Douglas Murray, the famed political commentator and author of the bestselling book “The War on the West,” has recently completed a 10 episode podcast and YouTube series entitled “Uncancelled History.” Murray, never intimidated by difficult or controversial topics, introduced the podcast season with the lightning rod subject of Robert E. Lee, the famous general of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.
“If there’s any figure in this series who it’s important to try to understand in the round―with all the complexity, the wrongness, the difficulty―if there’s anyone who really epitomizes that difficult task of actually unweaving history, it’s the story of Robert E. Lee,” Murray stated during his conversation with Jonathan Horn, historian and author of the Lee biography “The Man Who Would Not Be Washington.”
The choice seemed an attempt to make the purpose of the podcast unmistakably clear: No topic was off limits. In case that purpose wasn’t clear enough from the first episode, he followed the episode up with a conversation on colonialism―or, better contextualized, “a defense of colonialism.”
A Gathering of Esteemed Thinkers
Murray assembled some of the leading historians and thinkers of today on the series, like Jean Yarbrough, Andrew Roberts, Bruce Gilley, Allen Guelzo, and Thomas Chatterton Williams. As Murray made mention at the conclusion of his series, he kept his opinions to himself on the various subjects, whether it was about the Classics, the Enlightenment, Thomas Jefferson, or Christopher Columbus. He said he “wanted to give the platform to the world-class historians, thinkers, and intellectuals.”
The purpose of the series is less about opinion (hence the host’s refrain) and more about historical facts and proper perspectives. Interestingly, if not tragically, proper perspectives have become viewed as highly improper, which has led to what has been termed as “cancel culture.”
For years, Murray has been warning about and combating the influence and repercussions of cancel culture. Numerous times during the series, regardless of subject, Murray suggests that we should “look at them in the round.” In other words, we should take a full view of the person or topic instead of a singular view that eliminates complexity. In a way, each episode is a presentation of a different subject but based on the singular method of how we should view history: “warts and all” (to use an oft-used phrase).
The political commentator noted that he has watched with interest how “great historical figures have been so traduced” by people of today. How complex heroes have been converted into simplistic villains. He noted the onslaught against Thomas Jefferson for “things that have not been proven at all, and are at least contestable.” He added that today people are playing the role of judge, jury, and executioner over past people’s reputations and lives.
“What is it about this fallacy that we seem to believe that if we were living in history, 2,000 years ago or even 250 years ago, that we would inevitably have the views that we hold in the 2020s? Why do we assume that’s the case?” he asked, and then answered. “If there’s a reason, it’s probably a very simple one, which is that we know how history went.”
History as an Attic
During his conversation with historian Wilfred McClay on the subject of Theodore Roosevelt, McClay used an analogy of history as an attic.
“You put things up there. You forget about them. They gather dust. Then all of the sudden, you realize, ‘My God, this has something to say to me. It says something I’m not getting out of the contemporary discourse,’” McClay said. “You never know what is going to be useful in the future. To learn about the American past is to learn about something that is a part of you, ineluctably.”
“Uncancelled History,” which may or may not return for another season (no word of confirmation has been issued), is a straightforward podcast that does not linger with unnecessary conversation. Murray wastes no time introducing the guests, the topic, and then engaging with questions about the subject, rather than, as aforementioned, pontificating his own opinions.
Murray, along with production company Nebulous Podcasts, has taken the most pertinent subjects and topics of today, those that are consistently under threat of cancellation and demonization, even for “things that have not been proven at all,” and has given listeners, history enthusiasts, and spectators of the social and geopolitical sphere much to consume and reflect on.
The 10 hour-long episodes are worth a listen regardless of how one feels about the specific subjects. Indeed, each one presents a necessary perspective on the world of history, even a perspective that is highly counter to the modern era, none more so than the episode on colonialism (which this reviewer viewed as the high mark of the series).
Murray, as expected, proves fully capable of not just presenting, but also engaging each guest. One hopes there will be another season, as there are still plenty of figures out there who continue to be brought under the culture knife. If not, though, Murray and his guests have done a service for listeners on how to view history and her figures in the proper context.