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DOUGLAS MURRAY: Why don’t the Left care that Karl Marx was a vicious racist?


One of the most significant stories of the last century is the withdrawing from Christianity, with church attendance in the United Kingdom more than halved in the past 40 years. 

You may deplore or celebrate this trend, depending on your personal beliefs, but the fact is undeniable.

Still, the resulting gap is not left vacant. Into it have flooded many religions and pseudo-religions. And one in particular has found its way into the cultural mainstream: the new religion of anti-racism.

It has much in common with other religions in history. It has original sin (‘white privilege’), a judgment day (‘coming to terms with race’), and excommunication of the heretic in the form of social-media shaming and more.

Like all new faiths, its followers look with scorn on the barbaric and unenlightened belief system that existed before them. They look down on those who have not joined the elect, especially those who have seen what they have seen and yet come to different conclusions.

Crucially, this new religion constitutes something to do. With all other grand narratives collapsed, the religion of anti-racism fills people with purpose and a sense of meaning.

In Highgate Cemetery in London, one of the largest monuments is a great bust on top of a huge stone pillar. On the front is the quote ‘Workers of all lands unite’. The man whose tomb this is – paid for by the Communist Party of Britain in the 1960s – is of course Karl Marx. To this day, it remains a place of pilgrimage for people who think that Marx changed the world in a good way

It gives them drive and allows them to imagine a perfectible upland towards which they and everyone else on Earth might strive. It imbues them with confidence and consolation, dividing the society they are in between saints and sinners in a way that gives them the illusion of great perception.

Perhaps most crucially, it also allows them to make war on what were their own origins. The appeal of this should not be underestimated. The instinct to destroy, to burn and to spit on everything that has produced you is a very deep-seated one.

And, of course, there is one final appeal. The opportunity to treat other people badly beneath the guise of doing good.

Most remarkably of all, the new religion believes not just that it owes nothing to its origins but that those origins are in fact part of the problem. This even though traditions of anti-racism, anti-colonialism and anti-slavery are to be found within the Christian heritage.

Those traditions hold a store of wisdom and knowledge that could be worth drawing upon now, as people have drawn upon them in the past. Yet this is exactly what followers of the new religion do not do.

The West’s sources – the traditions of Athens and Jerusalem – are the last place that the new devout look for guidance or consolation.

A strange pattern reappears here – a willingness to celebrate and sanctify anything so long as it is not part of the Western tradition, and to venerate anything else in the world, so long as it is not part of your own heritage.

It is this trend that leads young Westerners to travel the world to find the temples of the Far East, while failing to spend any time in the cathedrals on their own doorsteps.

But one of the most extraordinary things about this new religion of anti-racism is that the old church has allowed itself to be hijacked by it.

At a time of great cultural flux, people might hope to find solace in institutions that have weathered similar storms before. 

For 2,000 years, Christian churches have held themselves out as the possessors of a sacred flame – one with a gospel, teachings, and truths of their own. The times may change, but the church remains the same.

In reality, churches have often shifted with the cultural tides. As the mores of the times have changed, so they have had to shift. But rarely have they shifted so swiftly as they have in joining the war on the underpinnings of the West.

The story is playing out across denominations as the churches throw their lot in with the anti-Western fashions of the day and apologise not just for their own pasts, but for their own unique cultural gifts to the world.

The Church of England has long led the way in this. For a generation, it has apologised for spreading its gospel around the world and been embarrassed by its former missionary zeal. In recent years, it has also decided to take on the most hostile possible critique of itself.

One by one, the same techniques have been used to denounce great names of the past. And if a person cannot be found to have invested inappropriately in the companies of their day, then their work is scoured for anything not fitting the mores of the modern world these men helped to create. One such victim is the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume

One by one, the same techniques have been used to denounce great names of the past. And if a person cannot be found to have invested inappropriately in the companies of their day, then their work is scoured for anything not fitting the mores of the modern world these men helped to create. One such victim is the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume

In 2020, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave a speech to the General Synod in which he apologised for the ‘deep institutional racism’ of the Church of England. ‘I am sorry and ashamed of our history and of our failure.’

At the time he gave this speech, the next most important bishop in the Church was John Sentamu, the then Archbishop of York. Despite his number two hailing from Uganda, nobody seemed to think there was anything off about Welby’s description of the Church. 

Then, throughout a year in which every church in the land was shut due to Covid, the Church authorities worked away on a ‘task force’ on racism. Its report was rife with warnings that racism is ‘whispered in our pews’.

It had often been joked that the C of E was the Tory Party at prayer. But by 2021, the Church’s own self-estimation seemed to be that it was the Ku Klux Klan at prayer.

Why does the C of E behave like this? It is not as though other religions look around at their congregations and ask why they are not more diverse. Nor do other religions seem intent on chasing their existing adherents away.

Yet the C of E does do this, in spite of the fact that it is not chock- a-block with people wishing to join it. It continues to try to force a new demographic and belief upon itself. 

Its report stressed the need to ‘decolonise theology, ecclesiology and possibly examine official teachings of the church that follow prejudicial theological value system’. And, of course, it argued for going forwards by once again going backwards to the issue of slavery.

It told itself it must again ‘acknowledge, repent and take decisive action to address the shameful history and legacy of the C of E’s involvement in the historic transatlantic slave trade’.

This must include the taking down of statues and monuments on the wrong side of any historical divides, leading to a vision of overstretched clergy being expected to scour their churches for errant statues. 

One of the strangest things about reading documents such as these is that they show an institution that has fallen for the most negative possible interpretation of itself.

What is ignored is that the Anglican Communion is a naturally diverse community, binding together 41 provinces from places across the globe. Many of the Church of England’s most vibrant (perhaps its only vibrant) churches are in Africa.

When I have spent time with the Christian communities in countries such as Nigeria, I have never seen them subjected to racism from white people. I have only seen sincere believers in a gospel that missionaries from the churches of Europe brought to them.

Now the institutions that once taught that gospel are busily preaching a different gospel. They are telling the world that they are racist and that they must change.

It is a tale that, as another former C of E bishop, Michael Nazir-Ali, has pointed out, proclaims the Church’s faith in critical race theory, rather than in Christ. The Christian faith has an uncommonly long tradition of opposition to slavery. 

St Anselm outlawed slavery in 1102, while Archbishop of Canterbury. In the 19th Century, William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect spent all their energies and resources fighting to bring an end to the practice, inspired by their Christian faith.

In the 20th Century, extraordinary clergymen such as Bishop Trevor Huddleston campaigned against apartheid in South Africa. But all these women and men were forgotten by a church intent only on searching for the bad.

As Nazir-Ali asked ‘Why not stop actively seeking darkness’, and instead ‘look at the light?’ But the voice of this wise former bishop was ignored. Instead, the old religion is working hard to divest itself of its own traditions and seems intent on making the old faith nothing but yet another imitation of the new one.

Just as Western religion has been dumped, so too have the West’s most distinguished philosophers. 

I first became aware of this after giving a talk at a university in America in which I mentioned the great 18th Century German rationalist Immanuel Kant as an example of a philosopher who is exceptionally difficult to understand.

Afterwards, a student came up to me and said: ‘Did you know that Kant used the N-word?’

I was flummoxed. Would the N-word have been in operation in German in Kant’s day? Surely not. ‘negro’, or an 18th Century German variant, perhaps. But the actual N-word would have surprised me.

I expressed my doubt as I struggled to work out the import of the question. Then it dawned on me. If Kant used the N-word, then you don’t have to read him.

Gone is the necessity of weeks spent ploughing your way through The Critique Of Pure Reason or The Metaphysics Of Morals. Instead, you can skip all that, label Kant a racist, and move swiftly on.

As it happens, Kant did indeed use some terms that would not be used today, which has led to an academic at Warwick University denouncing him. This is on the basis that in several of his essays, Kant made ‘some shocking racist remarks’ and seemed to endorse pro-slavery texts.

The same claim has been made in recent years against almost every one of the pillars of the Western philosophical tradition, going right back to the ancient Greeks.

Aristotle has been labelled ‘the grandaddy of all racial theorists’ because in the first book of his Politics, he sought to justify the exclusion of certain people from civic life. A truly shocking fact in a work written around the year 300 BC!

As a result, he has been linked to the far Right and its apparent ‘chilling’ embrace of Western civilisation. 

Fast-forward through time to the 17th and 18th Centuries and the Age of the Enlightenment in Europe, when some of the greatest advances in human history provided, among other things, the philosophical bases for the principles of toleration and reason.

The value of this era used to be recognised across the political spectrum as the foundation for the aspiration to build societies fit for all human beings to live in.

In 2020, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave a speech to the General Synod in which he apologised for the ¿deep institutional racism¿ of the Church of England. ¿I am sorry and ashamed of our history and of our failure'

In 2020, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave a speech to the General Synod in which he apologised for the ‘deep institutional racism’ of the Church of England. ‘I am sorry and ashamed of our history and of our failure’

Not any more. Now it is gleefully being put through the wringer by iconoclasts. In France, a statue of Voltaire was removed from the Academie Francaise in Paris after being repeatedly vandalised. 

The charge against the great figure of the French Enlightenment was that he had personally invested in the French East India Company and, in a work of 1769, had made a racist comment about Africans.

These critics ignored entirely his devastating attacks on the immorality of slavery, as well as his Treatise On Tolerance. On to the dustheap they went – along with everything else. 

The British philosopher John Locke is similarly deleted on the grounds that he owned shares in companies connected with the slave trade. And so his A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) has been transformed from one of the great advances of humanist thought into a guilty man’s meaningless hypocrisy.

One by one, the same techniques have been used to denounce great names of the past. And if a person cannot be found to have invested inappropriately in the companies of their day, then their work is scoured for anything not fitting the mores of the modern world these men helped to create.

One such victim is the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume – condemned for an obscure footnote in one of his essays in which he speculates that ‘the negroes and in general all the other species of men to be naturally inferior to the whites’.

But such thoughts were never a central tenet of Hume’s work and run entirely contrary to his denunciation of slavery in Of The Populousness Of Ancient Nations. In fact, it is his arguments for the application of reason in the pursuit of justice and morality that helped to expose the fundamental flaws of slavery and racism.

Nonetheless, a solitary footnote is enough to wipe away the attainments and advancements of one of the 18th Century’s most important thinkers. And after the inevitable guilty verdict comes the equally inevitable sentence. 

A petition to the authorities at Edinburgh University – where Hume studied from the age of 12 and for years was its librarian – demanded the renaming of the David Hume Tower on campus.

The protesters got their wish, with a former holder of the David Hume Fellowship at the university denouncing Hume as ‘an unashamed racist’. Pressure immediately grew to remove Hume’s statue on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

Campaigners hung an excerpt from Hume’s notorious footnote around his neck so that passers-by could know that he was tarred.

Yet there is one dead white male philosopher who has been accorded no such indignity. In Highgate Cemetery in London, one of the largest monuments is a great bust on top of a huge stone pillar. On the front is the quote ‘Workers of all lands unite’.

The man whose tomb this is – paid for by the Communist Party of Britain in the 1960s – is of course Karl Marx. To this day, it remains a place of pilgrimage for people who think that Marx changed the world in a good way.

All have their own spin for dealing with the fact that roughly 100 million people were killed in trying to change the world along Marx’s lines. Yet it stands there still, and there have been no serious efforts to topple or destroy it. 

Occasionally it has been daubed in red paint – with such vandalism always condemned by cultural and political figures alike.

But through the events of recent years, there have been no online petitions or crowd efforts to pull it down and kick it into a river.

On the contrary, as recently as 2016, Salford University unveiled a new memorial to Friedrich Engels, co-author with Marx of The Communist Manifesto, in part to commemorate the fact that the two of them used to drink in a nearby pub in the 1840s.

It seems that a connection with Marx or Marxism is no ethical problem. There is no special effort to eradicate, problematise, decolonise, or otherwise act in an ‘anti-racist’ manner against the legacy of Marx and his circle.

And this is strange because as anybody who has read the work of Marx – especially his private letters to Engels – will know, Marx’s reputation by the lights of our own age ought to be toast by now.

In one letter written in 1862, Marx turns his wrath on one of their fellow radicals, Ferdinand Lassalle, for not only being Jewish but for also having negroid features and hair. (‘It is now quite plain to me he is descended from the negroes who accompanied Moses’ flight from Egypt.’) He uses the N-word more than once.

A charitable interpretation – such as has been denied to David Hume – might say this is just one ugly thing said by Marx in a private letter and that we shouldn’t judge him harshly on it.

Yet this is not the only occasion that such a sentiment came from Marx’s pen. In another letter, he reflects on the ‘degenerative’ nature of the ‘common negro’ and the ‘leprous’ nature of the Jewish people.

Moreover, he didn’t just keep his racism to his private correspondence. In an article in a New York newspaper, he wrote that ‘we find every tyrant backed by a Jew’ and claimed that there exists always ‘a handful of Jews to ransack pockets’.

And these proto-Hitlerian views are consistent throughout his life. In 1843, Marx writes: ‘What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.’

In public and in private, Marx comes over as anti-black, antisemitic, anti-Indian, pro-colonialist and racist. 

I reel off this incomplete list of what today are seen as an almost clean sweep of offences not simply because they demonstrate that the prophet and genesis of Left-wing thought, perhaps even its god, was guilty of every one of the vices levelled at all non-Marxists in the West.

But because Marx was far worse than any of the people whom Leftist campaigners have spent recent years lambasting. Marx’s antisemitism is more noxious than Kant’s. His career-long record of racism makes a single footnote in the work of Hume look very slight.

The only defence that might be made of him by his defenders and disciples is that he was a man of his time. That Marx lived in the 19th Century and therefore held on to a number of the era’s more unpleasant attributes.

Yet who is not a man of their own time? Every person whose reputation has been brought down in the cultural revolution of recent years was also a man or woman of his or her own time.

So why should this excuse be successful when used in defence of Marx, yet dismissed when it comes to Voltaire or Locke? For his followers, Marx was not just a thinker or a sage. 

He was the formulator of a world revolutionary movement. A movement that claimed to know how to reorder absolutely everything in human affairs in order to arrive at a Utopian society.

A Utopian society that has never been achieved and has cost many millions of lives in not being achieved but that activists across the West still dream of instituting next time: always next time.

What becomes clear in analysing the differences between the treatment of Marx and the treatment of almost every other thinker of the West is that Marx is protected because his writings and reputation are useful for anyone wishing to pull down the West.

Everybody else is subjected to the process of destruction because their reputations are useful for holding up the West. 

After all, remove every other philosopher from the field, take down all their monuments and the tributes to them, and ensure that their thought is taught primarily as a story of racism and slavery and what is left standing in the Western tradition?

Only specific figures of whom the West had felt proud are brought down, while those figures who have been most critical of Western culture and the free market are spared the same treatment.

Behind this seems to be the hope that when everyone else is brought low, the only figures who remain on their pedestals (both real and metaphorical) are those who were most critical of the West.

And the only people left to guide us will be those who want to take us in the worst possible directions.

© Douglas Murray 2022

Extracted from The War On The West: How To Prevail In The Age Of Unreason, by Douglas Murray, published by HarperCollins on April 28 at £20. To order a copy for £18, visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937 before April 30. UK p&p free on orders over £20.



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