Year 2020 in review
«China caused this crash, and it should be made to pay for it»
Pandemic, race riots, panic, and lockdowns. Celebrated culture critic Douglas Murray examines the personal upheavals and global transformations the past year has wrought: “The worst actor in the world in 2020 is the Chinese Communist Party. It cannot be allowed to drive off in a beautiful new vehicle of its own design.”
The corona pandemic is unfolding as one of the greatest challenges of our generation. It strikes at a time when the foundations of Western civilization are already buckling under the pressure of populist revolts on the Right and “woke” commands from the Left. Gender, religion, morality, and rational inquiry are in flux. God is declared dead while religious extremists wage war. “He” is replaced by 21st century “Modern Man” who assumes omnipotent powers of social invention. A frightened and docile public acquiesces to dubious official decrees, intellectual fads, and ever more shrill “woke” demands.
And then there is Douglas Murray.
In his latest book "The Madness of Crowds — Gender, Race and Identity”, the British author interrogates the claims of sexism, Feminism, transgender-ism, and racism, and exposes how the drive to destroy traditions and impose utopian schemes inevitably fuels a new totalitarian power.
The Oxford University and Eton College educated Murray is associate editor of the British opinion journal, The Spectator. French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy names Murray "one of the most important intellectuals of our time." He is a radical free spirit, gay, conservative, atheist, grounded in cultural Christianity. He delights in intellectual provocation with thieving glee.
One such provocation was his 2016 poetry competition. Murray challenged his Spectator readers to compose their most insulting poem about the thin skinned, Turkish strongman, President Tayyeb Erdogan. The contest required all entries to be “(a) wholly defamatory and (b) utterly obscene.” The winning selection was a sly limerick composed by Boris Johnson in a flash of improvisational genius during an interview with your author for this magazine. Erdogan has never forgiven his blonde tormenter.
Murray’s multi-layered character, intellectual rigor, and boundless curiosity enables him to reveal and diagnose maladies of our society with a brilliance and clarity that is rare amongst the thickets of politically correct thought. Hence, we turn to the 41-year-old modern sage, to review the mad, mad year that was 2020. We reach him over Skype in his home in London.
Weltwoche: The year 2020 is drawing to a close, and yet it is difficult to take stock. A dangerous virus has taken the world on a roller coaster ride, a ride that is far from over. Douglas Murray, what was the event that stood out for you this year?
Douglas Murray: The thing that struck me most was that the virus revealed underlying things about our societies, which many people would rather not have seen. In a moment of vulnerability, we saw what we really are.
Weltwoche: What was it that you saw?
Murray: There were some positives as well as some negatives. In my own country, the positive was that in a nation that was said to be completely divided in recent years, we turned out to have a significant ability to unify. We had talked about the lack of trust in almost everything and everyone, yet we turned out to have reservoirs of trust still in our society, suggesting in a way that part of the talk had been performative.
Weltwoche: Trust in what?
Murray: I would suggest that we had a very strong residual pocket of trust in science. If you'd have said a year ago, "Do you think that anyone, let alone the whole country, will agree to lock themselves in their houses? And people, not in a committed sexual relationship, will be forced into chastity by government edict?” I think you would have said, "No, I can't see how that would happen." It turned out that when the scientists came out and said, "You have to go into our houses," we did.
Weltwoche: There is an interesting dynamic in play. Many of our Western leaders have shown authoritarian behavior. And crowds, in many ways, seem not only to cope with it but actually ask for more restrictions. Some seem to even take joy in denouncing fellow citizens who they think break the “holy” COVID laws. Which leads me to the question: Is this coronavirus a bigger danger for common sense than for physical health?
Murray: Our understanding of the virus has obviously changed as the year has progressed. I think history will look back to us as having overreacted to this virus. That's been clear for some time. That it's bad, that it didn't deserve shutting down our entire economies. One of the things I've noticed that's very interesting about the public and political reaction is that, as you just referred to in your question, the politicians have been following the public. The public says, "We want to be locked down," and the politicians say, "Okay, we'll have to lock you down then."
Now, the interesting question is, are people saying to the pollsters something honest when they say, “We should lock down”? Are they saying something they think they ought to say, something that makes them good? When they call for curfews, do they mean other people should have a curfew, or do they mean they should have one too? We are stuck in this difficult cycle, at the moment, where the politicians are reacting to a public that is saying what it thinks it should say, based on knowledge given to them by politicians.
Weltwoche: January 9th was a historic day. It was the day when the World Health Organization announced that a deadly virus had emerged in Wuhan, China. Our societies have been so busy coping with the consequences of the virus that we have forgotten to ask how we got into this mess in the first place. Do you think it is important, at this point, to know how this plague actually came upon us?
Murray: Yes. We may never know that, and the reason is that the Chinese Communist Party wants to be sure we don't. When the Australian government suggested that we try to have an international inquiry into the origins of the virus, the Chinese government responded by threatening the Australian people with boycotts and much more. Beijing is extraordinarily belligerent these days.
Weltwoche: You recently pointed out that, in 2020, China achieved one of the greatest coups in financial history. While the world economy takes a deep dive, China is expecting a growth of 1.8% this year.
Murray: The strikingly obvious thing about this whole year is the fact that China knew what it was giving the world and didn't tell us. The Communist Party lied. It covered up, disappeared scientists, disappeared people who would help us to know. We can safely say that the worst actor in the world in 2020 is the Chinese Communist Party, and we have to make it pay one way or another.
Weltwoche: How do you imagine holding the Chinese Communist Party accountable?
Murray: I'm open to any and all suggestions. Nothing is off the table to my mind. I think what the Chinese Communist Party did this year is unforgivable. It shouldn't simply be glossed over. We all have criticisms we can rightly make of foreign governments, and their reactions to this virus. But the principal fact has to be remembered: For the third time in the recent years, China gave the world a very dangerous virus. This was the worst so far. We have no guarantee it's not going to keep happening.
There are two broad narratives (about the origins of the virus). One is that it came from a wet market. The other is that it came from a laboratory. Both should be investigated, and neither have been, because of the Chinese Communist Party's coverup. The CCP allowed people to fly out of China, exporting the virus around the world at the same time as they were locking down flights within their own country. My own view is that China cannot simply be allowed to walk away from creating the car crash that was 2020 and drive off in a beautiful new vehicle of its own design. China caused this crash, and it should be made pay for it, one way or other. Whether that's in tariffs, sanctions, or more, I leave it to people to decide for themselves, but this should be something that the world should really unite on.
Weltwoche: Perhaps the Chinese government was simply more disciplinarian in handling the crisis and coping with the economic challenges, while we in the West were all over the place?
Murray: There are always certain advantages you have by being a police state. However, the main issue is that the government that rules that country knew what was happening and didn't tell anyone else.
I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but an investigation into the release of the virus is very important, because there is a very uncanny timing about this. America was winning a trade war with China finally. China, which is led by an unconventional party but has domestically as well as internationally shown that it's willing to do absolutely anything to win, managed to accidentally, or otherwise, release a deadly virus that shut down all of the world's economies, including America's. It's a brilliantly happy coincidence for Chinese Communist Party. I simply think it's something that should be on the table for writing about, looking at, investigating, and acting on.
Weltwoche: The consequences of the pandemic have been enormous. When the economy was thriving in February, almost everybody expected US President Donald Trump to be re-elected. Now, the youth face an enormous financial debt burden. What do you personally see as the most dramatic impact of this pandemic?
Murray: It is no longer possible to say that the generation growing up now is the luckiest in history. It was possible until fairly recently. You can't say it now.
If you're well-off and middle-aged or elderly, and you have a house or a nice garden, 2020 has been relaxing for many people. Not so if you're going to rent an accommodation somewhere in the center of an overpriced city. Not so if you aren't married or are single and dating, or if you're just a student going up to university who is told you can't mingle with your fellow students. You can get into the debt of going to university, but you can't have the enjoyments of it. This generation is overloaded with public debt. That is the big one to come. There is going to be a massive political price to pay down the line that will be demanded by that age group and with good reason.
Weltwoche: Triggered by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the hands of policemen in May, a revolution started tearing down monuments. Activists call themselves “woke.” They see themselves as righteous warriors for social justice. What is it that makes the “woke” culture so appealing?
Murray: What makes it appealing is that it's trying to solve all injustices on Earth. It claims that if you get the intersections correct and lean on enough on the intersections in the correct manner, you will solve all injustice. It's a big thing to be involved in. It's a big project to give meaning to your life. It's a religious claim. It's the Kingdom of Heaven, but on Earth. I think it's unachievable as well as being undesirable.
Weltwoche: What are the roots of “woke” culture, and will woke culture change our society for good?
Murray: The origins are basically in left-wing American academia. To a slightly lesser extent, it's a form of French theory that's built over into America. Post-War Deconstructionism. It's a sort of intellectual framework. It's a fairly poor one and enormously self-contradictory one, as I’ve pointed out in many places, but it's an intellectual framework intended to give life meaning.
Weltwoche: Woke culture goes beyond tearing down statues. Opinion pieces are banned from newspapers, and speakers at universities are yelled down. A new term has been making headlines this year: “cancel culture.” Anyone who holds values that are considered anti-progressive is pushed to the side or is ostracized. Why is cancel culture spreading so fast?
Murray: It's an attempt to enforce the woke culture. That's all it is. It's attempt to police the boundaries of the culture so that so-called “woke” activists can identify people who think and speak wrongly, trash their reputations, in order not just to destroy that person and push them out of the public sphere, but to encourage the others to do the same; to make sure that other people see the punishment and beatings, and don't go there themselves. It's a very effective tactic. It's how you enforce any undesirable ideology. They've been picking high-profile targets in the hope it will encourage others not to wrongly speak.
Weltwoche: Do you see an end to it anytime soon?
Murray: I think it will end. I'm very confident it will end. It will end when more people find their testicular fortitude. I personally dislike the whole cancel culture discussion because I think it's whiny on behalf of the victims as well as the oppressors. No one's going to cancel me. They're not going to shut me up. I want more people to say that, too.
Weltwoche: One high-profile target that was picked was J.K. Rowling. In June, the “Harry Potter” author became the center of ferocious attacks when she reacted to the expression, "people who menstruate,” that was phrased in an opinion piece. “I'm sure there used to be a word for those people,” Rowling wrote. “Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?" A storm of protest erupted. Critics called Rowling a “transphobe.” Is this trend a fundamental threat to freedom of speech?
Murray: I think that it's easy to underestimate it. It is a threat for several reasons. They try to shut down discussion on things that are important to discuss. For instance, if it is the case that you don't have board representation or employment representation that is exactly commensurate with the racial breakdown of your society, is the only factor that can explain that racism? Or are there maybe other factors at work? That's said to be an impermissible discussion. Well, that's a shame because that's an important discussion.
If most people who give birth to children seem to be women, is that explicable only by societal factors? Can it be changed if we change the language? These are silly, stupid presumptions and lies that spread. My objection is not just that this is making us all stupider and making us have to agree to things that we know are not to be true. My objection to it is the demoralization that this causes down the line. There's a deep demoralization in being told never to admit that the sexes are different.
It is an assault on one of the things that we know first. We know the difference between mommy and daddy very early. A set of differences exists. To tell people they don't is to assault one of the first things we learned on this planet, which is the difference between men and women.
If you undermine that, I wonder, what could they not persuade us to not recognize next?
Weltwoche: Sometimes it seems the values of our society are washed away like sand castles on the sea shore. Each month, new genders seem to emerge from which you can pick and choose. Transgender is promoted in school. Never mind how rare the phenomenon is, transgender is treated as a new norm. Doctors, teachers, politicians are promoting hormonal therapies threatening the health of teenagers. Is there anything left for young people to hold on to as guiding principles in life?
Murray: The answer is very obviously, yes. It's just that they have to be well-grounded and well-guided. There is a great adult deficit in our era. The adults keep vacating the room, giving in, and shutting up, and pretending they don't know things they know. They keep being intimidated. They keep being silenced by people who know less than them. You could see this coming, by the way.
Before the First War in Europe, I understand that it was quite common for people to want to look older than they were. In our age, you want to look younger than you are. Younger people used to pretend to know more than they did. Now older people are pretending to know less than they do. That's not helpful in bringing up a new generation. It's just going to disorientate them.
Weltwoche: What do you suggest?
Murray: My suggestion is that we make sure that we anchor ourselves as firmly as possible to the things that we know and that we hold onto that are dear to us. That includes our system of government, our system of law, our system of education, where they haven't been completely corrupted, and the civilization and cultures that have given birth to us and hold onto them and realize that they saw our ancestors through, and they'll see us through, too.
Of course, you have to anchor this because, otherwise, people are told that the main job in their lives will be the act of destruction and deconstruction, and they're taking things apart. I think that has to be responded to very, very rigorously.
Weltwoche: A major event of 2020 was the American presidential election. In an amazing act of partisanship, the mainstream press sided with (now President-elect) Joe Biden and against Trump. Peak partisanship was reached when explosive documents from a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden were published by the New York Post and were completely ignored by the mainstream media. Can the political media be saved?
Murray: All of the media around the world has problems, but the American media has got a big disease. We now know from the Project Veritas leaks https://www.projectveritas.com/news/zucker-cnn-wont-go-down-the-rabbit-hole-of-hunter-biden-cnn-vp-cubans-vote/ that the boss of CNN, Jeff Zucker, said, “Yes, we're going to make sure that we cover up the Hunter Biden story.” Now that the elections have passed, CNN talks about the investigation into the Biden family's link to China, talks about it as if it's something that suddenly just came up. No, it's not new to anyone. It's especially not new to CNN because they knew about this ahead of the election, but they wanted to get their guy elected.
This is scandalous. They should be ashamed. Everybody in the press assured people that impartiality is desirable. The very dominant left-wing media narrative was campaigning for their guy to win. It's been willing to lie and to cover up stories and to spend four years running crooked stories, and then they did not report on something so essential. It's one of the things that makes me glad I'm not American. In many ways, I admire the country, but among other things, its media absolutely reeks. It's rotten.
Weltwoche: Big Tech, too, sides with the Left. Twitter went as far as censoring the link to the New York Post story on Hunter Biden's laptop. Can and should Twitter or Facebook be held accountable?
Murray: I am now exceptionally critical of Big Tech. I think that much of the bad performance of the media has been flailing as it tries to survive whilst it's being eaten alive by Big Tech. I think the moment in which it shifted for me was the moment when Twitter and Facebook managed to silence the New York Post, America's oldest newspaper, founded by Alexander Hamilton. It was an absolute scandal. It went by with too little comment. Facebook, Google, and Twitter, in particular, now tell us what we are allowed to know. They're not fit for the job. Their incredible presumption that they could ever do that is astounding. Big Tech is the enemy. It must be broken up.
Weltwoche: This would be an act of interventionism and against the free market.
Murray: In any previous era, the monopolies and mergers commissions of the time would have broken it up. It is one of those sadnesses of the year that so many small and medium-sized businesses have gone to the wall. The worst monolithic companies that were already dominant have just exponentially increased their power. I’m thinking about Amazon. This is a disaster for our societies, a disaster for fair business practices, a disaster for anyone who is opposed to monopolies. There's a huge scandal that doesn't get enough attention.
Weltwoche: What should be done?
Murray: Well, nothing will be done until the governments start to crack down on them. I would like to see them chased from country to country. I would like to see them pay. I would like to see governments, if we can get civil actions in America and elsewhere, take action against tech companies for their election misrepresentation, the politicization, and much, much more. I would like to see the American authorities go after them. Effectively, Big Tech has been tampering.
Weltwoche: In the shadow of the pandemic, enemies of the free world have not been at rest. Islamist terrorists attacked France multiple times and, in October, beheaded two people in France. One of the murderers was a young man who had just entered Europe on a migrant boat. French President Emmanuel Macron urged something that European leaders have dared not say: "Europe must rethink the open-borders Schengen arrangements and tighten its external borders." Will Europe finally wake up to the threat of Islamist terrorism?
Murray: No, it won't. They have made baby steps on a very long journey of self-realization. By the way, it is not quite true that Macron is the first European leader to say that. There are European leaders who said that, including Viktor Orban. Five years ago, it seemed to be appalling to say that we should have tougher external borders. In 2020, thanks to President Macron finally saying it, it's less reprehensible. It'll become less and less reprehensible, and maybe even acceptable, to say what the majority of the public can see. Which is that if you don't have external borders and you have porous internal borders, you've also got hell to come constantly."
Weltwoche: Macron has been abandoned by his allies. There seems to be no solidarity in Europe. Are European leaders taking that battle against violent Islamism seriously?
Murray: No. I don't think they are taking it seriously. They never do. They never do take it seriously because they think it's too onerous a price to pay. Well, I think it's too onerous a price to pay to have people being killed by people who shouldn't be in our continent. I think that's too high a price to pay. I think it's too high a price to pay to keep having in France your most prominent secularists and your worshipers at church beheaded. I blame the people who did the beheading, but, secondarily, I blame the people who allowed them in. I would like to see the European public finally turn on the politicians who were so extraordinarily lax with our collective security, with our collective culture, with our continent. I think it's time that these people, like Angela Merkel, were made to pay a price.
Weltwoche: Angela Merkel's term as German chancellor is running out. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the COVID crisis has disappointed many. Macron is tied down by domestic tensions. Biden looks powerless and uninspired. Where are the new strong leaders to bring us back to normalcy?
Murray: I wouldn't dismiss Boris Johnson. Everybody has been watching “The Crown” in lockdown. It's got many, many terrible flaws and many historical lies that are terribly unfair about our queen and about (former Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher. One of the things that it doesn't get right about Margaret Thatcher is how she became Margaret Thatcher. She had very strong beliefs and principles, but the fires she walked through made her Margaret Thatcher. Same thing with (former U.S. President) Ronald Reagan. Same thing with many, many great leaders throughout history. The times make them. They're not just born and the rest of us have to wait around waiting for them to reach adulthood.
I'm not that pessimistic about new leaders. People always emerge, and people are thrown up by events. There are people who you'll discover were around anyway. They will emerge from bad events like from refining fire.
Weltwoche: Do you see potential leaders-in-waiting?
Murray: Yes, in America there are very impressive people who are below the surface. There are a number of people who should run for the presidency next time who will be very impressive candidates.
Weltwoche: For example?
Murray: Dan Crenshaw (Republican, Texas), I think he will be a very good candidate. I'd like to see Tulsi Gabbard (Democrat, Hawaii) run again. I'd like to see Andrew Yang (Democrat, New York) run again. There are some interesting people, and they're smart. They've seen through the boring bipartisanship in recent years. There's no shortage of people. What's strange is that there's some device in American politics that makes it hard for the smart thinkers to get to the top ticket. That's an oddity.
Douglas Murray, 41, is the bestselling author of six books, including 'The Madness of Crowds' and 'The Strange Death of Europe'.