November 25, 2007


What Price Utopia?: BLACK MASS: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia By John Gray (SCOTT McLEMEE, 11/26/07, NY Times Book Review)

[W]hatever its twists and turns, Gray’s thought has in fact been remarkably consistent, with his journalistic writings simply framing, in the most provocative possible way, theses that have accumulated in more sedate works like “Enlightenment’s Wake” (1995) and “Two Faces of Liberalism” (2000). His latest book, “Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia,” treats fundamentalist Islam and Western triumphalism as similar and related phenomena. This argument revisits themes Gray developed in “Straw Dogs,” a volume of pensées originally published in 2002 and now reissued in paperback by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

“‘Humanity’ does not exist,” he announced in “Straw Dogs.” “There are only humans, driven by conflicting needs and illusions, and subject to every kind of infirmity of will and judgment.” This may be the key to all of Gray’s thought, and it is no accident that he echoes Margaret Thatcher’s famous statement that there is no such thing as society. (As she put it, “there are individual men and women, and there are families” — but nothing else.) The irreducible plurality of human “needs and illusions,” Gray argues, means it is utopian to imagine that any single kind of political or social order could ever be good for everyone. “If there is such a thing as spontaneous social evolution,” he writes in “Black Mass,” “it produces institutions of many kinds.”

Alas, conservatives have completely lost track of this crucial point, at least by Gray’s lights, which is why “traditional conservatism ceased to exist” at some point over the last few decades. What has emerged instead is a faith that the marketplace and the values of liberal society are universal in principle, if not yet in geographical distribution. Resistance is futile. And if people in benighted lands resist anyway, the use of military power can force the pace of progress.

The likely (indeed almost inevitable) consequence of doing so would be a cruel parody of the norms being exported. “Illiberal democracy,” Gray writes, “rests on the belief that the common good is self-evident. Everyone who is not deluded or corrupt will support the same policies so there will be no need to protect personal freedom or the rights of minorities."

For instance, republican liberty fails to protect the right of pedophiles to rape children and of Salafists to murder unbelievers, oppressions that multiculturalism is incapable of defending, which is why it's evil and even secular Europe is rejecting it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 25, 2007 9:08 PM
Comments for this post are closed.