The history of how humanity developed its social and political institutions has never been free of violence. Much of this has been to do with power struggles, initially between competing cliques and subsequently between nation states – as evidenced by centuries of international wars. In the European west especially however there has been a parallel struggle for social justice – itself far from pacifist in expression.
The American Declaration of Independence, the revolutionary year of 1848, the abolition of slavery and the advance of universal suffrage among many other recognitions of human rights including of course the UN Declaration of Human Rights marked a general if long drawn out paradigm shift in political consensus about what constituted freedom and democracy for all groups and individuals in society.
On the historical record the prime movers of much of this evolution appear to be Caucasian males. Those who have often participated less visibly and gained varying degrees of benefit but who appear still to be disadvantaged are female and/or people of colour. That much progress has been made for everyone cannot be seriously challenged. Yet it is being – not in terms of a need to build on progress and do better, but through claimed outrage over historic abuses and present perceived oppression. The author of injustice and enemy of the people is White Male, Patriarchal, Capitalist, Privileged.
Douglas Murray in his book The Madness of Crowds invites us to consider whether we are as a society being led down a road of unnecessary conflict by a small group of academic ideologues who seek to exploit legitimate issues for their own purposes. He reflects on the international and multi-campus faculty of victim grievance politics that has burgeoned in the digital age and threatens to damage much of the healing already achieved by decades of social reform: not least because the assumptions and conclusions arrived at by these soi disant radical activists have infected the thinking of many of our policy-making, educational and social institutions.
The viral foundation for the belief systems generated is revolutionary Marxism. Like any good virus this one has selected some specific and fertile groups of cells. Race, gender and sexual identity have become the main battle grounds for possession of the body politic – at least in its academic and administrative roles, notably in the USA and UK. In biological terms these arenas are a smart choice. They are already highly sensitized and prone to division and replication.
Murray may not be everyone’s choice of political philosopher but he is a distinguished journalist, a good writer and diligent researcher. He does not question the importance of racial, social and gender equality or the validity of individual choices. He does question (with vividly documented reasons) whether race, gender and sexual identity are, or should be the primary determinants for judgement in a world where it seems individuals can be made or ruined by self-appointed tribunes on the internet and their anonymous followers on campuses and Twitter. He wonders if black politicians should be declared non-black for being Republican, or if ‘Kill White Men’ and similar on-line invocations by accredited writers for serious journals are constructive in the amendment of wrongs. Or whether opining that ‘Men aren’t Women’ is necessarily grounds for ‘no platforming’ notable feminists who query the rationale for self-certification of gender identity by men with penises let alone those who are convicted rapists. There’s a debate to be had here but not yet the clear conclusions drawn by the proponents of the ideas that there is only one type of politics for black people, that white men are better dead and that a man can share women’s privacies if he says he is one.
In a notably heartfelt chapter he deals with the current trans issue. His concern is not whether gender uncertainties exist but how they are managed on a spectrum from real ‘hardware’ – the seriously challenging intersex problem of physiological indeterminacy to the less well-defined matter of whether or not to take a child’s ‘sense of self’ as an inarguable determinant of gender in its own right. This is a worthwhile question to ask given the possible consequences for mistaken diagnosis and the current fashion for embracing gender fluidity. There is a difference between choosing a lifestyle and making an irrevocable life-time choice and too many vested interests with a dog in the fight.
This book is a lot of good things – it’s a challenge to easy assumptions, a warning about the dangers of demagoguery (the hard left is no less prone to violent expression and vicious character assassination than the alt.right) and a reminder that our shared humanity is the most important label of all.