May 6 • 1HR 50M

Douglas Murray On Defending The West

One gay British Tory met another this week. It was a blast.

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Unafraid conversations about anything

Douglas Murray is a British writer and commentator, primarily for The Spectator, and his latest book is The War on the West. It’s a powerful narrative of the past couple of decades, in which a small minority waged ideological war on the underpinnings of Western civilization: reason, toleration, free speech, color-blind racial politics.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of our conversation — on the seductive power of ressentiment and the case for gratitude, and on many Americans’ ignorance of history outside the US — head over to our YouTube page.

My convo with Murray complements the one I had with Roosevelt Montás, the great defender of the humanities at Columbia University and beyond — his episode is now available as a full transcript.

As far as last week’s episode with Bari Weiss, an addendum: she used our conversation for her own podcast, “Honestly,” and her version includes at least a half hour of conversation you won’t find in the Dishcast version — namely on the early marriage movement and my role in it. Here’s a snippet from that section:

This listener liked the episode:

You and Bari addressed the (increasingly popular) argument that if the illiberal left has taken the gloves off, then its opponents should do the same. I thought your response was commendable, and it reminded me of something Hitch said during a debate on free speech many years ago. He referred to the scene from A Man for All Seasons in which Sir Thomas More argues with Roper over whether a man should be arrested for breaking God’s law. It’s a marvellous exchange that I have often reflected upon in recent years:

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down — and you're just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety's sake.

Someone at Reason — Peter Suderman, I think observed last year that politics is becoming outcomes-based rather than process-based, which expresses much the same point, I think. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I’m glad you and Bari are willing to stand up for liberalism when so many of your peers have come to view it with disdain.

I love that section from A Man For All Seasons. It’s why I chose Thomas More as my confirmation saint. But it’s difficult to know the best way to stand up for liberalism when it comes to gender ideology in schools, as Bari and I discuss in this clip:

Another fan of the Bari episode gets more personal:

I am the mother of a trans-identifying child — now 23 years old. (I can’t give my name for fear of alienating her.) You captured the rollercoaster of emotions many parents going through this feel — the fear that she has adopted this ideology as a coping mechanism to deal with underlying mental health issues and that she will do irreparable harm to her body. And that we are politically homeless. I can’t vote for anyone who would support Trump. But Biden and his team have it wrong when they quote the lie of “better a trans son than dead daughter.”

I agree with DeSantis on many aspects of the so-called “don’t say gay” bill. I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss sexual orientation and gender ideology with young children. I also don’t think it’s appropriate to review the periodic table with them. That doesn’t mean I'm anti-chemistry. 

What I wish for my daughter is that she not be beholden to gender stereotypes, that she be comfortable in her own body and that she avoid a lifetime of medical intervention with life-long negative consequences (including infertility) which cannot ultimately transform her into a man. If she were anorexic, we’d have support and options to return her to health. Because her coping mechanism is trans ideology, we get no support from medical or psychiatric professionals, from schools or from most liberals.

You captured all that in the podcast. Thanks for getting the word out.

Another listener points to another trans story:

I saw this interview with an ex-transgender woman and thought you might find it interesting:

I found particularly interesting the parts where he indicates that he found a group of “activists” that encouraged him to transition when what he really needed was therapy and sobriety. It’s also interesting that young men/woman fleeing the labels and baggage of “gay” or “lesbian“ may pursue gender reassignment, rather than unwrapping their trauma and accepting themselves for who they are.

I just wish all the nuances of this were better aired. Another fan of the Dish anticipated our coverage this week with a “pre-emptive email”:

I wonder whether the Supreme Court leak has caused you to reconsider your stance on the culture wars and whether it was the woke who are really the big enemy here. After all, while certain elements on the far left do much damage to themselves and to their own cause, their biggest achievements seem to be about gender-neutral toilets and pronouns, while it is the reactionary right that actively tries to curtail hard-won rights such as the right to vote, or the right to legal and safe abortion. Is it only a culture war when the left does it? Even when you have admitted that both sides are guilty, there seems to be a grudging reluctance to accept that one side is significantly more dangerous than the other, or to pretend as if it was the left’s fault all along and the right was merely reacting to it. 

Following on from January 6th and the wave of right-wingers across the globe currently dominating our news agenda (Putin, Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban, Le Pen, et al), it seems evident that there is a radical asymmetry in the scale of the threat that each side poses. Yes, there is much on the left that deserves to be called out, but it is nothing like as dangerous or as damaging as the very real risk that our liberal democratic norms are overturned by reactionaries in the name of a kind of Theocratic Nationalism. An approach that says “A plague on both your houses” seems to me the height of fatuity. Who is the bigger threat here, Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders?

There seems to be a skewed kind of moral equivalency going on. It reminds me of those US conservatives who used to say “Yes the Tea Party is terrible and there is real racism, but Obama is just as guilty for stirring them up.” This simply will not do. From the Tories and Brexit, to Putin and Ukraine, Republicans and abortion, is it not clear that everywhere you look at the moment, it is the right — the conservative, reactionary, radical right — that poses a greater and more urgent threat to our democratic way of life? 

There’s a balance to be struck here — and I’m not saying it’s easy. But the way in which the far left empowers the far right and vice-versa is an important part of the toxic dynamic. I’ll just note that, when push came to shove, I voted for Biden. There is no conceivable scenario in which I would vote for a deranged wannabe-tyrant like Trump.

Next up, “a looong-time reader who discovered you in the early aughts”:

After a discussion this evening with my housemate I was inspired to look for your It's So Personal threads.  I don't seem to see them in the Substack, and it looks like your dish.andrewsullivan.com site is no longer active. Can you make this thread available to revisit? 

The whole thread is compiled here. How I framed it at the time:

Perhaps the best posts of 2009 were penned by readers, and the most illuminating, gripping and emotional posts were related to late-term abortion, in the wake of the assassination of the abortion doctor George Tiller. I’ve never seen the power of this blog medium so clearly and up-close: one personal account caused a stream of others. How could old-school reporting have found all these women? How could any third-person account compete with the rawness and honesty and pain of these testimonials? It was a revelation to me about what this medium could do.

Another listener looks ahead:

David French just wrote the op-ed, “A conservative Christian quietly battles against right-wing hysteria,” and he would be an excellent podcast guest.”

David is actually scheduled to record a Dishcast later this month, so stay tuned. Another suggestion:

Hope you are weathering Covid ok and are feeling better. Suggestion: check out the staggeringly brilliant new essay by N.S. Lyons, “The World Order Reset: China’s Ukraine Catastrophe, the Rise of Trans-Atlantis, and a New Age of Power.” You’ve linked to one of his essays previously, saying it depressed you for a week. You should try to interview this mystery person. Everybody is wondering who Lyons really is. It would be a real coup for your podcast/Substack.

Thanks for the suggestion. We’ve actually been in touch. You can send your own guest idea here: dish@andrewsullivan.com. Browse the entire archive for the Dishcast here.

Lastly, because we ran out of room this week in the main Dish for the new VFYW contest photo (otherwise the email version would get cut short), here ya go:

Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!