This is one for Don Arthur, maybe you can help to work out where John Gray is coming from these days and what happened since the time he was a fan of Thatcherism and the New Right. Somewhere along the road he decided that he could no longer support liberalism because it provided no rational grounds for its fundamental principles.
This raises a number of questions, like, what kind of liberal was he and where did he go from there?
Tracking his major publications.
1983 Mill on Liberty
1984 Hayek on Liberty
1995 Liberalism, Second edition
1995 Isiah Berlin
1995 Enlightenment’s Wake
1998 On Liberty and other essays
1998 False Dawn: the delusions of global capitalism
2000 Two Faces of Liberalism
2002 Straw Dogs
2007 Black Mass
“An advocate for the New Right in the 1980s, and then of New Labour in the 1990s, Gray now sees the conventional (left-wing/right-wing) political spectrum of conservatism and social democracy as no longer viable.”
“Gray has perhaps become best known for his work, since the 1990s, on the uneasy relationship between the value-pluralism and liberalism Isiah Berlin, which has ignited considerable controversy, and for his strong criticism of neoliberalism and of the global free market. More recently, he has criticised some of the central currents in Western thinking, such as humanism, and has tended towards Green thought. He has drawn from the “Gaia theory” of James Lovelock, among others, but he is very pessimistic about human behaviour changing to prevent environmental decay, and he predicts that the 21st century will be full of wars as natural resources become increasingly scarce.”
As for his criticism of humanism, the book “Straw Dogs” is a real dog, at least according to this Amazon review!
Clearly a crucial period in Gray’s development occurred between the first and second editions of his small book on Liberalism (between 1986 and 1995). The Gray of 1986 was a friend of Thatcherism and free markets, with an excellent book on Hayek under his belt. The second edition has the original text intact between a new Preface and a Conclusion which announced Gray’s change of ground.
“I now think that the search for foundations for liberal practice is both futile and unnecessary…” Well I agree with that, but it does not constitute a reason for giving up on liberalism, at least the minimum state liberalism which I consider to be robust.
“Two Faces of Liberalism” proposes a doctrine that he calls “modus vivendi” where different ways of life can co-exist in a framework that permits different conceptions of the good life to be lived without making war on each other. I could have sworn that was classical liberalism!