The New Puritans: How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World

Andrew Doyle

Little Brown

Review by Iain Macwhirter

EDINBURGH Festival luvvies finally had to admit the reality of cancel culture this year when the Fringe legend Jerry Sadowitz had his show cancelled by The Pleasance because it did not “conform to their values”. Bizarrely, the venue claimed they were defending 'freedom of speech'.

I doubt if Jerry Sadowitz's humour conforms to anyone's values. The whole point of his show is to ridicule racists, right wing nutcases and Nazis, while doing cool magic tricks.

He fell victim to the tyranny of literalism. Irony is dead. If you don a Hitler moustache and parade in a patently ridiculous manner, like John Cleese in Fawlty Towers, you are now likely to be accused of actually endorsing the doctrines you are satirising – and be cancelled, as Cleese was, by streaming services like UKTV.

Or be called a “Nazi c**t” as happened to the left-wing satirist Andrew Doyle – though he didn't even don a Hitler moustache. His crime was to poke fun at leftist identitarians on Twitter with his parody account, Titania McGrath. She is a non-binary, vegan social justice warrior, living on a trust fund, who identifies as a black trans-lesbian even though she is white. “There is nothing about me which is white apart from my skin”, she insists. Her feelings are more real than mere pigmentation.

Nor does “they” accept that they is a woman, in the regressive sense of being an adult human female. Titania has a gender-fluid, two-spirit identity and has pronouns that “change with the phases of the moon”. Most of they's energy is dedicated to no-platforming people they disagree with. “Given that hate speech is not possible without free speech”, Mx McGrath says, “any defence of free speech is a form of hate speech”. (NB this ungrammatical use of “they" is what non-binaries insist on).

For his efforts, Mr Doyle, a gay Labour-voter, was accused of being a fascist part of the female anatomy by one of his former comedy mates, a good friend. It evidently hurt. He also lost a contract teaching stand up comedy in a London theatre because one of his pupils felt one of his jokes was “unsafe” . He was suspended from Twitter and has been cancelled so often he no longer notices.

Doyle is a very funny satirist, but this book is serious – perhaps too serious. I sometimes wonder if it is worth trying to take on the brittle guardians of woke propriety intellectually since in doing so you inevitably wander onto their own obsessional territory – and risk becoming a bit like them. You become entangled in post-modern queer theory and the obscure jargon of “cisheteronormativity”. Arguing against affectations like pronouns makes you sound reactionary, even though there's nothing progressive about violating grammar. Objecting to the number of multiracial families on TV adverts on the grounds that only 2% of UK families are mixed race just makes you sound racist.

Most woke doctrines are provocations disguised as expressions of virtue. Like Black Lives Matter, to which the obvious response is that “all lives matter” – as Hillary Clinton herself put it in 2015. Bingo: racist.

When writers like Reni Eddo-Lodge publish books announcing that they are “No Longer Talking to White People about Race” every reasonable person's response is to say: this is hardly going to further racial understanding. This is then denounced as: “white fragility”.

We've all been there. You can point out to those who say “all white people are racist” that this is an absurd generalisation. They'll come back with the assertion that it is their “lived experience”.

“One cannot argue”, Doyle says, “with someone who believes that argument itself is an oppressive denial of his or her truth”.

So, I'm tempted to just dismiss woke hermeneutics as the infantile preoccupation of middle class intellectuals amplified by social media. Who cares that lot of over-educated pedants spend their time trading incomprehensible jargon and orchestrating pile ons on Twitter? Even the New Puritans don't know what they are talking about most of the time, as Doyle repeatedly demonstrates by deconstructing their half-digested Derrida-esque structuralism.

However, he makes a good case for taking this policing of language seriously. Somehow these guardians of moral propriety have become disturbingly influential in our cultural life, imposing their eccentric anti-science and often misogynistic doctrines on comedy, the arts, academic institutions, the civil service, even the police.

Mature student, Lisa Keogh, was suspended by Abertay University last year for saying in a debate that “women have vaginas”. Claim that a woman is an “adult human female” and you risk losing your job like, the tax expert Maya Forstater, and/or being investigated for hate crime by the police. As Merseyside Police put it: “Being Offensive is an Offence”.

In the 5 years to 2019 the police recorded 120,000 “non-crime hate incidents”. Why are the police recording things that are not crimes? Because their working definition of a hate crime is whatever a “victim” claims is offensive. If a Scot says being called a “jock” is a hate crime, then it is. Non-crime hate incidents do not generally lead to prosecution, but they do linger on an “offender's” record, and can be dredged up by disclosure searches when you apply for certain jobs.

There are signs that the we may have reached peak woke. There have been some high profile legal cases like Maya Forstater's, who won a landmark ruling against her employers dismissing her for “transphobic” views. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission recently ruled that it is legitimate to believe that people cannot change sex. That the EHRC actually had to state that human biology is legal speaks volumes about the state we're in.

The closure of the high temple of transgenderism, the Tavistock Gender Identity clinic in London, after criticism by the Cass Inquiry, has to some extent undermined Doyle's claim that the western world has been “captured”. But the phenomenon has not gone away

Cancel culture is constantly finding new ways of punishing people who violate its obscure litany of thought crimes. The Scottish Government's Hate Crime Act punishes anyone for “stirring up hatred” even in the privacy of their own home. No one knows what “stirring up means”, as Police Scotland pointed out. The guardians of newspeak do, and they'll use the law to denounce as transphobic those who dispute quasi-religious dogmas such as “transwomen are women”.

Why the “New Puritans”? Because like their 17th Century religious forebears, their modus operandi is the witch hunt, the inquisition – searching for unconscious bias. Identitarians, says Doyle, “try to control discourse by deeming certain terms “problematic” or supporting legislation against hate speech”. And if you don't accept that you are racist or transphobic, well: that proves you are.

Doyle writes exceptionally well and he backs up his j'accuse with copious illustrations of ideological excess. “To souls numbed by ideology”, he says, Raphael’s Tranfiguration is little more than pigments on wood daubed by a powerful white man in the interests of other powerful white men”. University no-platformers like to say that “words are violence”. If so, Doyle's are rapiers. Unfortunately, his adversaries can't hear.