Thinking In Public

May 13, 2020

Madness, Marxism, and the Modern Age: A Conversation with Douglas Murray

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Albert Mohler:

This is ​Thinking in Publi​c, a program dedicated to intelligent conversation about front line theological and cultural issues with the people who are shaping them. I'm Albert Mohler, your host and President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Douglas Murray is a British author and journalist, having written five books and numerous articles for publications such as The Wall St. Journal, The Times of London, The Sunday Times, The Evening Standard, ​and ​The New Criterion​. Murray contributes regularly to ​National Review​ and has been a columnist for ​Standpoint Magazine​ since its founding in 2008.

As a public intellectual, Douglas Murray has concentrated on the most current cultural affairs with an historical perspective and a political acumen. His newest book, ​The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity,​ examines the most divisive issues of the day and sets them within the context of intersectionality and identity politics. I'm looking forward to this conversation today. Douglas Murray, welcome to​ Thinking in Public​. Mr. Murray, in your latest book, ​The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity​, you're clearly provoking an argument, especially by the use of the word madness in the title. What kind of madness do you think right now is threatening Western civilization?

Douglas Murray:

Well, I think there's a lot of madnesses one could identify, particularly I'm interested in crowd madnesses where ideas take hold that haven't been properly interrogated. There were a lot of subjects I could have picked on that I could put in those categories, but the ones I was most interested in for ​The Madness of Crowds w​ ere issues to do with the attempts to divide society up along identity groupings, that is by gender, sex, gender orientation, sexual orientation, and racial issues in particular, as well.

So that people were increasingly in recent years, in my analysis, wanting to divide a country like America not by saying, "We are the American people," but by saying, "Actually, that identity won't do. We should look at you and you should look at yourselves based on your sex, whether you're a man or a woman, by your sexual orientation, whether you're straight or gay, and by your skin color, by your racial origin, that is whether you're black or white or Hispanic." And these became, to a great extent, the ways in which people were encouraged to see not only society but to see themselves. And I think this has led, as I show in the book, to a set of deranging ideas, primarily because we are being asked to do things simultaneously that are entirely contradictory.

Albert Mohler:

Well, indeed, not only contradictory but counterproductive to the goals and aims, at least set by some of the people, who set all this in motion. But in order to place this in context, let me ask to go back with me and talk about the ideas of your primary concern in this latest book. We could refer to them as identity politics, intersectionality, all kinds of forms of critical theory. Why did they emerge as they emerged in these specific ways in the first decades of the 21st century? Because they were not dormant in the 20th century, so what happened between then and now?

Douglas Murray:

Several things. The first of course is that there are a limited number of ways in which people can belong and feel they belong. We can belong by religious affiliation. We can belong by national affiliation. And there are a few others, but there's not very many. As I see it, in recent decades, national belonging has been increasingly stigmatized so that it is an undesirable form of belonging. And that's due to very obvious reasons, some of them legitimate fears, because we know where feelings of nationalism can lead. But just because things can lead to bad places doesn't mean the whole thing has to be anathematized. However, that's one area that has been to some extent, not very much, anathematized.

The second thing of course is that these belongings are all seen to be, broadly speaking, desirable, so long as they're held by certain groups. So to be proud to be a woman is something that is encouraged: "I'm a proud woman." Fine, is one of my arguments. But I was taught many years ago at Oxford University you should never say things the opposite of which would only be uttered by a madman. You never say something that is self-evident that if the opposite was said, it would sound like lunacy. So we have, however, ended up in this position where you say, "I'm proud to be a woman." Okay, fine, good. "I'm proud to be a man." We're not quite sure what you're meant to do with that.

Likewise, gay pride; I happen to be gay myself. I'm not particularly interested in gay pride. I think it's either a morally neutral thing or it's something else. But if you say gay pride, then it should be possible for somebody to say you have straight pride. Fine, "I'm proud to be heterosexual." Well of course, our society doesn't say that because that's not what we actually want to go on. What we want is some kind of correction, it seems, albeit even at times an overcorrection. Likewise, people are encouraged to be proud of their race or racial origin or skin pigmentation only in certain cases. So we say, "Proud to be black." Fine. "Proud to be white." No, don't do that.And I say this is just simply an unsustainable set of overcorrections that has been going on. And I think there's a very clear reason, if I could very quickly lay out what I think it is...

Albert Mohler: Please.

Douglas Murray:

... because it's also pertinent to something that we are ultimately going to be going over in a much worse form in the period ahead of what lies ahead of us now. My view is that historically speaking, we know that a lot of bad ideas emerge or at least rise to the surface in times of economic disturbance. We know this historically. When the economy goes bad, other things follow. And in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, a set of ideas primarily from the American academy rose to the top and found very little challenge because the economic circumstances had gone bad.

And what I think is particularly interesting, and indeed I showed is provable to, among other things, search an algorithm analysis, is that in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, we suddenly saw the whooshing up to the fore of everything to do with identity issues so that in the wake of 2008, we suddenly have this form of fourth-wave feminism which weaponizes women against men. Not saying equal, which is obviously my own view, which is the first- and second-wave feminism; it's for no woman to be held back from anything she can do because of her sex. That wasn't what happened. What happened was this: to be a woman must mean that you are antagonistic towards men, that you are in some way opposed to the male sex or want to carry out some kind of vengeance on them.

Likewise, gay rights becomes not an issue of equality but one of weaponization. To be gay is to be opposed to being straight and indeed opposed to a whole set of other things including capitalism and much more. And obviously in the same period, we have seen that a time when racial equality has never been better in a country like yours, America, or mine, the UK, the advertising of racial equality is actually having never been worse. So there's a massive swing showed in all the opinion polls of Americans thinking that racial equality is worse now in the 2010s than it was in previous decades.

And this is fascinating because what it suggests is that these bad ideas were lingering in the system and came up because something else went wrong. And I mention this as a prelude to something which is that what we are at risk of facing in the years ahead after the current crisis and the economic crisis that is likely to follow it is something we are going to have to keep our eyes on because, as I say, when the economy goes bad, our system appears to be very vulnerable to bad ideas.

Albert Mohler:

Well, we've seen that over and over again. You really couldn't have the Bolshevik Revolution without actually the Russian imperial government's horrible management of World War I-

Douglas Murray: Absolutely.

Albert Mohler:
... and all the rest, and famine and other things that took place at the same time.

Douglas Murray:
That's right, that's right.

Albert Mohler:

I'm 20 years older than you are. And my own biography intellectually would take me into a context of a very conservative ... And I identity myself very much as a classical conservative ... from a very conservative background thrown into a very liberal environment. And as an orthodox Christian, traditional Christian, trying to figure these things out. And I ended up as a faculty scholar at 17 and 18 years old, way too young. A faculty scholar at Florida Atlantic University. And it was an unusual educational experiment. What they did was to create a new university with all the new wealth in Florida. And they recruited at the time older professors from the Ivy League who were looking to retire to Florida, and, "Hey, we'll pay you to move down here. Now, give us five to six years." So, they bought an illustrious faculty.

So, I thought this was a great thing, was appointed a faculty scholar as a teenager, got into it. But what I discovered was a world so far distant from anything I had known. And basically, most of them were Marxists of one sort of another. Now, they weren't the Marxists that I was expecting. The Marxists I thought were Marxists as a teenager were going to be wearing red stars and be part of the ​Comintern​, or the Communist International. They weren't that at all. Instead, they brought in Marxist analysis of history, Marxist analysis of politics and institutions. Their heroes were people like Gramsci. But I'll never forget what they were saying. They explained their great theory of how the revolution was actually going to come. And it wasn't going to come in the West by means of anything like what happened in the Soviet Union. Rather, it was going to come by using the institutions of cultural production, the academy being first and foremost, but beyond that, the institutions of cultural production.

And when I heard it at the time I thought, this is not going to work. But it worked, stunningly. And to me, that just helps to explain why, sector after sector after sector, the eagerness for all of this identity politics, intersectionality and all the rest, it's just the continuation of a logic that is based upon the idea that Western civilization is an inherently flawed project from which human beings have to be liberated.

Douglas Murray:

Yes, that's right. I think that one of the things that's a very basis exercise that's always worth carrying out is when you're dealing with a cultural critic, are you dealing with one who is speaking as a critic or as an opponent? That is, are you speaking with somebody who wishes to improve your society or somebody who fundamentally opposes it and wishes to end it? Now, this is seen by some to be too big a scalpel to dare to wield. But I think it is the fundamental one. Nobody could deny that societies like yours, America, and mine, the United Kingdom, could be improved in certain ways.

We all most certainly do have inequalities which are very ugly to many of us. Now the question is, do you want to make them less pronounced? Do you wish to make people more equal? Or do you wish to help the very poor, for instance, those without very many opportunities? Those all seem to me to be fairly noble aims. Or do you actually wish to say, "We are using allegations of inequality in America in order to bring some other system into play?"

Now that, for many people, is exactly what they are doing. It's the example I give towards the end of ​The Madness of Crowds​, is to say, always ask, "Compared to what?", of your opponents. So if somebody says, "The healthcare provision in America is not very good." And you say, "Compared to what?"And they say, "Well, the Cuban healthcare system," well, you know what you're dealing with. You know what you're dealing with.

Albert Mohler: Absolutely, yeah.

Douglas Murray:

If you say to somebody, "Okay, you think that we're unequal. Where is equal?" And they say, "Well, the Venezuelan society has been doing this very interesting" ... You know what they're doing. And I think that what is remarkable in the example you give of your own education is that what is remarkable about it is how unremarkable it is to hear a story like that. It is a story that has been played out thousands and thousands of times across the West in recent decades, where people go to university expecting to have their minds opened, and discover a cadre of people who wish to close the minds of the students, who wish to say, "No, this is the acceptable debate, and this is our agreed upon aim." And the agreed upon aim is always the same, which is, broadly speaking, something in the slushy after-spill of Marxism.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah, and at the end of the day, it's hard to imagine how this doesn't devolve into chaos and nihilism. But I want to talk about one particular idea, because central to identity politics right now is the idea of intersectionality, Kimberlé Crenshaw. And what it appears to me to be so toxic about this idea is that it is based upon a brilliant insight. Like many bad ideas, it's based upon a brilliant insight. If you're going to take oppression as the entire matrix of your thinking, then even amongst the oppressed, there are different forms and levels of oppression. And the idea here is that valor is attached to the greatest degree or a combination of oppressions.

But this is the kind of idea that is kind of like Daniel Dennett's universal asset. Once you begin to go down that road, the problem is there's always going to be someone more oppressed, arguably, at least in theory, than you. But this idea really has hold, and not only in the academy, but increasingly in American politics, especially amongst the Democratic party. Not just to make it partisan, but especially amongst the Democratic party, this intersectional representationalism has reached the point where you have an endless number of blanks you have to fill in. Where does this go?

Douglas Murray:

Yes, it's a very interesting one, this. It's happened in our lifetimes where the desirable thing to be has moved in the space of only a few decades from somebody who is heroic to somebody who is a victim. Now, this is very interesting because when a society has, broadly speaking, a heroism aspiration, it not only encourages heroism, but of course it also encourages fakes and phonies to pretend they're heroic in some way. Well, we expect that because that's human nature. But if you flip that around and say that the thing we should aspire to is victimhood, you will have not only this very strange hierarchy that we've created in recent years of people who are actual victims, but you also encourage fakes and frauds and phonies of this kind, people who are not in any meaningful sense victims but who hold themselves out as being such. So that, for instance, you have exceptionally privileged people who happen to be black who pretend that they are victims and get up a hierarchy by saying, "I suffered in some way because of my skin color." Likewise, you will have exceptionally privileged women, women who have the most fortunate lives, presenting themselves as in some way a victim, or somebody who had to overcome through this victim narrative.

And American politics is noticeably riddled with these fakes and phonies who are much, much, almost in their entirety, much, much more fortunate than the vast majority of the American public ever have been, have had far more legs up in their lives than anybody else who they're asking to vote for them. But they present themselves as being part of this victim narrative because the culture has encouraged this idea that somehow to have suffered is to have become good in some way. And this is, by the way, a well known heresy of the left, the perception that suffering produces in any way goodness. Whereas of course, suffering is, again, a morally neutral thing. Some people learn things through suffering, other people learn nothing at all. But the left has, for a long time, had this idea that if you suffer, you become good. And suffering people are good people, and therefore suffering groups have become good groups. And these are very fundamental category errors to have made. But yes, it's a very interesting thing in our lifetimes, this shift in what you might seek to be close to in terms of valor has shifted so clearly.

Albert Mohler:

One of our main intellectual responsibilities is to draw distinctions rightly, clearly, to draw them honestly, and then to apply them consistently. That's an intellectual discipline missing in so many contemporary thinkers. I think it's the very essence of the kind of argument that Douglas Murray is trying to make. But making distinctions is a form not only of intellectual clarity, it's a form of intellectual combat. And that's what can get you into trouble. When you try to bring the careful, honest distinctions about matters and arguments that are intentionally, well, less distinct, well, that's where the energy gets hot. That's also what makes a book not only a best-seller but a book of lasting influence.

I appreciate the candor with which you write. And you're willing to be a provocateur. You also have an amazing skill at literary style, and a way of putting things. And I want to get to one statement you make in your chapter, Gay, where you make the interesting observation that, "Amid all the talk of equality, there isn't anything like certainty that most gays actually want to be completely equal. Many would appear to want to be precisely equal, but with a little gay bonus." And I think about that when I see the advertising magazines telling us that the gay community is wealthier than the straight community, but that the oppression motif is now so deeply ingrained in all of this that society appears to be saying, the advertisers appear to be saying, even as an industry, not just in their ads, but in the industry statements, "Here's oppression. We need to sell ads specifically directed to this particularly rich oppressed group."

Douglas Murray:

Yes. There are lots of similar examples. I do gay first because it's the one that I have any sort of victim crampon on. And so I say, look, if I'm willing to interrogate this much myself, trust me when I'm doing the others that I'm not up to any funny stuff. Because you need to get people's recognition that you are carrying out this analysis in, as it were, in good faith. And I think that the gay one is very interesting. One of the reasons, as you just point out there, is the fact that there is this question that emerges in all rights things of: “are you after equal or are you after better?” Now myself, I'm after equal in this one, as in all of the others. I'm not interested in people claiming they're better than other people by dint of their skin color. I'm not interested in that whether it's because they're white or because they're black. Likewise, I'm not interested in people claiming they're better than other people because they're gay any more than I'm interested in people claiming they're better than other people because they're straight.

The interesting one, and the one you raise, is that yes, it is arguable that actually gay men and women are fortunate, as it were, economically, in certain circumstances. There have been studies that have shown that gay men and women outperform, in terms of earning, their heterosexual counterparts in certain sectors. Now of course, there's also reason to say, "Well, gay men and women have got more disposable income because they're less likely than their straight counterparts to have children." Now, this issue of equal or better is fascinating because the most important one that it relates to is between men and women.

And in recent decades, we have a grand play out of something that I identify in the Gay chapter happening in the far larger section of the community which is straight, and that is to do with women. Are we talking, when we're talking about women, about people who are equal to men, worse than men, or better than men? You can have one of those but you can't, it would seem, have several. And we in recent years have actually had two or those trying to play out simultaneously which is very similar to that gay one you just quoted me on, which is this: we have landed on the thing of women are the same as men in their competencies and in their abilities, and they're also magically better.

What do I mean by that? I mean, for instance, when Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, says, "If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, perhaps the financial crash wouldn't have happened." And you want to say, "Well, why?" Because if we've agreed that women are the same as men, then why do we allow them this magical bonus of being also more wise or more prudent or something like that? And I give these examples to demonstrate the fact that our thinking on this is profoundly contradictory, self-contradictory. And normally, I'm sure like you, I was trained to say if something is self-contradictory, then it's most likely that it is in some way wrong.

Albert Mohler:

In some way, yes, absolutely. Let me point to something else you do in the book, and you do it in the beginning and the end in two different chapters. And I think it's a very important intellectual move, very helpful, even where I might disagree, it's a very helpful set of categories, and that's hardware and software. And you applied that analysis to your chapter on gays and also to your chapter on trans. And I think in both cases, there's a lot of good thinking that can come out of that. On the chapter on gays, you make the point that the political momentum of the gay rights movement, as it was known, gained a lot with the assumption that there was somehow hardware involved, that sexual orientation was hardwired in some sense.

But the software/hardware issue there then gets to the end of your book with the experiment, let's just use that word, the experiment of human beings saying that gender itself is now software rather than hardware, that it's a mental construct or an emotional, mental, psychological construct rather than biology. How do you get from your first reference to the second reference, and are you applying that same dichotomy consistently in those cases?

Douglas Murray:

I think so. One of the things I was interested in in writing this book was to be as frank and open and honest as possible about each of these things, and particularly on this issue in the final chapter on trans, because trans issues have suddenly roared to the fore more even than any of the others because they're louder, it's more aggravating, in a certain sense. It's a much smaller minority than any of the other issues I'm writing about. And it seems to kick up more fury, fire, dust, whatever you want to call it. And I use this hardware/software analogy. I assume the listeners understand that what I'm talking about here is that a hardware issue is something you can't change, a software issue is something perhaps you can.

And all rights issues try to audition for hardware status, rightly or wrongly, because one ethic we can agree on, religious or non-religious, in our societies in recent years is you shouldn't be mean to people for a hardware issue. That is, just as you wouldn't insult somebody for being disabled because it's not like they chose to be disabled, so for instance, on alcoholism, drug dependency, there's a massive push for people to say, "Don't criticize people for drinking too much if it's in their DNA or if it's that they have an inherited predisposition towards addiction." These are very interesting societal moves, and I'm open to persuasion on them.

But similarly, when it comes to sex issues, particularly to do with LGBT, there's been this audition to say, "Look, it's not a lifestyle choice. It's something we can't help." Now, I happen to be sympathetic to that, to a certain extent. I think we've massively overstated in recent years what we know about these issues. And when it comes to trans, we have overstated our knowledge to a really quite terrifying degree. Now, trans in recent years has, yes, been auditioning to be seen to be a hardware issue. But the problem with this ... And in all of this, as in all my books, what I want to do is to help readers better understand the plays that are going on in our society so that we can better withstand the most deranging demands. And the most deranging demand I identify on the trans one is the demand to say that gender is a social construct except that trans people are born trans. So that the demand goes simultaneously women aren't born women, they merely perform womanhood, but trans people are born trans.

This is a completely deranging claim because it says nobody is really born in a particular sex other than trans people who are born in the wrong sex. And that is unsustainable. It's completely illogical. It's completely self-contradictory, and it is the demand that we are expected to agree to. And I think that the reason why the trans issue kicks up so much dust is because so many people recognize this is a deranging thing that is being demanded of us and we cannot agree to it. And I know, by the way, I mean, one of the things that alerted me to the extent to which the trans thing mattered so much was the fact that a number of friends who were scientists came to me over a long period of time and said, "I can't do this, because this is the first time that I have been told I have to ignore the scientific method."

Albert Mohler:

Well, that's being said now just about everywhere through official statements and the medical associations, the medical specializations. This is something that is now reaching the point that physicians and medical doctors who take the position you just articulated are being threatened with expulsion from the professional ranks simply because they will not imbibe and embrace the insanity. You also have the fact that as is the case with so many revolutionary movements, and this is a revolutionary movement, the inconsistencies just have to be sidelined and silenced. So the category of the hasbian, who was a lesbian and is no longer a lesbian, and now, the number of people who were identifying as non-binary who 10 years later have settled back into a binary, that just has to be explained by oppression. That's just further oppression, further delusion, further false consciousness.

Douglas Murray:

Yes, that's the thing, is that what we see in these movements is an attempt to create a unifying explanation for the world and for our existence, and an answer to the question of what we should be doing in the world. And one of the reasons why I wanted to take these movements on was because I do recognize that their aspiration is very grand. Young people going away to college have all the same questions that they always had. Young people growing up have all the same questions they always had. We as adults have all the same questions we always had. But it is very striking when a society arrives at a place where only these deranging arguments stand willing to explain themselves and give explanations to the young, in particular, for what they should be doing as actors in the world.

And I think that this is a very striking gap in our societies, and it has kicked up this thing that says to act in the world, to be a person in the world, you should engage yourself in struggle and you should recognize that you live in an oppressive system, in an oppressive society. All of these things I think are, at the very least, able to be pushed back against. I think they are wrong in significant ways, but they rely on a particular view of the world. And as you know, I say in the book that although you can't categorize him as a traditional Marxist by any means, but the most significant figure on the left that had been pushing this is probably Michel Foucault, the late French thinker, who was a very brilliant figure, but who I think really perverted the understanding of the world that we have around us. And specifically by interpreting the entire world around us as fundamentally an issue of oppression and power dynamics so that everything from sex to politics, which he saw almost as indistinguishable, people should understand the world by saying, "Where does power reside? How can we squeeze it from the people who have it and get some for ourselves?"

And I think this is a perverted way of looking at the world because I think that if you grabbed most people from the streets who were sane and said, "What do you think matters most to you in your life," if they said, “power”, you would probably take several step backs and to gradually begin to run away. Very few people answer the question of what do you find meaning in your life in and say power. They would say my loved ones, my family, my children, my parents, my friends, my church, my God, and much more. We certainly do not in our lives, most of us, see power as the dominant force. It is a force in the universe, certainly, but there are many other forces. And what strikes me among other things is the fact that this interpretation of the world through this single dynamic of power, among other things, ignores the most important factor if you're going to enter into power dynamic questions, which is the complete absence in this worldview of forgiveness.

And that is something, as you know, that I come onto in the book. And I think it's something I just want more people to think about: what it is to live in a society which obsesses about the nature of power and spends almost no time talking about forgiveness. That society, there is a reason why we have this generation that is called various things including “snowflakes” and much more. There is a reason why we have that generation, which is I think unfairly characterized by the older generations. And we have that generation because we have created a world that has no interest in forgiveness.

Albert Mohler:

I think that's a brilliant insight. By the way, I think I've read all of your books and I have them in my personal library. I'd enjoy sometime conversing about your own intellectual pilgrimage, your work on neo-conservatism, and your book​ The Strange Death of Europe.​ I was actually in Foyles bookstore in London when it was first put on the bookshelf, and got one of the copies. It later became a best-seller for a matter of months. And this ties together in this final question I wanted to ask you. In your book ​The Strange Death of Europe​ ... And by the way, your best line in that is, I think, that Europe has basically as a culture forgotten its own story, but you make the point that the eclipse of Christianity as kind of the founding and unitive framework for Europe has led to a loss of Europe, in this sense. But it certainly seems to me that the loss of that Christian framework would explain the loss of forgiveness as a category because forgiveness, at the end of the day, is a theological category.

Douglas Murray:

Yes, I think that's exactly right. The subject matter in ​The Madness of Crowds​ takes on issues that I didn't tackle in ​The Strange Death of Europe​, where I talk about immigration and identity issues, Islam, and much more. But my own view, and I wanted the reader to realize, that the analysis that I do in ​The Strange Death of Europe​ of the philosophical state that we are in in the modern West, by which I include America, should be recognized as being such, and these are simply more factors I give in ​The Madness of Crowds​ of what happens after the tide of the Christian faith has gone out of a society. I think that it's a fascinating thing that we recognize in historical terms the importance of the sweep of a religion across a society and, in our own society, pretend that we can continue as normal even after that tide appears to have gone out or to be going out.

And there's a line from one of T.S. Eliot's choruses from ​The Rock of 1934​ that I've always found very pertinent, where Eliot says, "Do you even need to be told that even such modest attainments as you have achieved in the way of polite society will hardly survive the Faith to which they owe their significance?" And the reason I quote that line, the reason why it always remained in my mind, is that exactly something like that factor, that crucial factor in human life, the ability to forgive, is clearly something that we work at and we need a structure, including a theological structure, to provide.

And in its absence, we have only this vindictive power-obsessed culture which sees power and wealth, arguably, as the main things to pursue and does not recognize that there are many other factors that are far more important and, indeed, I'd say far more beautiful in life than these, and that these need to be thought about as well. But as I say, this is one of the things I urge readers to do, urge the people who think about this to do, is to think more deeply on these big issues and to try not to be caught on the terrain of people who wish to derange us and to distract us with thoughts that are clearly and provably self-contradictory. I want people not to waste their time on bad ideas. And so one of my own self-appointed tasks is to try to sweep some of these bad ideas away, to allow good ideas to be dwelt upon more.

Albert Mohler:

Well, that is a worthy aim for any author and any book. And you've applied that with several books. And I want to commend them to the listenership, and we'll tell folks how they can get them. The latest book, ​The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity.​ Douglas Murray, you're kind to grant us this conversation from across the pond. And thank you for joining me for ​Thinking in Public​.

Douglas Murray:

Well, it's been a very great pleasure. Thank you.

Albert Mohler:

I really enjoyed that conversation with Douglas Murray, and could have gone on and on. He's the kind of intellectual, the kind of writer, who has a mind that is systematic and very comprehensive and obviously very keen and alert. One of the things I appreciate about Douglas Murray is his willingness and, indeed, I would say his courage, to enter into making arguments and distinctions where many others would fear to tread. He is entering into some of the hottest issues of controversy in the contemporary world. It is also the case that many conservative thinkers want to keep some kind of distance from these issues. But since these are the cutting-edge, explosive issues of the day, that distance can, well, lead to irrelevance.

Douglas Murray is not, by any means, irrelevant. The conversation with Mr. Murray about his book ​The Madness of Crowds,​ that's his most recent title, it could have gone in a number of directions. But the most important issue is the underlying understanding of what's going on in our society, and what links together so many of the controversies of the day, so many of the forms of insanity that are now becoming institutionalized, commercialized, are being mainstreamed through entertainment, and of course the new orthodoxy in higher education. His willingness to enter into a critique of those issues is very, very helpful. I appreciated early in the conversation where he indicated his own effort to be intellectually honest and responsible. Even as he discussed his chapter Gay, he said that one of the reasons he put it first is not just that that has been one of the most controversial issues of the set of issues he addresses in the book, but because he himself identifies as gay and wants to set himself apart from what he sees as the insanity of much of the arguments being made on behalf of gays as an oppressed minority.

I do think that's a demonstration of intellectual honesty, and it's one I appreciate. It also gives him the credibility to look to other issues on the cultural front and be very critical and even self-critical at times. But as he is also speaking, most important, he made very clear that his understanding of rightness, of conservatism, of good and clear and honest thinking, is an acknowledgement that there really are social ills, there really are social problems. But the great disappointment is that the very means declared by those who are behind these forms of critical theory, intersectionality, various forms of Marxism and all the rest, the very ills that they portend or pretend to seek to alleviate are actually made worse, partly by the fact that everyone in every situation is reduced to an oppression matrix or to some form of victimhood. That simply doesn't work in a society, and I appreciated the fact that when we reached the end of the conversation, he spoke about far more important foundational goods than anything actually addressed by the intellectual revolutionaries of our time, as he said.

Albert Mohler:

It's hard to imagine having a conversation with just a common person on the street who says that oppression or power are his or her main considerations. Dinner is probably higher on the list, and getting home to family. But of course the classical Marxist, the cultural Marxist, would simply dismiss

that as a form of false consciousness: "Here's another beleaguered individual so oppressed that he or she does not even recognize his or her oppression." This is an endless cycle. As I told Douglas Murray in the conversation, I've been reading his books for years. In the middle of the last decade, he wrote a book titled ​Neoconservatism: Why We Need It t​ hat's actually more ambitious than even the title indicates because he's really looking at forms of intellectual conservatism, even political conservatism, in our time. And he identifies as a form of conservative, and I think he is a form of conservative.

But as a Christian intellectual, that raises a different issue for me, and that is the fundamental issue that any kind of lasting conservatism has to be at least by intention a comprehensive conservatism. And that's why when it comes to the gay issue, an orthodox Biblical Christian talking to someone who identifies as gay, both of whom identify as some form of conservative, have to eventually get to an argument about just how conservative one can be if one is denying the basic sexual structure of creation that God has given. But that's a different kind of argument, and that also raises the fact that there are more and less theistic conservatives. There are more and less political conservatives. Conservatism, like liberalism, is not just one statement. It is not just one doctrine. It often does become ideology on the left. On the right, as classical conservatives have reminded us, it is more a disposition; it is not an ideology.

As a Christian, I believe that a true conservatism can only be rooted in an embrace of the goodness of the created order that God has given us, and the basic structure of morality and law that is revealed in Scripture: not just part of it, but all of it. I can only hope that one day, that could lead to a respectful and, I think, very constructive conversation with a thinker like Douglas Murray who I do believe is intellectually honest and I think would enter into that conversation quite honestly. I would also look forward, as we might be able to continue this conversation, to discussing with Douglas Murray the loss of Christianity in society as one of the fundamental issues behind what he rightly criticizes in so much of the insanity of our modern times.

On page 182 of his book ​The Madness of Crowds​, he actually makes a very important theological argument. He writes this: "The consensus for centuries was that only God could forgive the ultimate sins. But on a day-to-day level, the Christian tradition, among others, has stressed that it is our ability, if not the necessity, of forgiveness, even to the point of infinite forgiveness." He then continues: "As one of the consequences of the death of God, Friedrich Nietzsche foresaw that people could find themselves stuck in cycles of Christian theology with no way out, specifically, that people would inherit the concepts of guilt, sin, and shame, but would be without the means of redemption which the Christian religion also offered."

That is one of the most brilliant insights of the tragically brilliant Friedrich Nietzsche. It is also a brilliant insight applied in this book by Douglas Murray. They can't shake the sense of sin and shame and guilt, even as they think they have shaken themselves free of the shackles of orthodox Christianity. What they've actually done is to cut themselves and the society they seek to influence from the hope of the Christian gospel. That should certainly energize Christians to be even more faithful in entering into these conversations in the public square. These issues are not only public. As each of us as Christian knows, they're intensely private, as well.

Many thanks to my guest, Douglas Murray, for thinking with me today. If you enjoyed today's episode of ​Thinking in Public​, you'll find more than a hundred of these conversations at albertmohler.com under the tab ​Thinking in Public​. For more information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, go to boycecollege.com. Thank you for joining me for ​Thinking in Public​. And until next time, keep thinking. I'm Albert Mohler.

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