By Douglas Murray

HarperCollins Publishers 2022

HB – ISBN 978-0-00-849249-6

PB – ISBN 978-0-00-849279-3

RRP: $34.99 (PB)

Reviewed by Anne Henderson


In ancient times, seers and prophets traversed the countryside warning communities of impending doom or wayward paths such prophets had intuitively foreseen from dreams or visions. These men were the canaries in the mines so to speak – waking people from their unconscious drift to destruction.

Not so Douglas Murray, internationally acclaimed polemicist and recorder of the here and now. It is not dreams or intuitive feeling that Murray summons up in his newly published The War on The West – How to Prevail in The Age of Unreason to warn the West, but the realities of contemporary and fashionable argument, social discourse, misguided logic and twisted beliefs, alongside the self flagellation of academics and influencers who have determined the West must pay for all transgressions of history.

This is a book for any must read list. Murray is forensic in uncovering a growing cult to damn Western thought, culture and achievements as the result of elitist white supremacy used to crush all outside its boundaries. In seeking to rectify this supposed imbalance, the West’s accusers play loose with logic to the point, as Murray describes, of being like the witch-dunkers of the Middle Ages. All whites are racist and any who object to the accusation only prove how racist they are. There is no escape just as there wasn’t for those women accused of witchcraft. Murray has nailed it.

So, what to do in this age of unreason? First – know your enemy. Murray’s book is a depressing but forceful exposure of what must be pushed back for the West to survive the onslaught.

Murray begins by taking on the explosion of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Followers of CRT see all history through the lens of race. In many cases it is more than theory and is now a doctrine encouraging assertions such as “diversity of opinion” is “white supremacist bullshit”. It has seen universities cave in to protests like the Reverend Jessie Jackson’s chant “Hey, hey, ho, ho Western civ has got to go” and change their curricula, downgrading the Western canon in favour of diversified studies of all cultures. As Murray writes, “That interpretation had been prepared in the academy. It had been popularised in the media. And in record time, it had been given into by corporate entities, civil society organisations, and nowhere so much as in the campuses of the United States.”

It is Murray’s forte to bring together from wide ranging research the most unreasonable and contentious illustrations, incidents and injustices that have multiplied as a result of CRT’s domination of group think. As well as abuses. Apart from incidents of paranoia around imagined sightings of nooses (think Ku Klux Klan), the death of black US citizen George Floyd in May 2020 at the hands of white police officers promoted the belief that white US police routinely killed black citizens when in fact more police officers are killed each year by black men in the US than the reverse. After the killing of George Floyd – which went viral – a survey showed that twenty-two per cent of those who identified as “very liberal” believed US police killed as many as 20,000 unarmed black men in a year when the actual figure was around 10.

As Murray explains:

The interpretation that was popularised across the globe was that what happened to George Floyd told us about a routine injustice. It claimed that black lives were able to be stolen with impunity in modern America and that this was because America, and the wider West, was institutionally racist, white supremacist, and otherwise guilty of a no-longer-avoidable bigotry.

So now, according to CRT and those who are its followers, history must be rewritten. Objective truth is unattainable, truth is fluid and, with Oprah Winfrey’s take on it all, we are in a world of many truths. Your truth, my truth, his/her truth. The sky’s the limit. Statues must be taken down, destroyed – of founding fathers, explorers, benefactors in colonial times, anyone who might have a connection to the slave trade however slim, imaginary or dubious. Their names removed from awards or iconic monuments. Writers, statesmen – invariably men – explorers, adventurers and so on must account for their sins as part of the age of empire and conquest. The extraordinary developments and technological achievements of Western society over centuries, and now copied by nations such as the growing global force of China, are supposedly the result of racial domination not human genius. In relating the example of London’s Royal Academy of Music’s reaction to the killing of George Floyd, Murray captures much of it:

According to the academy, it was now necessary to look at everything including its world renowned collection of twenty-two thousand rare instruments…. the academy had links with George Frideric Handel, previously best known for writing The Messiah but now better known for having invested in a company that owned slaves. … it seemed that several ivory keyboards might need to be “decolonised”. Nobody knows what was going through the mind of George Floyd during the last terrible minutes of his life. But it might have surprised him to learn that his death could lead to a purge of historic harpsichords at one of London’s premier music conservatories.

It is a sorry tale. And one the increasingly breast beating professional and intellectual classes of the West are bowing before. Collective guilt as a result of too much success. In outpourings from the well off and comfortable citizens who have inherited the wealth and advantages of Western thought, invention and craft, leading academics, business executives, corporations, even churches bend the knee and lament their ancestors’ past transgressions. In gesture and virtual signalling moments, influencers – as they are known – today call out their solidarity with the so-called oppressed, whether from race/colour discrimination, sexuality or gender.

With the energy and righteousness of seventeenth century puritans, the culture police now infect the right to existence of anything from works of art to social behaviour. Under cover and subversively, individual citizens might mock these self-imposed wardens of fashionable group think, but none dare give offence since much offence is so often taken. Careers can end abruptly from such resistance, businesses can fold, public stoning on social media is all too common.

Murray’s analysis of the fate of artist Rex Whistler’s much admired In Pursuit of Rare Meats – “a fantasy portrayal of the ‘Duke of Epicurania’ and his court heading out to find morsels across an imaginary world” – that covered the walls of the Tate Gallery’s Whistler restaurant illustrates the madness.

Accused by a small number of complaints, in 2018, the large mural was found to depict non-Europeans in demeaning ways – a white woman in a frilly frock appears to pull a black child (slave) on a rope and a Chinese figure is represented in a “stereotypical” way. The figures are tiny parts, just inches in size, of a vast mural. As Murray says, the mural and its subject had been accepted for generations as art, illustrating that in arcadia there is also cruelty and suffering.

Beginning with a handful of complaints from a single source, the accusations against the Whistler mural soon hit the media and took off, eventually becoming a huge public outcry, ignorant and out of context, denouncing the Tate as a racist gallery where the rich dined before a racist backdrop. No amount of reason could prevail to save a national treasure created by a hugely talented artist who had given his life at just 39 in 1944 in battles following the Normandy landings. Instead of standing firm on its principles of artistic licence, the gallery capitulated, accepted the criticism as legitimate and closed the Rex Whistler restaurant in December 2020.

It is only in his conclusion that Murray tackles the second part of how to prevail in an age of unreason. To date, whether this fight back has at all begun in strength is to be doubted. The witch dunking of white Western culture defenders continues to reign. Yet, in his conclusion, Murray offers a defence of white culture not to be missed. It is a manifesto for all those ready to take on the diktat sermonising of CRT and all other counter-culture brigades currently seeking to sink the Western canon.

Part of the push back means clear headed reasoning, for those who have a stage or voice, around the undoubted benefits and social advance of white achievements. The other part of it is a grass roots reaction from the public once citizens discover the effects of CRT on civil society and its cohesion. When parents realised what their children were being taught under CRT guidelines in Virginia the reaction was pushback. Immediate and forceful. In November 2021. the incoming Virginia governor, Republican Glenn Youngkin, acknowledged this after an unexpected win off the back of reaction to CRT in Virginia’s schools education.

While a sobering read, Douglas Murray’s The War on The West – How To Prevail in The Age of Unreason is an essential and absorbing addition itself to studies of the Western canon.

Anne Henderson is Deputy Director of The Sydney Institute and author of Menzies at War, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Prime Minister’s Award for Australian History.