Saturday, September 5, 2009

Gray’s Anatomy: Selected Writings

John Gray has many works on ‘liberalism’ in general and on F A Hayek in particular. In fact he authored a book “Hayek on Liberty. In his own words on Hayek (Daniel B. Klein article):

  • [W]e find in Hayek a restatement of classical liberalism in which it is purified of errors -- specifically, the errors of abstract individualism and uncritical rationalism -- which inform the work of even the greatest of the classical liberals and which Hayek has been able to correct by absorbing some of the deepest insights of conservative philosophy. (1984, viii).

However, Gray has his one flaw in understanding of Hayek’s ideas which is altogether different matter here.

In today’s Business Standard V V reviews a new book “Gray’s Anatomy: Selected Writings it is John Gray’s “collection of critical essays on the contemporary world of ideas that demolishes the dogmas of secular liberalism, expose the inherent weaknesses of crony capitalism, and reiterate the limits to energy-driven economic growth.”

Excerpts from the review:

  • Gray’s main thrust is to highlight the shallow philosophical foundations of the whole western model about progress and the perfectibility of man on which it is founded. There is a crooked timber of humanity, which always asserts itself at the turning points of history. According to him it is the whole concept of liberalism which is interpreted as ‘live and let-live’ but which allows much jiggery-pokery to get by that is responsible for the imperfections of the world. (Saul Alinsky (1909-72), described as the father of American radicalism, defined a liberal as someone who would leave the room the moment the argument was about to turn into a fight. Gray would rather have a liberal who would go into the room and fight all the muck that is being thrown around.)
  • The first part which opens with “Modus Vivendi”—working out an arrangement between competing interests—sets the tone for the entire book. Liberalism, Gray explains, always had two faces. From one side, toleration is taken as the ideal form of life; from the other, it is the search for the terms of peace among different ways of life. In the first view, liberalism is seen as the application of universal principles; in the second they are the means for peaceful coexistence.
  • The strongest case for liberalism is that it is the only solution to the modern problem of pluralism. All societies are mixed, and get much more with mass migration and globalisation. But quite apart from that, even Hinduism recognises different duties in different stations and stages of life. Without liberalism, we would simply fall apart. But, again and again, Gray attacks people he describes as “neo-liberals” without defining who these people are and what they stand for.
  • Gray says, “The ethical theory underpinning modus vivendi is value pluralism. The most fundamental value-pluralist claim is that there are many conflicting kinds of human flourishing, some of which cannot be compared in value. Among the many kinds of good lives that human beings can live there are some that are neither better nor worse than one another, not the same in worth, but incommensurably—that is to say, differently—valuable. Even so, there may be good reasons for preferring some incommensurable goods over others.”

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