Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Piss Off And Die Already
Long-term readers may recall my absolute loathing for John Gray, slanderer extraordinaire (see here and here, for example). I have recently had the misfortune to come across his handiwork again, in the Postscript to his actually pretty good book on Mill's On Liberty. I think the Mill book must have been his DPhil, and it shows; nothing else I've read by him displays anything like the level of rigour or charity to opponents, and of course none of the other things I've read by him was required to pass muster amongst a group of actual philosophers. The Postscript was added thirteen years later, and it shows. The first three or so pages, which is as far as I got before giving up in utter disgust, contained two basic claims: that, because Mill's liberalism was based on a theory of history as progress, all liberalism must be based on a theory of history as progress, and that no contemporary liberalism is based on a theory of history as progress. Now, the first claim is transparently unjustified; although everyone should hate John Gray, it is not because I hate John Gray, but because he masquerades as a respectable participant in debates in political theory when in fact he is the epitome of gratuitous misreading and misrepresentation in the service of the dubious kinds of political ends whose achievement rests on such lies. This shows that we should do x when there are good reasons for doing x, not because some other person does x: they, after all, may lack good reasons for doing x. The second claim is equally mendacious. Rawls, whom Gray mentions, does have a theory of history; it's the foundation of his theory of stability and in particular of the overlapping consensus. John Gray is only 59. It's a pity.