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The Madness of Crowds. Gender, Race and Identity. Douglas Murray. Culture Wars seen from the Right.

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The Madness of Crowds. Gender, Race and Identity. Douglas Murray. Bloomsbury Continuum. 2019.

Last week on Question Time  “Rachel Boyle, a woman of colour, audience member and academic, said: “Let’s be really clear about what this is, let’s call it by its name, it’s racism.” Fox responded that discussions of racism in Britain were “really starting to get boring now,” and accused Boyle of reverse racism for pointing out that he is a “white, privileged male”. Since then, the actor has been busy making an apparent campaign to become the new poster boy for the populist right.”(Independent)  For Douglas Murray the other, largely critical, reaction has shown the face of the ” new totalitarians. ” “ox, again perfectly reasonably, pointed out that he has had no more say than anyone else in choosing the colour of his skin and that in such circumstances the person who imagined she was being anti-racist was in fact being perfectly racist herself.” It was the “identitarians” who were at fault in this “terrifying parable” (The terrifying parable of Laurence Fox’s Question Time appearance)

There is a serious critical debate on identity politics or ‘identitarianism”. On the left responses began in the late 1980s in the pages of Race and Class with articles by Ambalavaner Sivanandan channelling the idea that leaders of pre-formed ‘communities’ should be represented and integrated into the state through Community Relations Councils. In No Logo (1999) Naomi Klein observed the emergence in North American student circles of what is now called ‘intersectional’ cultural battles, at the expense of fights about the increasing domination of globalised corporate power over everyday life. (1)

In the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium Kenan Malik attacked responses to Islam and the rise of people identifying themselves in “narrower ethnic terms”. He wrote, liberal indulgence, “helped build a culture of grievance, in which ebbing offended is a badge of identity, cleared a space for radical Islamists to flourish and made secular and progressive arguments less sayable, particularly within Muslim communities.” In 2010 Rumy Hasan observed that “A profound consequence of silence in regard to oppressive practices within religious-ethnic minority communities has been the abandonment, or the downplaying of key universalist egalitarian principles.” Chief amongst those, he stated, was secularism. (2)

In France Nedjib Sidi Moussa has taken apart the “ethnodiffértialisme” the “racialisation of the social question” primarily through Muslim identity – and the pretension to engage in “race struggle” by anti-Semitic ‘anti-white’ groups like the Indigènes de la République. From an Algerian family he does not shrink from addressing the failure of the radical left to address Islamist violence and the hatred of Jews La Fabrique du Musulman (2017) suggests that the so-called radical supporters of identity politics have a lot in common with right-wing identitarians like Alain Soral. Yves Coleman of Ni Patrie Ni Frontières and Nadia Meziane provide essential critical commentary on these issues in French. (3)

Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds avoids developing the views on the threat of migration. The idea that “the mass movement of peoples into Europe” is happening as Europe has “lost faith in its beliefs, traditions and legitimacy.” (The Strange Death of Europe. 2017). An authority on this, Yves Camus, and his theory of the Great Replacement, cited in that work, does not pop up in the present volume. It is not the suicide of a Continent that preoccupies The Madness, but ‘“a great crowd derangement”. This new Tulip Mania is ‘Identity politics’. “It atomises society into different interest groups according to sex (or gender), race, sexual preferences and more.” (Page 3) These “rights issues have moved from being a product of a system to being the foundations of a new one.” (Page 7). These “destabilising foundation of liberalism” lead to “ugliness” to “believe things that are unbelievable”. This “crowd madness” needs, like a minefield, to be “cleared”.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Murray was a contributor to Spiked, and an acolyte of Frank Furedi. Yet the former Revolutionary Communist Party guru is absent from his pages; his warnings about the post-68 left’s turn to a “bitter conflict between competing lifestyles – symbolic struggles”, the “culture wars”, are unmentioned. (4)


Murray does however have a smattering of knowledge about the left and ‘post-modernism’. Citing Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985) and an article on the same theme in Marxism Today, he outlines a shift from class polities to “new political subjects’, “women, students, young people, racial and regional minorities, as well as the various anti-institutional and ecological struggles” (Page 57). Skirting clear of these “post Marxists” fascination with the left potentials of populism, he observes that their “ideological children in identity politics and intersectionality seem to be content to inhabit an ideological space littered with contradiction, absurdity and hypocrisy.” (Page 58)

These new classes of “exploited” persons are explored, we learn, in the hard to read prose of Judith Butler, and produce “social justice theories”. The gobbledegook around social constructs and gender and race offers the gently e amusement of the “conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” and doubtless more opportunities for spoofs than Murray could cut and paste into his book.

The Madness of Crowds is determined to expose these absurdities. There is something deeply distasteful in the way that the Associate Editor of the Spectator rummages through the Web to find them. Gay demonstration, apparently, (Murray is openly gay himself) include fetishists with their leathers, sadomasochists flogging each other in the street….”(Page 39) Murray is fascinated with women singers’ wiggling bums, which is perhaps understandable, though the demand that they should be “sexy but not sexualised” will have passed most people by. Misandry – a new one on my spell checker – “Man are trash”, is a rubbish example of when put alongside this jumble of terms, “concepts like ‘male privilege’, ‘the patriarchy; ‘mansplaining or “toxic masculinity”. “ (Page 103) Is Murray suggesting that patriarchal structures do not exist, that women are often not oppressed by men, or that the unpleasant, violent, side of masculinity is something even a gentleman scrivener has never seen?

Unfamiliar with American campus politics one is still unable to take on trust Murray’s description of racial incidents and university slanging matches about people’s rival experiences. It would strike many people that in a country that elected Donald Trump, and which has a substantial, networked, far right, that racialism remains an issue beyond verbal jousts. Black Lives matter, most seem to agree, is a call that reflects a justified angry response to an unpleasant reality.


Murray reaches his lowest moment is the chapter on Transexuals. He insinuates that many trans people may be largely motivated by being “sexually around by the idea of presenting as, or actually becoming a woman” (J. Michael Bailey). This casts doubt on whether that “tans is a hardware issue”, that is against the claim that “trans are born this way. (Page 199) Digging deeper into the pit of controversy around transexuality The Madness of Crowds cites the hostility to those who assert that surgery cannot “make you a woman”. Greatly respected feminists who have taken this, or a more moderate critical view, and have been violently hounded for their opinions. “Transphobic”, Murray is not familiar enough with the subject to talk of the details of the rows about ‘TERFs’, feminists do have a legitimate point of view. So do transsexuals. But this book, with its prurient interest, casts little light on this “unbelievable unclear issue”.

Attempting a weighty conclusion The Madness of Crowds reminds us that in 73 countries it is illegal to be gay, and 8 in which being gay is punishable with death. Women are denied basic rights in countries in the Middle East and East Africa. Inter-racial violence happens across the world. “But there is a paradox here: that the countries which are the most advanced in all” in promoting laws and a culture of rights “are the ones now presented as among the worst”. (Page 232) He has no doubt that the agenda, “the last part of a Marxist subculture” is to “policies absolutely everything and turn people against the society they were brought up in. That the left believes that, “when intersectionality has done is job and he matrix of competing hierarchies has finally been nixed, then an era of universal brotherhood will ensue.” (Page 252)

Hidden from this present book are the countless Middle Eastern, Maghrebin, African, Asian Iranian gay and feminist activists. It is their “religion of social justice”, which many on the left support. Are we “using” their fight too? It is one very far from identical to what Mark Lilla calls North American “liberal identity politics”. It involves political action, and politics means joining people together, not separating them. The courage to join together for human, universal rights is our struggle. Feminist, gay and other movements are part – one part – of this, all over the world. This is a more substantial than limiting our “source of meaning” amongst our kith and kin, important as the “love of people and places” is. Or wallowing in snippets about the wilder side of American and British cultural politics. Or boosting an opposing right wing identity politics.

To top it Murray,”….has been described by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy as “one of the most important public intellectuals today”.[8]

  1. Communities of Resistance. Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism. by A. Sivanandan Verso 1990.
  2. P 210. From Fatwa to Jihad. The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy. Kenan Malik. Atlantic Books. 2009. Page 224. Rumy Hasan, Multiculturalism, Some Inconvenient Truths. Politico’s. 2010
  3. La Fabrique du Musulman. Nedjib Sidi Moussa Libertalia. 2017.
  4. First World War. Still no End in Sight. Frank Furedi. Bloomsbury 2014.
  5. The Once and Future Liberal. After Identity Politics. Mark Lilla. Hurst and Company. 2018.

13 Responses

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  1. I watched the programme in question and still want to know how Rachel Boyle is black. Can anyone tell me? Sivanandan was one of the most successful con men the world has ever seen the evidence for which is that you quote him. His books are complete and utter rubbish full of the quasi Marxist bullshit of the seventies. Douglas Murray is a dispassionate observer and commentator on his subject and the old tags of left and right no longer apply. Communism failed, multi culturalism was a huge anti white financial fraud and the Tories are in with a massive majority. Stop whinging and get on with it.

    Dave Roberts

    January 22, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    • if you hate him he must have been a good sort.

      Douglas Murray …are you by chance the Dave Roberts that went to Eaton with him?

      “Murray was educated at West Bridgford School and was awarded a music scholarship at St Benedict’s School[11] and later at Eton College,[9][12] before going on to study English at Magdalen College, Oxford.[13]”

      Yes ! Here you are at the Wall Game:

      Andrew Coates

      January 22, 2020 at 3:21 pm

  2. Do you have a problem with ex-public schoolboys?
    As that is a different type of bigotry.

    Steven Johnston

    January 22, 2020 at 4:32 pm

  3. I was born in the London Hospital before it was Royal and in Tower Hamlets before it existed. Work that out.

    Dave Roberts

    January 22, 2020 at 6:40 pm

  4. “Greatly respected feminists who have taken this, or a more moderate critical view, and have been violently hounded for their opinions.”

    Entirely correct, Andrew.

    Lefty fights over Corbyn, IndyRef or Brexit are mere skirmishes when it comes to the “debate” over Transgender Self ID. Here’s an example of how Rosenna Allen-Khan MP, a candidate for the Labour Deputy Leadership, refers to Woman’s Place UK (WPUK). They are “trans-exclusionary” and host events where transgender women are branded as “horrible, hateful, mysogynistic bastards” and “it is inappropriate that they should have an unofficial event at Labour Conference”. The WPUK event at Labour Conference was subjected to a very noisy, intimidating (“violently hounded”) demonstration which was backed and supported by “The World Transformed” leadership.

    We’ve now reached a situation in this “debate” where people who raise questions on Self ID and how it might impact women (eg prison and sport) are now denounced as “bigots” by many on the liberal/far left. These “bigots” include Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel, Linda Bellos, Martina Navratilova, Simon Fanshawe (a Stonewall founder), Boy George, J K Rowling and Ruth Serwokta (a leftist gender-critical feminist who helped set up WPUK).

    The whole situation is a bloody mess and the so-called “anti-woke backlash” that Owen Jones has talked about is (partly) as a result of left-wing internecine fighting over this issue.

    I’d like to say “why can’t everyone just sit down and see if there can be some discussion to sort it out” but that is highly unlikely to happen in the short term. After all, if one side thinks they have the upper hand, why should they stop?

    Ultimately though, in a battle like this, it won’t be the left that wins.

    John Rogan

    January 23, 2020 at 11:28 am

  5. It is an extremely sensitive issue,.

    The point of the review is that Murray is using it for his own right wing agenda (he is also a hard-line Brexiteer amongst other things) without the slightest interest in what is at stake.

    Andrew Coates

    January 23, 2020 at 12:47 pm

  6. Who is Murray, what power does he have or me and why should I care what he thinks?

    Steven Johnston

    January 23, 2020 at 1:00 pm

  7. Left-wing unity eh? It’ll happen one day, but remember comrades, it’s not your fault if it doesn’t. It’s always their fault.

    Steven Johnston

    January 23, 2020 at 1:03 pm

  8. Yes and?

    Steven Johnston

    January 23, 2020 at 1:23 pm

  9. As if on cue, the Trans Self ID “debate” becomes part of the Labour Party leadership contest. Ruth Serwotka gives her view on a motion passed in Rebecca Long-Bailey’s CLP.

    John Rogan

    January 23, 2020 at 1:50 pm

  10. So the next labour leader need to get this right, to win the next election.

    Steven Johnston

    January 23, 2020 at 2:02 pm

  11. American National Socialists are straining to believe Irish voters “didn’t really” hand individual rights to women. Already I see signs of European International Socialists fasting and praying to imagine British voters “didn’t really” reverse another Anschluss. I could watch leftandright altruists sink into Alzheimer’s-level denial for a good 45 minutes. In today’s post, for instance, are readers really invited to believe that if losers exercise self-deception they will emerge as trans-winners?


    January 24, 2020 at 1:33 am

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