By Seth Robinson

In The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, Douglas Murray analyzes the leftist ideology currently taking the West by storm. According to Murray, this progressive body of thought has become the doctrine of “a new religion,” complete with its own holy trinity of social justice, identity politics, and intersectionality. He attributes the rise of this new religion to the disappearance of previous sources of meaning which he calls “grand narratives,” namely traditional religions or the political ideologies of the twentieth century. 

For Murray, the resultant vacuum has evoked the new orthodoxy, beneath which lies a “Marxist substructure” as revealed by its tendency to understand everything in terms of power struggles between groups, and to laud as virtuous any subversion of oppressive systems. An oppressive system, of course, is any social arrangement other than a hedonist and egalitarian utopia, where all individuals enjoy unrestrained self-expression, and where, no matter how society is parsed, all demographics have equal outcomes.

The realization of such a paradise entails obvious impossibilities, but even its underlying doctrine contains inherent contradictions. Murray highlights these contradictions in the four facets of culture on which the religion draws for substance: homosexuality, feminism, race, and transsexuality. “Each of these issues,” writes Murray, “is infinitely more complex and unstable than our societies are currently willing to admit. Which is why, put together as the foundation blocks of a new morality and metaphysics, they form the bases for a general madness.” The contradictory and exacting nature of this orthodoxy drives its adherents mad, in both senses of the word. 

While insanity follows the mental strain of cognitive dissonance, anger follows the politicization of every aspect of life, as is the wont of an ideology that meshes identity with power struggles. In such a setting one cannot help but take a political disagreement as a personal attack; thus “finding purpose in politics laces politics with a passion – including a rage – that perverts the whole enterprise.” Finally, as if to seal the fate of its victims, this new religion offers no forgiveness:

“In some manner with which we still haven’t even begun to wrestle, we have created a world in which forgiveness has become almost impossible…a world where actions can have consequences we could never have imagined, where guilt and shame are more at hand than ever, and where we have no means whatsoever of redemption. We do not know who could offer it, who could accept it, and whether it is a desirable quality compared to an endless cycle of fiery certainty and denunciation.”

The maddening effect, the elimination of forgiveness, and the incitation of enmity between groups are all hallmarks of this new religion, and as Murray points out, each of these hallmarks are exacerbated by social media. “In an age of shouting for attention on social media,” he writes, “the mechanism rewards outrage over sanguinity.” Moreover, the habit-forming nature of social media catechizes its users in favoring mob behavior over restraint. 

As a treatment for this madness, Murray calls for abandoning the critical theories behind the social justice and intersectionality movements, which he considers doomed to failure in bringing about human flourishing and fairness because of their fundamental incoherence. He also calls for abandoning the illogical habit of conferring virtue or correctness simply on the basis of victimization, and for renewing an appreciation of Western civilization as what has actually been the best effort yet in history towards freedom and equality. Finally, he exhorts modern people to regain a spirit of generosity and forgiveness, and to eschew the politicization of identity, not the least by social media.

Murray argues his points well, using a wealth of examples and a significant cultural insight. He writes intelligently and, for the most part, succinctly. He shows restraint during argument, and empathy towards those caught in the thrall of the orthodoxy which he harries. The greatest weakness in his admonition is the failure to provide an alternative “grand narrative.” If the void must not be filled with the new leftist religion, then what other metaphysic will establish morality and meaning? He astutely contrasts “[e]quality in the eyes of God… a core tenet of the Christian tradition” with “equality in the eyes of man,” but advances no basis for preventing the quest for the former from turning into the unhinged lust for the latter.

Murray has been labeled a conservative, but some of his commitments apparent in this book suggest otherwise. Perhaps it could be said that positions such as, “There is nothing wrong with people enjoying whatever kinks they like in the privacy of their homes” are now well within the definition of “conservative,” but this of course invites the question: conservative of what? 

Conserving Western civilization simply as such is insufficient, considering that the egalitarian and individualistic tendencies which have lately run amok are themselves part of the West. The term “conservative” may be stretched to ineffectiveness when it merely refers to anyone who, for example, cautiously argues as Murray does for the benefit of color-blindness over color-focused “anti-racism.” 

There was a time when both conservatives and progressives considered Western civilization to be a positive good, and even if in need of improvement, still worth keeping on the whole. The new leftist religion has cast anyone who would like to preserve Western civilization as the intolerably evil “far-right.” To paraphrase Bob Dylan, “The Overton window, it is a-shiftin’.” Perhaps Murray is simply an honest liberal who has not bowed the knee to Baal. For those who also have not yet bowed, and maybe even for those who have, The Madness of Crowds is worth the read.

The Madness of Crowds can be purchased on Amazon from $8.75.

Seth Robinson is an Anglican layman, living in Waco, Texas.

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