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Douglas Murray and the mainstreaming of the 'Great Replacement' theory

The Buffalo killings by a far-right teenager are further proof that a racist conspiracy theory has been made respectable in the West
Members of the community and of multiple faiths gather at Bethel Gospel Assembly - Destiny Worship Pavilion on 16 May 2022 in New York City in memorial for the victims of the Buffalo killings (AFP)

Very few books are published to as much acclaim as Douglas Murray’s latest volume, The War on the West: How to Prevail in the Age of Unreason. A breathless profile in the Sunday Times. Several days of lengthy serialisation in the Daily Mail, which hails Murray’s work as “the most important book of the year”.

There’s evidence readers agree. Murray’s defence of western values (or, to be strictly accurate, his version of them) is a number one bestseller in Britain.

The War on the West, announces the British author's publisher HarperCollins, “is an essential and urgent polemic that cements Murray’s status as one of the world’s foremost political writers”.

This judgment is shared by others - French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy hails him as "one of the most important public intellectuals today”. And there is no doubt that Murray is an intellectually gifted and flamboyant public performer.

Race theory and the Buffalo massacre

In this article I am not going to review Douglas Murray’s new book. Instead I will ask what his stellar success tells us about public culture in Britain and the United States.

This task is serious and urgent in the wake of the latest mass shooting in the US. On Saturday 14 May, a white teenager went on the rampage in a shopping centre in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people and wounding three, almost all of them Black.

The Buffalo killer was driven by a demented notion, known as the 'great replacement theory,' which is growing in power and influence

The New York Times called the events “one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent American history”.

The killer was driven by a demented notion, known as the “great replacement theory,” which is growing in power and influence: the notion that white people in Europe and the United States are being supplanted by people of colour.

Versions of this idea have inspired a number of mass killers in recent history – including the white supremacist who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, three years ago. It was cited by the perpetrator of the El Paso shooting in 2019 that killed 23 people and injured 23 others.

The New York Times ominously notes that the great replacement theory was “once associated with the far-right fringe, but has become increasingly mainstream, pushed by politicians and popular television programmes.”

It’s not just in the United States where the great replacement has become mainstream. Indeed the term was invented in France as “le grand remplacement” by a writer called Renaud Camus in a book of the same name published in 2011.

Demographic panic

Camus held that non-white people - in particular Muslims - are taking over white European populations through mass migration and demographic growth, helped by a falling birthrate among the white population. 

He accused liberal elites, who he described as collaborateurs, of fostering the process. His notion proved hugely influential over Marine Le Pen and even more so the far-right demagogue Eric Zemmour, who warned of mass immigration in his Le Suicide Francais, published in 2014. 

French presidential candidates Eric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen pass each other in Paris on 21 February 2022 (AFP)
French presidential candidates Eric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen pass each other in Paris on 21 February 2022 (AFP)

Camus - no relation of the Algerian-born French existentialist Albert - has admirers in Britain. Murray devoted a section of his best-selling The Strange Death of Europe, published in 2017, to the subject. “Any trip to thousands of locations across Europe can spark the fear of what the French writer and philosopher Renaud Camus has characterised as 'Le Grand Remplacement'." 

Murray then goes on to point to places, including in Britain, where what he calls “population replacement” is happening. 

Murray stops short of endorsing Renaud Camus. But he certainly echoes many of his themes.

Conspiracy theory

In The Strange Death of Europe, Murray warns that “Europe is committing suicide. Or at least its leaders have decided to commit suicide.”

In a thoughtful essay, Jonathan Portes, professor of economics at King's College, London, called Murray’s book “essentially an intellectual version of the 'great replacement' conspiracy theory advocated by white nationalists here and the US - that liberal elites are plotting the demographic transformation of western societies.”

One of Murray’s biggest targets is Islam. In 2006, he told the Dutch parliament that, "Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board: Europe must look like a less attractive proposition.” 

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He also said: "All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop." 

Paul Goodman, then a Conservative MP and now the editor of influential website Conservative Home, was so concerned that he went to see Murray and urged him to retract his words. He would not do so, causing the Conservative Party to break off relations.

Goodman’s account of the conversation is revealing, and can be read here. He says that Murray retracted his remarks five years later, though for those interested, his speech can still be read here.

The inexorable rise of Douglas Murray tells us a great deal about public discourse in Britain. Twenty years ago he would be on the far right fringes. Now a man whose most striking achievement is to have domesticated Renaud Camus’ Great Replacement theory has become one of our most notable “public intellectuals”.

Intolerant nation

This tells us a great deal about how Britain is changing. How under Boris Johnson we are becoming an uglier, less generous and less tolerant country. Immigrants to Britain - and in particular Muslims - have cause to feel afraid. Words have consequences, as the terrible actions of the Buffalo shooter show.

I don't normally find myself agreeing with the Times columnist David Aaronovitch. But I found myself profoundly in agreement with a well-researched article of his, in which he noted that both in the United States and to some extent in Europe, "quasi respectable versions of replacement notions have gone mainstream”. 

It's well past time for Douglas Murray, Rupert Murdoch and many others to take note of the hideous lessons of Buffalo

The Buffalo killer did not cite Douglas Murray - or any other British writer -  in the demented 180-page "manifesto" he wrote before his shooting spree. And to be fair to Murray, many other writers and polemicists have swum in these dangerous waters, both in Europe and the United States.

Their number includes Rupert Murdoch, the most powerful media owner in the western world, whose Twitter career ended shortly after he came close to holding Muslims collectively responsible for the 2015 terror attacks in France. Murdoch (who owns Harper Collins, which published Douglas Murray's latest book) is under fire again this week for promoting the great replacement theory on Fox News.

It's well past time for Douglas Murray, Rupert Murdoch and many others to take note of the hideous lessons of Buffalo - and pay more attention to the company they keep.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in both 2022 and 2017, and was also named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Drum Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was also named as British Press Awards Columnist of the Year in 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His latest book, The Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism, was published in February 2021 and was a Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller. His previous books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.