vs transgenderism. May the sovereign God hasten that day.

  2. Would I be correct to suggest that Douglas Murray is one part of The Guardian’s target audience? As a gay atheist, maybe he would, or should, be one of their pin-up boys.

    If I’m right, why would this be the reaction from them?

    “In case, like the Guardian, you think this is just an angry rant”

  3. The late David Jenkins, onetime Bishop of Durham, with whom I didn’t usually find myself agreeing, was astute and right when he said that ‘belief in’ politics and political ideologies was idolatry in a modern guise.

  4. I have just finished the chapter titled Women. This book is an excellent read and as you said, you wont find yourself agreeing with everything he says.
    Its interesting that the pink press sometimes neglect to mention that Murray is gay.

  5. “We either offer forgiveness only to those people we like (thus enhancing the increasing tribalism in society) or we bow to the pressures of the mob.”

    Understandable in a time when resistance to, or even criticism of, a certain political project is being deliberately threatened with actual – not just metaphorical or Twitterstorming – mob violence. It is easier to start a fire than control or douse it, as the French and other “successful” revolutionaries in history have found out. Do they really think they can stand aside in safety and point the mob at anyone they choose?

    And what could be more about “seeking meaning by political means”, than an all-encompassing “national identity”, to which we should prepare to sacrifice even (preferably, but not necessarily, others’) human lives, based on something very different from “members of the Body of Christ” or even the national Church? I constantly see the same patterns I was brought up to fear (and I see you rightly do) from Marxism and I don’t think they look and better for colouring the red flag red-white-and-blue.

    Or, for that matter, blue: but one doesn’t have to overvalue the European project to see very worrying trends in this proposed replacement of one putative “idol” by another. How bitter a victory it will be if we recklessly play with mob violence and end up where “our last state is worse than the first”.

  6. Karen, I think what has happened is that in June 2016 we held a referendum on a subject of great (if not existential) importance, viz. membership of the EU, and, as it turned out, the Leave side won. The question of national identity was one aspect of the debate, but there were others, and there were serious concerns about the direction the EU was heading in. The matter should then have been handled as an administrative necessity, not without its challenges, but certainly these were not and are not insurmountable. Instead there has been an astonishingly furious reaction by the losing side, unparalleled in our electoral history, which has led to the unfortunate situation where MPs who had lined up a couple of years ago to promise to honour the vote are now (the majority of them) doing all they can to prevent the outcome they voted for and stood for election on. In their mission they seem to have enlisted most of the institutions of the state. It is the Remain side which has turned this important but not first order question into a matter of all-encompassing fundamentalist ideology. This ideological stance is backed up by increasingly strident and extremist language. Hardly surprising if the embattled Leavers stand their ground and say simply that we have to get this thing done and then move on. Believe it or not, there is life after Brexit. I think the Remain side are worried not that our exit may be catastrophic (“cliff edge”, “crashing out”, etc.) but that it may not be. It is their implacable commitment to a supranational and democratically unaccountable body which has needlessly intensified the tone of the debate.

    1. The side which on the day got the edge, had already made it clear that a result that narrow the other way would (a) not be accepted and (b) be quite possibly met with violence to override it. It was that side which actually killed an elected representative – before the vote was even held – to make sure everyone knew what to expect if they dared to go the wrong way.

      I’ve been in London and seen protesters of both sides: only one brings children and pets and picnics in the certainty that they will not be looking for trouble. The other bawls abuse and attacks the police. Is that the behaviour of winners? Or cheats afraid of being found out before it is too late? No “administrative necessity, not without its challenges” (!) justifies either the threat, or the use, of violence. It isn’t the Germans who are talking about bringing in the Army or “executing traitors” who stand in their way.

      Have we been preaching to the IRA and ISIS all these years, only to throw it to the winds when our own precious god is not given the submission it demands? Do you want to live in a country where terrorism DOES work? The very hallmark of a religion – especially a tribal one shoring up a “chosen people’s” very sense of identity – is when people are willing to pour out blood on its altar and demand the slaughter of blasphemers. Only one side has actually attacked and killed, rather than using threatening language, to date.

      I was born the Queen’s subject twice over and appreciate the gift of both citizenships, which I did nothing to earn or deserve. I defended her revenue loyally for forty years. I’ve even got it noted on my birth certificate that my “racial descent” (I wonder if they still do that?) is “English” – not even “British”. And I won’t take “traitor” talk from those who want to question my loyalty for recognising that while the objective of Leaving may be reasonably chosen, the way it was offered (and I have no more doubt than you that it was offered in bad faith) and is now being driven through is so mendacious, incompetent and ultimately deadly that those in power are literally flirting with civil war to enforce their aims. Is that the act of people who genuinely know, and care about, the “people” or their “will”? Or the act of those hoping to impose “emergency powers” on the back of a crisis they have deliberately fomented?

      May God spare the small people of this country from the consequences of the “war gaming” of our rulers as they squabble among themselves!

  7. I’m really keen to read this though I had ambivalent feelings about The Strange Death of Europe. My real problem with identity politics, and particularly with the focus on the secular trinity of gender, race and sexuality is that it largely or completely ignores vast swathes of people (poor, elderly, disabled) who are genuinely suffering in our society, including in the UK. As someone who is registered blind I’m very political about disability. Does that make me part of the problem? I’m genuinely interested in your responses.

  8. Karen, thanks for your response, but I must say I couldn’t have come up with a better example of the kind of extremist language I was talking about if I’d tried. All the usual tropes and emotional language are there in your post, which it would be wearisome to identify one by one. I didn’t call and wouldn’t call anybody a traitor for disagreeing with me, nor would I call anybody a terrorist at all without good reason. I suppose a case can be made for saying that we do live in a country where terrorism has worked. The concessions made to the Provisional IRA at the time of the Belfast Agreement, aka the “Good Friday Agreement” in 1998 are testament to that. Interestingly we are told incessantly that there must not even be the semblance of any customs controls between N. Ireland and the Republic of Ireland because that would be such a provocation to Republicans that there would be an inevitable return to violence. There are two problems with that: first, it does seem to imply that we give way not to terrorism but to potential terrorism; and secondly, as Brendan O’Neill has pointed out, it portrays the Irish as a nation of lunatics who will on the slightest whim start to engage in serious violence. As an Irish person I take exception to that. There are already different currencies, VAT rates, fuel laundering etc. and this all has to be policed somehow. That is just normal life between two friendly states.

    1. It’s a bit late to pose as Mr Calm and Reasonable: the company you keep speaks for you. And anyone who isn’t at least a tiny bit “emotional” when people, let alone elected representatives, are killed and threatened with actual bodily violence, isn’t calm and reasonable – they simply aren’t that bothered so long as the result is what they want.

      I concur with you that the GFA did concede some ground to terrorists: but not anything like they wanted, not least because the Americans stopped unconditionally backing the IRA, and the Irish to the south didn’t want their opposite numbers bringing the “war” (and NI’s other problems) down there, as they undoubtedly will if NI votes to “remain” by joining the South. A very different proposition resolving a stand-off between two lots of heavily armed bomb and gun-wielding terrorists, one of them still enjoying *some* meaningful support from the US, to simply standing back and openly inviting the silencing of unarmed dissidents in your own country by simpler and equally effective street means. I wonder how many days now before the annual “I have a bigger Poppy than you, I got it first, you must hate our country” stuff starts on again?

      “That is just normal life between two friendly states.”

      Three: Northern Ireland is a country in its own right, as too many of us over here forget. And England has made it clear it is no friend of either the North or the South, but considers them both as expendable tools in its fight. That is not the behaviour of “friends”.

      As to the “mad” Irish, the argument runs both ways: if we are to “surrender” to our own home-grown terrorists, is proximity the only thing that distinguishes them from those a few more (wet) miles away? How can we simultaneously claim that the Irish are too clever, decent, smart etc to do such a thing, while insisting our own extremists are so dangerous they must be humoured at any cost?

      Meanwhile, the biggest power grab carries on quietly in the background, unhindered.

  9. “The side which on the day got the edge, had already made it clear that a result that narrow the other way would (a) not be accepted and (b) be quite possibly met with violence to override it.”
    Karen, can you provide any evidence for that assertion. (BTW, a statement by one person is hardly the same as ‘the side’.)
    “It was that side which actually killed an elected representative.” Same point. You can hardly equate the action of a single individual with ‘that side’.

    1. <>

      Oh, the tired old “one bad apple” argument.
      So if some crazed member of the now practically unrepresented 48% were (God forbid) to assassinate the current Prime Minister, would you take the same generous view?

      What part of this speech, from May 2016, from the (then) legitimate leader of a British political party and Member of the European Parliament – a leading figure of authority with paid-up followers, not a backstreet “bad apple” – is ambiguous?

      “I think it’s legitimate to say that if people feel they have lost control completely, and we have lost control of our borders completely as members of the EU, and if people feel that voting doesn’t change anything then violence is the next step.”

      A year later, having abandoned UKIP but still claiming legitimate status as an MEP, he doubled down:
      “But if they don’t deliver this Brexit that I spent 25 years of my life working for, then I will be forced to don khaki, pick up a rifle and head for the front lines.”

      “Taking a knife” to insufficiently subservient Civil Servants might – might! – be a mere vivid metaphor: it’s not so long since Jeremy Clarkson said “I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families.” and got away with a mere apology. But Clarkson was an entertainer, not somebody who now leads another nationalist political party, with dreams of getting into (or better, holding the reins on, some stooge in) No.10.

      I kept a photo of the UKIP leaflet that came through my door in June 2016: it bore that infamous “queue” picture and cried “The People’s Army needs you now.”
      What else do you need an Army for but violence? Especially with that deliberate echo of Lord Kitchener’s famous poster. We all know (nudge, nudge) who brave little Britain were fighting then. And this was in Essex, where there is no shortage of ERG hard-Brexit enthusiasts: the next constituency to mine is that of Mark Francois, and my own MP, after years of apparent torpidity in the House, has suddenly burst into life since Boris gave him a Brexit job. Nor should I forget Ms Patel up the road, who is on record as favouring hanging and suggested reimposing the Famine to bring the Irish to heel (!)

      As I said earlier: Remainers bring children, dogs and picnics to their protests, not baseball bats. At a local one I personally attended, two young boys who asked to speak pro-Brexit were politely handed the mike, heard attentively, and applauded afterwards.
      (Would that more of our young people were so informed and engaged!). The “one bad apple” would be far more convincing if, again God forbid, the worst happened.

      You may all get what you want in the short term, having either directly cowed or worn out with boredom and frustration anyone who might object: indeed, I’m sure you will, and on the schedule promised by a man whose lifelong and invariably successful practice has been to do whatever mischief he wants and defy authority to do anything about it. But once you give him power, and cut down all the historic checks and balances (not just the EU) that formerly restrained arbitrary rule, you may find you get more than you bargained for when nice, cuddly, tousled teddy-bear Boris steps (or is thrust) aside.

  10. Karen, I don’t think it’s any harm to try to be calm and reasonable in dialogue. I’m not sure who you mean by the company I keep. You don’t really know what company I keep, whether good or bad! I did vote for a legitimate option on the Referendum ballot as did 17.4m others. I couldn’t honestly say that I thought staying in the EU was the better option, as I don’t. The real question is this, if we don’t uphold the result, then who decides which referendums are binding? And who are “the home-grown terrorists”?
    About N. Ireland, I can’t really agree that it’s a country in its own right. It has not really made a success of self-government at any time in its past. It’s a region of the UK with all sorts of Irish and British -and indeed Scottish – cultural identities swirling round in it. I don’t see these identities as being mutually exclusive either. NI doesn’t really make sense as a political entity outside its wider British and Irish framework. At the minute there is no majority for a united Ireland. The ferocity of the IRA probably stiffened resistance, as did the general Nationalist narrative that the Unionist opposition to that outcome was somehow illegitimate. The language used was that Unionists were not to have a veto on political progress, whatever is meant by progress. As it happens, like many others I swallowed my reservations about the GFA, to some extent out of apprehension that if we didn’t vote for it the IRA campaign might start up again. That is how terrorism works. Sadly the GFA vote didn’t prevent a bomb in Omagh a few months later, detonated by an Irish Republican splinter group, that killed 29 civilians. I have no reason to conclude, as you do, that following a vote for a united Ireland, which is where the demographics are pointing, there would be a massive campaign of loyalist violence in the South. It is the case though that the transition to a united Ireland should be handled sensitively and that every effort should be made not to rub people’s noses in the new reality. There is no point in replacing a disaffected population of half a million (which was the case under Stormont) with a disaffected population of a million (in a united Ireland). And we wouldn’t have free prescriptions or free GP consultations!

    1. It’s quite difficult to reply when my previous post appears to show that quotebacks (to clarify which point is being addressed) don’t show. I’ll do my best.

      Of your personal friendships I can, of course, know nothing – although it’s sadly apparent how in a couple of years the closest families and friendship groups have been split into raging, mutually uncomprehending, tribes. But when you take the Brexit stance, you are holding hands with three political parties whose leaders are:
      (a) The man who threatened to personally “take up a rifle” in pursuit of your goal if the existing Parliamentary system didn’t oblige.
      (b) The man who, while Mayor of London, openly and proudly bought illegal weapons with the expressed intent of using them on protesting British citizens.
      (c) The man who has always been (and credit to him for his constancy, even if it’s meant he won’t do his supposed job of Opposition) a Leaver – and is accused of being, to say the least, comfortable with terrorists.
      As for “home-grown terrorists” – we are constantly being told they will emerge if we do not take dictation from our leaders. What of those *outside* the safe space of SW1?
      (From the FT last week) “Mr Johnson’s team is genuinely fearful that if a delay to Brexit led to a second Brexit referendum — the prime minister’s third and worst possible outcome — the country would be in a very dangerous place.
      “MPs wouldn’t be able to leave a secure zone in SW1, they would be lynched,” said one government insider. “I think people would get killed.”
      That’s not “calm and reasonable” talk, is it? I’m getting the message, and I’m getting it loud and strong.
      As to the bindingness of the Referendum, that’s been worked to death all over the Web. The paradox is that it wasn’t *legally* binding – otherwise it could have been ordered to be re-run following discovery of fraudulent funding. BUT Cameron undertook verbally to bind himself to it – a fool’s move taken by a reckless gambler who’d already got away with the Scottish referendum and thought he didn’t need to worry. So basically, you’re relying on a politician’s word – always a bit of a shoogly peg (have I that right?) to hang your hat on.

      Personally, I was not so much enamoured of the status quo as very aware that there was no clear idea of any objective beyond a childish slammed door, and no plans for putting anything that was intended into place. I spent most of my working life combating the skilful gaming of carefully-written laws: I know too well the force of unintended consequences and hasty, sloppy wording. So this idea that we’d jump overnight and somehow make it all up in mid-air, while still fighting each other tooth-and-nail about what “it” will be – and which soon degenerated into simple Tory jostling for power as usual, while ignoring the work that (still) needs to be done – was absolutely not acceptable. That “People’s Army” leaflet from UKIP, suggesting, what, a vigilante squad to repel those out-of-control “immigrants”? put the tin lid on it.
      I could still, even now, be convinced by a coherent Brexit objective (what sort of country do we want to see? How do we rebuild trust with “outside” nations when we have added rejection of our current commitment to our previous desertion of Commonwealth partners?) and some idea how it is intended to work. But all we’ve got is a bear garden, with desperate civil servants and businesses trying to cobble together some survival plan for the increasingly inevitable – and I believe, planned all along – No Deal.
      I’ll have to leave the rest shortly (interruption on its way) but I will say that, if NI is *not* a separate country, why does it – like Scotland – have its own legal system and laws? It was a Scotsman, for whom it is something of a King Charles’s Head, who taught me never to refer to “British Law” because there’s no such thing. Every provision has to be separately enacted for all three legal systems.
      (Got to go now. May or may not get to do more later, if you can stand it *smile*)

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