The inaugural Smith Lecture of the New Culture Forum was given by author and journalist Douglas Murray this week.
Murray’s book The Strange Death Of Europe: Immigration, Identity and Islam is already a bestseller in the UK, and set to become one in the USA. In it, the author sketches a terrifying picture of European immigration and its effects on social stability across the continent.
Europe, claims Murray, is committing suicide by allowing unregulated, mass immigration, a policy that is changing the cultural and political landscape at the expense of existing citizens.
However, Murray’s book is more than an assault on immigration policy, or the lack of it. The book’s real purpose is to ask the tough questions politicians and pundits are at pains to avoid.
While the Right grandstand and appeal to nationalist identities, the Left preach about tolerance and diversity without actually offering practical ways those ideals can be realistically maintained.
This was the starting point of Murray’s lecture – whatever one believes, wherever you are on the political rainbow when it comes to immigration, the substance of the public discussion is dangerously flimsy.
Those on the Left would like to dismiss Murray and his readers as Rightwing scaremongers (he was recently called a ‘hate preacher’ live on the BBC, for which the BBC apologised). However, with the rise of nationalism, Britain voting to leave the EU and the increased threat of jihadist violence across the continent, a failure to engage in this discussion means surrendering serious questions about Europe’s future to the whims of the political fringe.
Murray’s book is vast and covers everything from hard policy to the more spiritual questions of European culture and identity. One question he feels all commentators are failing to ask is: ‘who is Europe for?’
If, as the Left and compassionate centrists claim, Europe needs to make itself a curator of the world’s cultures and a place of refuge for the needy from all corners of the globe, how are we to solve the problems of resources, capacity, open borders and integration?
It is clear that even the most well-intentioned progressive can’t simply base practical policy on ‘being nice’ to everyone who needs our help. If we want Europe to be a safe space for the dispossessed, then we need to move beyond virtue-signalling and admit that we are prepared to change the culture to make that happen.
In the early parts of his talk, Murray spoke of the hypocrisy in places like Sweden and Austria, where, despite subscribing the the EU’s free movement policy, they have erected what seem to be old-fashioned borders in response to the fears of jihadism.
The result is a laughable PR spin, where they talk the talk of free movement, while walking the walk of tough counter-terrorism responses.
This is just one of the many contortions and unsustainable policy contradictions that European powers are finding themselves in as a result of mass immigration.
When challenged on what he believes to be the first practical step in preventing the ‘suicide’ of Europe he warns of, Murray offers a surprisingly liberal and sane starting point: slow it down.
As he details in his book, Murray mirrors the broad consensus among citizens across Europe, who are not against immigration, but simply want to see it better controlled.
As a conservative, one suspects that Murray’s answer to the ‘who is Europe for?’ challenge is a little more exclusive than the standard view, which seems to be that Europe has a duty to offer limitless succour the the world’s needy.
Murray is adamant that a Leftwing driven white guilt about European empire and the crimes of slavery and colonialism, is what is stopping many politicians from even limiting immigration numbers, never mind stopping the flow.
He is at pains to acknowledge that a country that does not have a healthy knowledge of its dark past as well as its achievements, is a dangerous one. However, the culture of white guilt, he argues, has left us with a heritage of ‘original sin’ from which we can never be redeemed. And it is this that is stopping politicians from acting to limit immigration, even when they know it is unpopular with their own electorate and it is causing serious security threats.
Murray, however, is less concerned with the hard policy solutions, as he is with the spiritual questions about European identity.
With sardonic irony, he believes Europe’s problem is a kind of cultural masochism, which has unfortunately found its ideal sadist in Islamic terror.
Even if one disagrees with Murray about the solution to the migration crisis, it is still a kind of self-hatred and white guilt to refuse to even ask, never mind answer, the tough questions.
Not once did Murray mention any nationalist agenda. His concern in this talk was in re-igniting a sense of cultural ‘continuity’ among Europeans.
Like many conservative commentators, Murray is quick to put blame on the Left for the breakdown in cultural pride and the fragmentation of common values that are necessary to a resilient identity. He is right. The Left have made a fetish of ‘the new’, and associate history, the constitution, parliament and the rule of law with stuffy old white men in bowler hats.
The new world of gay marriage and Five Guys burgers and Snap Chat is far preferable, according to the counter-culture narrative, than anything associated with heritage, christianity and a veneration for the great men who sculpted our liberties over centuries.
As we can see with the new Winston Churchill film, old white guys are bad, no matter what they did. They represent a power structure that leaves everyone else ‘marginalised’, they represent established might, rather than egalitarianism. It matters not a jot that Churchill, like many ‘old white guys’ before him, carved out an indelible legacy of freedom which every tech entrepreneur and rap star and YouTube celebrity enjoys and takes for granted today.
Even the word ‘civilisation’ is often conflated with colonialism, as is anything which doesn’t explicitly pay homage to the trendy, Twitter-friendly, right-on, emancipation-lite of Black Lives Matter and Amy Schumer.
All that being said, the Right have a lot to answer for too. What Murray and many conservatives fail to acknowledge is that the neo-liberal, nation-building Thatcherite and Reaganite revolutionary politics of the eighties and nineties also did a lot of damage in not only eroding the power of our cultural institutions, but also in eroding the faith citizens are supposed to have in them.
The industrialised, bottom-line utilitarianism of the modern Right is as much to blame as the anachronistic protest culture of the Left. Both collapse the credibility of notions like common identity, cultural heritage and civic duty.
The Left talk big about ‘civil rights’ but they pour scorn on the very process of history that formed these bedrock principles. The past is racist, and the future belongs to the oppressed, however much the definition of oppression changes to suit the mood of the day.
The Right simplistically revert to reactionary, better-the-devil-you-know nationalism, and claim that they are a kind of insurgent rebel class, merely because they detest the Left-heavy media elites.
Neither remaking the world anew, nor reverting to pre-Sixties institutions, will do the trick. Murray’s demand that we re-establish ‘continuity’ with our cultural inheritance and really live the values bequeathed to us, is spot on. However, we must create cultural pride as a bedrock to individual freedom, not as part of some ideological flight into the past.
Invoking the conservative philosopher Edmund Burke, Murray insists that we are the beneficiaries of a rich and robust cultural heritage. As citizens it is part of our duty to make sure that liberty, pluralism and equality under the law are preserved for coming generations.
Even if we want to be the source of refuge for the world, we cannot do it out of a default masochism. And neither can we allow our sense of a brotherhood of man to erode the very principles which make Europe the safe, stable and free continent that it is, and which makes people seek refuge here in the first place.
The Strange Death Of Europe: Immigration, Identity and Islam is now available on Amazon, and at fine bookstores everywhere