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Re The Social Affairs Unit

An article from the 2005 SAU archives,
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Dictatorship of Relativism

-In 2000 Douglas Murray's biography of Lord Alfred Douglas was published to critical acclaim. The Social Affairs Unit is soon to publish Douglas Murray's new book, Neoconservatism: Why We Need It. Today he addressed a lunch at the Manhattan Institute in New York on the subject of his forthcoming book. The views expressed in Douglas Murray's talk are his own, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director-

I haven't been in New York since the fall of 2000, when I was visiting this city to promote my first book. On the last day I was here, I visited a friend at her office on the top-most floors of the World Trade Center and looked out in awe over this great city.

The assault on those towers proved the first in a now long line of attacks leveled against the free world. From Bali to Istanbul, from Madrid to my home city of London, the last four years have woken the West to a monumental threat to us and our future. At least they woke some of us up.

Because we have a two-pronged problem here. One prong (obviously enough to my mind) is the creed of Islamic fascism - a malignant fundamentalism, woken from the dark ages to assault us here and now. But the other prong is entirely here at home among otherwise pleasant-enough people who pretend we don't have a problem, or pretend that problem is other than it is.

Thankfully we have, in Britain and America, professional and highly-trained armies who can wage a war which has so far, in Iraq and Afghanistan, lost us not a single face-to face exchange with the enemy. The enemy cannot win in such a war - it knows that. And it has made a calculation. What it knows is that if it is to win, it will win not on the field of battle, but on the field of ideas, within our cities, inside our culture.

And this is our problem. For we live, as Saul Bellow put it, in a thought culture but it is one in which the thought has gone bad. The thought has gone so bad that in vast swathes of the West, in much of Europe, and to a lesser though growing extent in this country, there are people who are losing us this war. They are the product of a uniquely destructive strand of Western thought: that thought is relativism.

In his homily to the College of Cardinals before being elected Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger fingered this rot at the core of western thought when he identified what he termed the "dictatorship of relativism", a theory and a mode of thought which as he said: "recognizes nothing definite and leaves only one's own ego and one's own desires as the final measure."

The West is now swamped by this notion. In our domestic politics it is epitomised by the nightmares of moral equivalence and political correctness. It is also, of course, at the root of the barren and, as thinkers as diverse as Fukuyama and Huntington have put it, innately anti-Western creed of multiculturalism. It holds that all things are equal which would of course be fine if they were: but they are not. The good cannot be equated or judged equal to the bad, nor should the sublime be leveled alongside, or tarred by, the ridiculous ...

What they are actually doing is magnifying the bad within our society, continually undermining our right to assert ourselves as more than individuals, eroding our right to act for the good and right by saying that the good and the right are at best in the eye of the beholder. We know, I trust, where this element leads. It leads to otherwise nice enough populations in the West pondering, for instance, that perhaps the millions of people across the Arab and Muslim worlds just don't want democracy, or that dictators and tyrants are perhaps misunderstood men who receive a bad press. It leads, that is, to a tolerance of totalitarianism, and benevolence towards the malignant.

Which if we faced no external threat, might not be a problem. But it is a problem because we now face a profound and targeted threat to our way of life. As I say and remember this the enemy cannot defeat us on the battlefield. Defeat in Iraq or anywhere else is impossible if we have the will. Defeat will come if it comes from within.

Our central and most common problem comes from the people of the West who perfectly understandably don't want a fight and so pretend there isn't a fight, or who don't want there to be a problem, and so pretend there isn't one. In other words, our central problem comes from those whose good instincts are ridden over and used against them by people who wish them monumental ill. The problem are the swathes of people who believe that the enemy can be appeased or wished away, who think inaction is not itself a form and mode of action, and who even when they don't talk weak, think weak.

In the face of popular misunderstanding and widespread incomprehension of the cultural and actual wars which we are now in, neoconservatism is, I believe, the only philosophy which can stand up against these threats - the moral and practical threats. For in both domestic and foreign policy, neoconservatism centres on natural right, moral clarity and the defense of - and exporting of - what is good in our culture.

Neoconservatives have been famously described by their godfather, Irving Kristol, as "liberals who've been mugged by reality."

Nowadays, I would say that we are certainly more liberal in the classical sense of the term, than many old-style conservatives, but we are also more likely to look at the world with a realpolitik honesty which many conservatives not to mention leftists look on with suspicion. I would say therefore, that though we are classically liberal-minded, we look at the world through realist spectacles, seeing the world as it is, but all the time acting in the world to fashion it as we would like it to be.

The ideal neoconservative moments are therefore those moments when our moral desires coincide with our realpolitik needs. Which is of course what makes Iraq the perfect neoconservative cause: the liberation of that country not only being a desirable thing in and of itself, but a vital if continually challenging - project for regional and I believe - global security.

Europe has used up its peace dividend. The holiday from reality it had for half a century during which it spent money on welfare whilst America protected its security, is now over comprehensively so. Europe not only has unsustainable demographic issues which if un-addressed - will eradicate the continent as we know it within three or four generations. It also has security issues, not least those associated with its unameliorated populations and its increasingly inefficient armies. And then there are the democratic issues centered around the European Union (which, in spite of the populace, every European government supports) which is dedicated to keeping decisions from the people, removing the tiresome populace from the complexities of governance.

At home the people of Britain and Europe need freeing from their restrictive and ever-increasing tax-burden. The idea of the inevitable rise of taxes in Europe is that the government knows best how to spend your money. In my opinion, government is almost uniquely bad at this task, and I for one would rather hand my money to a child with attention deficit disorder than a European government with good intentions. And the few things which it is government's job to provide like security go so notably unprovided by current European governments, that any citizen should feel entitled to request a full and complete rebate on any taxes paid.

New laws are created in Brussels, on a daily basis, which consign the innocent as much as the criminal to a petty tyranny of degrading state interference. The benefits system that costs us so much requires a degree in bureaucracy, from the poor, who are actually in need of its benefits, whilst people who desire, or deserve, no boon are given hand-outs from the state which they paid for in the first-place, having been returned to them only in the most diminishing of senses.

It is unsurprising - given their political leftist stagnation at home - that many Europeans don't quite understand what all the fuss is about regarding freedom abroad. If you were brought up to think European welfare culture is freedom, no wonder you wouldn't want to inflict it on other nations. Giscard d'Estaing-ism never had quite the riff or whiff of freedom about it.

As I see it, there are two opposing stands which exist in our culture with fundamentally opposing visions of the human spirit. First, there is the vision which now holds sway in my country that we are beings who should have lip-service paid to our nobility, who actually treat us with suspicion and wariness. Our instincts as an electorate are suppressed by ruling elites who distrust what the voice of the people might say if ever asked something.

On the other hand are those of us who believe that the human story and the human heart dictate their own eternally messy and divergent course and need guidance in this course. We recognize that we are less than kings, yet more than conquerors, and that the call of our time, as much as it was for our forefathers, is to allow others both here and abroad to begin treading the same ever-imperfect path.

Freedom without security certainly makes tyranny and demagogy appealing. This has always been the case. Neoconservatism at least favours the placing of our imperfect natures onto the right track. And this project which is only partially underway is not an experiment, and certainly not a frivolous experiment. Humanity is called to freedom like a magnet drawn towards its home.

In the West we are in a dangerous even perilous impasse, though. Our culture is being assailed at the very point at which it is expressing itself at its weakest. It is the job of neoconservatives to fight new and perhaps even more bitter culture wars than those which they have fought before. But with knowledge of what we have behind us, we will not lose. The people who will lose this war are those who think the West should be defended not on the good, but on the crass - on cultural waste, and nihilistic detritus.

Much is made, at the moment, of the exporting of democracy and this is more than right. But if we export democracy and sell ourselves short with a message of "see what you can have: MTV and rap music" - then we should not expect to have our message listened to. Our message should be listened to because what we have to offer to our own people in the West and to those on other shores is a message of liberation. As such, our message should be adapted and expressed with greater confidence and forcefulness than it has so far been. For we accept and express the fact that democracy is the means by which the spirit is freed.

In Britain and Europe, our political position is at such a low ebb that the only way is up. In America you have, I believe for the first time in political philosophy, shown the way to the continent from which you hail. They say that prophets are not recognised in their own land. That may be true to an extent with neoconservatives in America, though I guess they can deal with that. But it's a pleasant task to be able to say to you today, that even if they're not appreciated in their own land, America's political revolutionaries are recognised and are the subject of loud thanks, abroad in lands in which freedom already reigns and in lands in which the cry has only just gone up -

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