Turning his back on neoliberalism, voicing 'the end of history' and the unstoppable spread of liberal values across the globe, Gray's was a lone voice of scepticism. The thinking he criticised would lead to the invasion of Iraq. Today, its folly might seem obvious, but Gray has been trying to warn us for years.
The British bestseller Straw Dogs is an exciting, radical work of philosophy, which sets out to challenge our most cherished assumptions about what it means to be human. From Plato to Christianity, from the Enlightenment to Nietzsche and Marx, the Western tradition has been based on arrogant and erroneous beliefs about human beings and their place in the world. Philosophies such as liberalism and Marxism think of humankind as a species whose destiny is to transcend natural limits and conquer the (...) Earth. John Gray argues that this belief in human difference is a dangerous illusion and explores how the world and human life look once humanism has been finally abandoned. The result is an exhilarating, sometimes disturbing book that leads the reader to question our deepest-held beliefs. Will Self, in the New Statesman , called Straw Dogs his book of the year: “I read it once, I read it twice and took notes . . . I thought it that good.” “Nothing will get you thinking as much as this brilliant book” ( Sunday Telegraph ). (shrink)
A study of the political philosophy of the Russian born thinker explains how Isaiah Berlin came to reject ideological frameworks in favor of a pluralism that acknowledges the inevitable diversity of human values.
In this 2nd edition, John Gray adds an extensive postscript which defends the interpretation of Mill set out in the first edition, but develops radical criticisms of the substance of Millian and other liberalism.
Isaiah Berlin was the greatest intellectual historian of the twentieth century. But his work also made an original and important contribution to moral and political philosophy and to liberal theory. In 1921, at the age of eleven, Isaiah Berlin arrived in England from Riga, Latvia. By the time he was thirty he was at the heart of British intellectual life. He has remained its commanding presence ever since, and few would dispute that he was one of Britain's greatest thinkers. His (...) reputation extends worldwide--as a great conversationalist, intellectual historian, and man of letters. He has been called the century's most inspired reader. Yet Berlin's contributions to thought--in particular to moral and political philosophy, and to liberal theory--are little understood, and surprisingly neglected by the academic world. In this book, they are shown to be animated by a single, powerful, subversive idea: value-pluralism which affirms the reality of a deep conflict between ultimate human values that reason cannot resolve. Though bracingly clear-headed, humane and realist, Berlin's value-pluralism runs against the dominant Western traditions, secular and religious, which avow an ultimate harmony of values. It supports a highly distinctive restatement of liberalism in Berlin's work--an agnostic liberalism, which is founded not on rational choice but on the radical choices we make when faced with intractable dilemmas. It is this new statement of liberalism, the central subject of John Gray's lively and lucid book, which gives the liberal intellectual tradition a new lease on life, a new source of life, and which comprises Berlin's central and enduring legacy. In a new introduction, Gray argues that, in a world in which human freedom has spread more slowly than democracy, Berlin's account of liberty and basic decency is more instructive and useful than ever. (shrink)
_Liberalisms_, a work first published in 1989, provides a coherent and comprehensive analytical guide to liberal thinking over the past century and considers the dominance of liberal thought in Anglo-American political philosophy over the past 20 years. John Gray assesses the work of all the major liberal political philosophers including J. S. Mill, Herbert Spencer, Karl Popper, F. A Hayek, John Rawls and Robert Nozick, and explores their mutual connections and differences.
In this book John Gray argues that we live in a time of endings for the ideologies that governed the modern period. The Enlightenment projects of universal emancipation animates all the political doctrines and movements that are central in contemporary western societies. Yet it does not reflect the reality of the plural world in which we live. The western cultural hegemony which the Enlightenment embodied is coming to a close. Western liberal societies are not precursors of a universal civilization, but (...) only one form of life among many in the late modern world. Our inherited stock of political ideas no longer tracks that world. The crisis of New Right thought is as profound as that of the Left. Green theorists and communitarian thinkers have not understood the deep diversity and intractable conflicts of contemporary societies. And postmodernists, whose thought is ruled by the dated utopias of the modern period, do not engage with the real conditions of the world's emerging postmodern societies. Late modern thought occurs in an interregnum between modern projects that are no longer credible and postmodern realities that many find intolerable. John Gray suggests that some Enlightenment hopes of progress must be extinguished if we are to learn to respect cultural diversity and accept ecological limits. Respect for the Earth and for other species and cultures means abandoning the utopian and arcadian projects that haunt modern thought. We should aim to moderate the impact of human activity on the Earth while alleviating the unavoidable evils of human life. Yet the hubris which treats the Earth as an instrument of human purposes, and which regards other cultures as approximations to a universal civilization, embodies ancient and powerful traditions. John Gray's aim is to question these traditions and thereby to prepare our thinking for a time of beginnings. (shrink)
A great philosopher will change the way you think about your life. For most of human history, religion provided a clear explanation of life and death. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries new ideas -- from psychiatry to evolution to Communist -- seemed to suggest that our fate was now in our own hands. We would ourselves become God. This is the theme of a remarkable new book by one of the world's greatest lving philosophers. It is (...) a brilliant and frightening look at the problems and opportunities of a world coming to grips with humankind's now solitary, unaided place in the universe. Gray takes two major examples: the belief that the science-backed Communism of the new USSR could reshape the planet, and the belief among a group of Edwardian intellectuals -- popularized through mediums and automatic writing -- that there was a non-religious form of life after death. Gray presents an extraordinary cast of philosophers, journalists, politicians, charlatans and mass murderers, all of whom felt driven by a specifically scientific and modern world view. He raises a host of fascinating questions about what it means to be human. The implications of Gray's book will haunt its readers for the rest of their lives. (shrink)
Value-pluralism is commonly held to support liberal political morality. This is argued by John Rawls and his school and, more instructively, by Isaiah Berlin and Joseph Raz. Against this common view it is argued that a strong version of value-pluralism and liberalism are incompatible doctrines. Some varieties of ethical pluralism are distinguished, and the claim of value-incommensurability made by strong pluralism is elucidated. The argument that liberal political morality consists of principles of right that are unaffected by the truth of (...) strong pluralism is examined and rejected. Strong pluralism is understood as the view that some goods and bads are rationally incommensurable. It is argued that if strong value-pluralism is true, then liberal political morality cannot be defended. Neither negative liberty nor individual autonomy can have general priority if it is true that the central goods specified by liberal political morality are incommensurables. This difficulty is not avoided by liberal theories that do not demand the maximization of a single value such as liberty. If strong pluralism is true, then liberal institutions are not a standard of legitimacy by reference to which all regimes are to be assessed. They are merely one variety of modus vivendi . Liberal institutions have no universal legitimacy. Yet liberal cultures are partly constituted by a belief in the universal authority of the principles which inform their practices and institutions. This belief strong pluralism subverts. Value-pluralism and liberalism are rival doctrines. The political implication of strong pluralism is not liberalism but modus vivendi . Sometimes modus vivendi is best fostered by liberal institutions. Sometimes it is best fostered by non-liberal institutions. Where the latter is true, liberals and pluralists part company. (shrink)
Why is the human imagination to blame for the worst crimes of the twentieth century? Why is progress a pernicious myth? Why is contemporary atheism just a hangover from Christian faith? John Gray, author of Straw Dogsand Black Mass, is one of the most original and iconoclastic thinkers of our time. In this pugnacious and brilliantly readable collection of essays from across his career, he smashes through humanity's most cherished beliefs to overturn our view of the world, and our place (...) in it. 'If humans are different from other animals it is chiefly in being governed by myths, which are not creations of the will but creatures of the imagination.' 'No traditional myth is as untruthful as the modern myth of progress. All prevailing philosophies embody the fiction that human life can be altered at will. Better aim for the impossible, they say, than submit to fate. Invariably, the result is a cult of human self-assertion that soon ends in farce.'. (shrink)
In all of its varieties, traditional liberalism is a universalist political theory. Its content is a set of principles which prescribe the best regime, the ideally best institutions, for all mankind. It may be acknowledged — as it is, by a proto-liberal such as Spinoza — that the best regime can be attained only rarely, and cannot be expected to endure for long; and that the forms its central institutions will assume in different historical and cultural milieux may vary significantly. (...) It will then be accepted that the liberal regime's role in political thought is as a regulative ideal, which political practice can hope only to approximate, subject to all the vagaries and exigencies of circumstance. Nonetheless, the content of traditional liberalism is a system of principles which function as universal norms for the critical appraisal of human institutions. In this regard, traditional liberalism — the liberalism of Locke and Kant, for example — represents a continuation of classical political rationalism, as it is found in Aristotle and Aquinas, where it also issues in principles having the attribute of universality, in that they apply ideally to all human beings. (shrink)
In a series of important papers, G.A. Cohen has developed a forceful argument for the claim that workers are rendered unfree by capitalist institutions. His argument poses a powerful challenge to those who think that capitalist institutions best promote freedom. Yet, formidable as it is, Cohen's argument can be shown to be flawed at several crucial points. It is not one argument, but three at least, and one of the goals of my criticism of Cohen on this question is to (...) distinguish and assess the various separate lines of reasoning that together make up his case for the unfreedom under capitalism of workers as a class. Cohen argues of workers that they are rendered unfree by the institution of private property on which the capitalist system depends, that they suffer a form of collective unfreedom under capitalism, and that they are forced to sell their labor power under capitalism. (shrink)
Collected here in a single volume for the first time, On Liberty, Utilitarianism, Considerations on Representative Government, and The Subjection of Women show Mill applying his liberal utilitarian philosophy to a range of issues that remain vital today - issues of the nature of ethics, the scope and limits of individual liberty, the merits of and costs of democratic government, and the place of women in society. In his Introduction John Gray describes these essays as applications of Mill's doctrine of (...) the Art of Life, as set out in A System of Logic. Using the resources of recent revisionist scholarship, he shows Mill's work to be far richer and subtler than traditional interpretations allow. (shrink)
This volume brings together J.S. Mills On Liberty and a selection of important essays by such eminent scholars as Isaiah Berlin, Alan Ryan, John Rees, C.L. Ten and Richard Wollheim. As well as providing authoritative commentary upon On Liberty , the essays reflect a broader debate about the philosophical foundations of Mill's liberalism, particularly the question of the connection betweenMill's professed utilitarianism and his commitment to individual liberty. Introduced and edited by John Gray and G.W. Smith, the book will be (...) of interest to students of Mill, to ethical and political philosophers and to anyone interested in the contemporary status of liberalism. (shrink)
A TRADITIONAL VIEW OF UTILITY AND RIGHTS According to a conventional view, no project could be more hopelessly misconceived than the enterprise of attempting a utilitarian derivation of fundamental rights. We are all familiar – too familiar, perhaps – with the arguments that support this conventional view, but let us review them anyway. We may begin by recalling that, whereas the defining value of utilitarianism – pleasure, happiness or welfare – contains no mention of the dignity or autonomy of human (...) beings, it is this value which utilitarianism in all its standard forms invokes as the criterion of right action. Worse, insofar as utilitarian policy must have as its goal the maximization of welfare conceived as an aggregate summed over the utilities of everyone affected, legal and political utilitarianism seems bound to have a collectivist bias, trading on the dangerous fiction of a social entity and ignoring the distinctness of separate selves with their several incommensurable claims. It seems that, if individuals can appear in the utilitarian calculus at all, it will only be as ciphers, abstract place-holders for units of welfare. For, as an aggregative value, utility must be indifferent to distribution, and insensitive to the preeminently distributive considerations marked by claims about rights. So, if whatever has utility can be broken down into units or elements which are subject to measurement or at least comparison by a common standard, then it will always be possible that a very great loss of welfare for one man or a few men can be justified if it produces a great many small increments of welfare for a vast multitude of men. (shrink)
It is a commonplace of academic conventional wisdom that Marxian theory is not to be judged by the historical experience of actually existing socialist societies. The reasons given in support of this view are familiar enough, but let us rehearse them. Born in adversity, encircled by hostile powers, burdened with the necessity of defending themselves against foreign enemies and with the massive task of educating backward and reactionary populations, the revolutionary socialist governments of this century were each of them denied (...) any real opportunity to implement Marxian socialism in its authentic form. Nowhere has socialism come to power as Marx expected it would – on the back of the organized proletariat of an advanced capitalist society. For this reason, the historical experience of the past sixty years can have no final authority in the assessment of Marxian theory. The failings of Marxist regimes – their domination by bureaucratic elites, their economic crises, their repression of popular movements and of intellectual freedoms, and their dependency on imports of Western technology and capital – are all to be explained as historical contingencies which in no way threaten the validity of Marx's central conceptions. It is not that Marxian socialism has been tried and found wanting but, rather, that it has never been tried. (shrink)
Voor wie geen troost kan vinden in het al-te-menselijke, valt hoop te putten uit de natuur. Daarvan getuigt ook Thomas Hardy’s gedicht op de nachtegaal. Het dier is verminkt door mensen, maar het zingt nog altijd en bezorgt de mens levensvreugde.