Conservative author Douglas Murray on immigration, Islam and why he doesn’t want to talk about Trump

I think the only points I agree with is the need to read widely, particularly those one disagrees with or who challenge us, and the need to travel outside one’s area:

…This particular Mr. Murray, 40 years old, is both a man who is read (his newly released book is The Madness of the Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity) and one who reads, and so the conversation this late afternoon almost inevitably begins with an inquiry about what is on his night table these days. It turns out that he’s dipping back into The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver (‘’I thought I finished it weeks ago but I hadn’t’’) and is deep into The Faber Book of Utopias(edited by John Carey, the Oxford literary critic and sworn enemy of elitism).

His journalistic inquisitor and tablemate this late afternoon has been making his way through the massive biography of Napoleon by Andrew Roberts, a British historian and – who knew? – a friend of Murray’s. “I pretended to him that I’ve read it, but I haven’t,” he said. “I bluffed.”

Ordinarily Murray is no bluffer, though he prefers not to talk about Donald J. Trump. But like everyone else in Great Britain and Canada, he can’t help himself, and in this case he is talking about why he doesn’t want to talk about Trump.

“I never talk about Trump because everyone does,” he begins. “I never talk about Brexit either. I don’t think they’re as interesting as everybody thinks they are. I’m sad everyone is shouting hopelessly into the wind about these topics. I just don’t think it is useful for everyone to devote themselves to these two subjects. No one’s opinion on either of them is all that interesting, and basically no one can change anyone’s views on either.”

So much for that. Murray – here in Montreal on a flying visit, just two days, in part to promote his latest book, at this moment understated in a cranberry sweater with a metal zipper at the neck – would rather talk about Canada. (You’d perhaps rather hear what he says about that anyway.)

“You’ve become one of those nations where you had one story and are moving to another story,” he says, and his listener (and perhaps you readers) begins to sense that maybe we are onto an interesting riff. “The sense of what Canada was is different from the sense of what Canada is….The interesting way to get through this is to say that Canada [now wants] to be a welcoming, pluralistic, multicultural place, open and tolerant, while you talk up LGBTQ and women and ethnic minorities.”

There’s no way this conversation can go in any direction but…immigration.

So here we go. “People know immigration has different consequences depending on the numbers, the speed and the identity of the immigrants. Any one of these is explosive. All three together is dangerous. Everyone knows this.”

We are not remotely finished with this topic.

“The interesting question is: Who don’t we want,” he goes on. “We’re very bad at this question. We should be able to answer it. The problem with immigration that makes it very difficult – and I’ve gone to a lot more refugee camps than my critics have – is that it is very hard for first-world countries to say why we have such luck and others don’t.”

“Such luck” meaning the bon chance to live in Canada, or America, or any one of the industrial countries with freedoms and prosperity.

Do we dare bring up climate change? Do we dare not? (It’s not his “thing,” as he puts it, which is the thing that could make this so interesting.)

“I have only one thought,” he says, and suddenly his inquisitor breathes a sigh of relief. “It’s the obvious, undisguisable way that it has become clear that this is a replacement in the West for religion for fairly well-off, white, educated people. I don’t know the science, but it has all the manifestations of a new religion.”

What can he possibly mean by that?

“It has every single component of religion – original sin, guilt, the need for atonement. But it also has the mechanism for getting out of the [problem]. The answer is to never drive or fly again, to never buy new clothes and to live your life carefully so that you’ll save this planet, having harmed nothing. Tell your children to seek to be harmless! If it weren’t for them the moss and the trees would be getting on fine!”

Murray is an atheist, though one who did not come by that creed – the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled in 2013 that the term “creed” applies to it – naturally. It was (and here we go) Islam that made him an atheist, not that that was his religion to start with. Now he’s talking a bit about the subject that has put him into perhaps the most trouble: “Canada and America were not founded by Muslims. If they had been, we’d have a better way of understanding where the crazies emerge from. We are less literate in that religion. The second problem is that there are problems in Islam that we haven’t seen in Christianity in a long time: There’s a church/state problem. There’s a problem with extremist groups. …Where exactly is [Islam’s] cutoff line on extremism? Do the fanatics become fanatics from absolutely nowhere? It’s a very lively debate about where it comes from.”

Then this, and likely his critics will agree with at least the first sentence: “My stupidity is to tell what I think on this. I can’t pretend the Koran is a social-justice document.”

Murray has been flayed for saying that Hungarian tyrant Viktor Orban was a better representative of European values than the financier George Soros. He may be the only person outside the cabinet room in Budapest with that view. A New York Times reviewer scorched Mr. Murray’s lament for the Europe of the past for being “as fundamentally incoherent as its late-19th-century originals,” adding, “It never strikes him, or other secondhand vendors of fixed and singular identities, that nowhere in the world have individuals been the exclusive heirs of a single culture or civilization.”

Back to books before we close. What should Canadians be reading?

“My own books, obviously.”’ Well, of course. But what else should be on the Canadian bookshelf?

“People should read as widely as possible in authors they know they will disagree with,” he says, surely hoping to widen his own book sales among readers – you know who you are – who find his views contemptible. “I hate people who read by tribe. In America both political parties have their own libraries. The aim of this is to prove that your political party is always right, to say that your party got anti-Nazism, the Civil War and civil rights correct and the other side had got it wrong. That’s a danger. History is a mess for everyone.”

Just one more. Murray is a persistent and peripatetic traveler. Where should we mere middlebrows visit? “Any place in the world you haven’t visited is interesting,” he says, “even if nothing happens there.” He is not, he wants to assure you, talking about Canada.

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ANDREW COYNE: It’s time for old-school conservatism and liberalism to defend their common values

Good column:

Why would anyone describe himself as a conservative? While we’re at it, why describe yourself as a liberal? Or socialist? Or libertarian? The point is not that there is anything wrong with any of these — only that there is something right with all of them. Each of the traditions, that is, has something to teach us. Why limit yourself to just one?

Still, people do. The desire to belong to a tribe – or perhaps, to quarrel with another – is one of the deepest urges of humanity. But tribalism, ideological or other, is not just self-blinding. On occasion it leads to madness. Consider the present state of conservatism, a tribe that has, as the past week has illuminated, lost its way, if not its mind.

If it were just a matter of Donald Trump’s racist attacks on four racial-minority congresswomen – the latest in a long series, but arguably the worst — it might be put down to his own personal depravity. If it were just the chants (“send her home’’) of the people at his rally in Greenville, N.C., it might be written off as the ravings of a lunatic fringe.

But Trump, it is abundantly clear, stands atop a vast infrastructure: the Republican leaders who shrug off his abuses for the sake of party unity; the commentators who look the other way so long as he champions their pet causes; the base who are content with whatever he does so long as it annoys the liberal media; and underpinning all, a set of beliefs – superstitions, prejudices, call them what you will – that predate Trump, but which he has helped to make the credo of the conservative movement.

It was convenient that in the same week as Trump was issuing such crude appeals to hatred and bigotry, a group of academics, journalists and politicians were meeting at a hotel in Washington in an attempt to give a veneer of intellectual credibility to Trumpism. The “National Conservatism” conference underlined how completely conservatism, at least in the United States, has been turned on its head.

The conservatism of the post-war decades, a sometimes uneasy coalition of social conservatives, free marketers and hawkish internationalists, has been replaced by a populist-nationalist conservatism marked by hatred of “globalist” elites, hostility to immigration and fear of foreign trade, and by its enthusiasm for whichever strongman will protect America from these.

Where conservatives were traditionally advocates of limited government, wary of government intervention and worried about deficits, today’s conservatives embrace many of the same limitless-government approaches as the left – “collectivism rebranded for the right,” as the Republican-turned-independent Congressman Justin Amash calls it.

Where conservatives were skeptics of change, pragmatists seeking to reconcile the necessity of reform with the wisdom of tradition, the Trumpians are as reckless as they are reactionary, heedless to the social and institutional harm they have caused in the name of Making America Great Again.

And as the conference highlighted, the civic nationalism that American conservatives used to cherish – the nation to which anyone could belong so long as they subscribed to the basic ideals of the American political system, not least its reverence for the equality of every individual under the Constitution – has been replaced by a more culturally-specific, if not ethnic definition, majoritarian and monocultural rather than liberal and pluralist, that is not easily distinguished from xenophobia or indeed racism: identity politics for white people.

Canadians will be familiar with this from, for example, the Bill 21 debate. Still, few in this country would go so far as the University of Pennsylvania law professor who told the conference that, as people from certain cultures were more likely to fit into a “modern advanced society” like the United States, and as those people came mostly from Europe and the First World, and as those societies are “mostly white for now,” it followed that “our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.” But not, you know, in a racist way.

This is, as The Economist put it in a recent issue, “not an evolution of conservatism, but a repudiation of it.” The conservatism I grew up with was basically a species of liberalism, part of the same Western liberal inheritance but more alert to liberalism’s potential for overreach. Its mission was, if you like, to save liberalism from the liberals. As such it represented a continuous tradition that, even as it changed with the times, represented certain enduring ideals. How can the very opposite set of ideas also be called conservatism without doing violence to the language?

Perhaps, as others have suggested, this is naive. Maybe there are no permanent or defining principles of conservatism, independent of its practitioners. Perhaps conservatism is whatever self-described conservatives happen to believe at the time. Trump enjoys the approval of 90 per cent of Republicans; even in Canada, according to a recent Abacus Data poll, 46 per cent of Canadian Conservatives have either a positive or neutral impression of him. Maybe it’s time to concede the point.

If so, then perhaps it is time for a more fundamental political realignment. If conservatism is now to mean its opposite, perhaps it is time for conservatives of the old school to make their peace with liberalism – for the two estranged children of the Enlightenment to reunite in defence of its values. The differences between them that once seemed so great look trivial now, compared to what they have in common, and in light of what they both oppose.

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