Philosophical Slut

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John Gray, the former Hayek booster turned deep ecologist, is back with two new books that are reviewed in The Nation. From Danny Postel's review, which discusses the long and winding road Gray has traveled:

It could have something to do with what his old friend Norman Barry calls Gray's "philosophical promiscuity." Barry, a fellow traveler of Gray's from the Thatcher years, told Lingua Franca magazine in 2001 that even in his days as an anarcho-capitalist, Gray "was always flitting from person to person, philosopher to philosopher…. He couldn't form a steady relationship with any thinker."

This is a long and complicated review, but worth a read in full. After running through Gray's embrace of many left-wing themes (especially extreme environmentalism and insistence on cultural and political "difference"), Postel eventually condemns Gray in the harshest terms available to a Nation scribe: "As far as he has traveled, and as frequently as he has changed lanes, he's still conservative after all these years." In a move that's all too rare among leftys these days, Postel eschews cultural relativism and indentity politics and sticks up for Enlightenment-dervied notions of "universalism" (alas, what that means is all in the details).

Link via Arts & Letters Daily

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  1. The problem with universalism is that tends not be able to deal with localism and regionalism; well, that and its arrogant and ignores the nightmares it creates. Or course this was the problem with Marxist universalism as well.

  2. Universalism necessarily creates nightmares?

  3. any system that inherantly places fulfillment/salvation/enlightenment etc… in the future – and thereby reducing “the now” (reality) to a mere means to the end that is that future is essentially already a nightmare – a complete fabrication of the mind.

  4. Well, that works if action didn’t take time…

  5. Is the judgment that universalism is arrogant universally valid?

    Kidding aside, the tragic thing about Gray is that his book on Hayek really was fantastic.

  6. The universalism of the Englightenment sanctioned all sorts of monstrosities. What’s particularly funny is that its application actually undermined Enlightenment values.

  7. May I endorse Julian Sanchez’s comment above. Yep, Gray on Hayek was very good, and he was also very good in a pamphlet he wrote for the Institute of Economic Affairs on the case for limited govt, penned around 1990. For the last decade though, he seems to have gone down the statist path with increasing abandon.

    If there is a consistent thread here, it is Gray’s pessimism. Even when he was part of the libertarian intellectual parish, he was a gloomy fellow, scornful of natural rights libertarians like Rand or Rothbard.

    A shame, but even in his most annoying moments, Gray remains worth reading, if only as a way of increasing low blood pressure.

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