Fear of Critical Thinking Is the Ultimate Xenophobia

British alt-right commentator Douglas Murray has in recent months boosted and geopolitically broadened his public profile as a xenophobic thought leader. He sees Israel’s holy war on Hamas as the fulfillment of the West’s resistance to decline. But his Manichean view of history may be the most obvious symptom of that decline.
Douglas Murray

Douglas Murray being interviewed on the Mark Steyn Show in 2019 (CC BY-SA 3.0).

May 15, 2024 06:00 EDT

In the days following Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, Piers Morgan knew he could call upon Douglas Murray’s confirmed talents as a provocateur to profit from the first wave of emotion and entertain his audience. Ever since the attack, Morgan has built his personal brand of shock-and-awe entertainment on the shouting matches that he has learned to stoke while appearing to remain calm. In that early episode, he featured Murray, not in his carefully cultivated role of an opiniated public intellectual, but as a rugged and seasoned war correspondent facing the rigors of battle. With rockets exploding in the background, the Eton- and Oxford-educated Murray donned a vest marked “PRESS” to cover his T-shirt as he bravely explained why Hitler’s Nazi executioners were to be admired for their humanity in contrast with Hamas.

Back in 2017, Murray had made a major impact on British media with the publication of his book, The Strange Death of Europe. It provided a detailed justification of the kind of xenophobia that enabled the triumph of Brexit in the previous year’s referendum. In her review of the book, The Guardian’s Gaby Hinsliff characterized Murray’s style of diatribe as that of someone specialized in delivering “a slightly posher, better-read, more respectable way of saying that you’d rather not live next door to Romanians or think Muslims are coming to rape your womenfolk.”

Brexit and the election of Donald Trump seemed to mark 2016 as the year when xenophobia became the new foundational value of a world order that everyone sensed was about to undergo serious change. Britain, for once, appeared to be the harbinger of things to come. Alongside the faux working-class demeanor of alehouse oracle Nigel Farage and the transparent, self-assured mendacity of Boris Johnson — the twin pillars of the “Leave” campaign — the nakedly vulgar xenophobia they championed desperately required a gentrified version to achieve full legitimacy.

That’s where Murray stepped up to the plate. His ideology was far more extreme, but it sounded much better educated because of his gift for condescending mockery, which he probably acquired as an Oxford debater. By 2016, Johnson’s own Oxford veneer had been seriously compromised by his years spent as hack tabloid journalist. Farage, of course, had no university credentials. Instead, in his own words, he thrived in public because he was “unafraid of the limelight, a bit noisy and good at selling things.” Murray, in contrast, appeared to be someone who delved below the surface to reveal deeper truths. All three of these promoters of xenophobia proved effective in their respective roles.

Xenophobia combines two well-known psychological psychiatric disorders. A 2021 European Management Review article explains the Brexit xenophobia in these terms: “Paranoia and narcissism combine to create the perfect xenophobic storm.” Murray’s brand of xenophobia may be the most perfect of them all.

Most people see xenophobia as correlating strongly with extreme nationalism. But nations no longer stand as the unique reference. In Murray’s case, the nation that was the “empire on which the sun never sets” now only receives its twelve hours of sunlight per day, more often than not interrupted by rain. Murray’s chauvinism now extends well beyond “this sceptered isle, other Eden, demi-paradise” to quote Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt in Richard II. Murray’s homeland is far too small. Like Hitler, he clearly requires more Lebensraum. In a speech he gave last week while accepting the Alexander Hamilton Award for his “unwavering defense of Western values,” Murray made clear that his homeland stretches westward, across the Atlantic and as far as the Pacific, and eastward, first to Ukraine and then beyond, to Israel, a nation he truly deems an “other Eden.”

In his speech, after evoking both Ukraine and Israel, Murray cites a UK poll that reports the depressing news that “a mere 27% of young people said that they would be willing to be enlisted to fight for their country.” He cites similar estimations in the US. “It doesn’t surprise me,” he continues, “that a lot of young Americans wouldn’t be willing to fight for their country if they’ve been told from the cradle that their country was rotten from birth and had nothing going for it other than slavery, colonialism and everything else. You’ve really got to miseducate Americans into this kind of self-loathing.”

Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:


A pathological condition affecting the youth of Western countries that consists of employing their intellectual powers for the illegitimate purpose of critiquing their own government on the spurious grounds that its policies are in direct and flagrant contradiction with its stated democratic principles and humanistic ideals.

Contextual note

“Self-loathing” is a less common variant of the expression “self-hating.” The concept originated in the late 19th century with the rise of the Zionist movement. It became consecrated as an insult. “Self-hating Jews” became the go-to insult to apply to Jews who failed to identify with Zionist ideology or dared to critique the Zionists’ political ambitions.

In his diatribe against Americans reluctant to enlist and defend a foreign policy they find morally repugnant, Murray seriously stretches the meaning of “self-loathing.” The US defines itself as a land of racial and religious diversity. That means the root of individual identity for most Americans is very different from that of Jews. No one would imagine calling someone a “self-hating Roman Catholic” or a “self-loathing Korean,” “Mexican” or “Irishman.” No other religion or ethnicity expects members who identify with it to adhere and show indefectible loyalty to a political program. Islam, even when pushed to its theocratic extremes, does not conceive of using national politics as a litmus test for religious identity.

Most groups feel justified in highlighting and condemning disloyalty to the community or deviation from its norms. In the US, the emancipated black community used the label “Uncle Tom” to condemn blacks who appear to identify with a white supremacist order. But no one would regard them as self-hating.

How is it, then, that, among ethnic and religious minorities, Jews alone can be saddled with the term “self-hating?” And where does the British Douglas Murray find the presumption to call another group of people, defined by their citizenship alone, “self-loathing?” That’s a case of pushing xenophobia beyond even the extremes Murray seems so comfortable with.

Historical note

Murray is a Manichean thinker and a professional pessimist who has famously written about “the strange death of Europe.” But the obituary should not concern Europe alone. Instead, accumulating evidence points towards an ongoing decline and potential impending death, not of Europe nor the West itself, but of the Western “rules-based order.” For all his intellectual credentials, Murray appears little interested in analyzing “order.” That implies understanding organic structure and non-linear thinking. Murray prefers raw emotion and decisive action, preferably in the form of combat. Systems, whether declining or emerging, to the extent they are systems, will adapt to and counter the kind of decisive action Murray envisions.

The Israeli system, as it has functioned at least since 1967, cannot survive. Israel as a state may and should survive, but the system will have to assume a different profile or perish. Creative minds should be focused on retrieving what is viable within it to ensure systemic adjustment. But Manicheans, like Murray or the current Washington, DC, power structure, notoriously resist thinking in those terms.

Murray endorses manifestly genocidal violence with enthusiasm because he believes it is a response to absolute evil. His side is the enlightened European tradition now dying in Europe but thriving in the US, Ukraine and Israel. He calls Hamas “a cult of death, a cult that wishes to annihilate an entire race, and which, after dealing with that race, has made very clear what it wants to do with Christians, everyone in Britain, everyone in America and everyone else next.” This is a wild, unjustified, irresponsible fantasy, like the idea that Putin will not stop at Ukraine, but seek to conquer the rest of Europe.

Hamas is clearly guilty of terrorist acts, which it carries out in the name of resistance to occupation. But it is clearly not a cult of death. Neither is Israel, even though its state terrorism easily eclipses in scale the very real crimes of Hamas.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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