Sunday, June 24, 2007

What's a must-read ?

... well, it isn't necessarily something that one agrees with. I think of it as something that is, first and foremost, thought-provoking, by virtue of its clear and exgaging exposition - whether one agrees with it or not. A case in point is Bryan's excellent piece about John Gray. To begin with, it makes you want to read Gray's new book, and it makes plain that Gray is someone worth knowing, not just as a writer, but as a person. Still, I found myself wondering about some of what was said. Some examples:

"True liberalism is, therefore, necessarily a tragic view, sceptical of all notions of progress."
I think this is a pessimistic view, not a tragic one. Tragedy involves the resolution of discord, not its triumph - its exemplar is Oedipus at Colonus, not Oedipus at Thebes.

"He believes in the liberal state, and believes it is worth defending, but does not do so with empty optimism or with any belief that it should attempt to impose its ways on others." Why is it worth defending? Because it is true, perhaps? And the contrary is perhaps false? Exactly what does opposition to, say, communism mean if it does not involve the substitution - not imposition - of liberal values in place of its brutal absence of values?

"Gray transforms Berlin’s basic insight into a refutation of all notions of progress or perfection and of the special destiny of humanity."

Progress and perfection are not the same. I can improve steadily without coming anywhere near to perfection. To suggest there has been no progress in human affairs is nonsense. No one will be drawn and quartered at Tyburn this week, Professor Gray. None of which is to suggest that utopianism - the quest for some sort of perfectly rational social arrangement - isn't a fool's errand.

I would also suggest that Montaigne's skepticism is of a part with his genuine religious faith.


  1. Frank, there are Tyburn Docks all over the world. The fact that there doesn't happen to be one at Tyburn at the moment is my good fortune - I live near there.

  2. But Bryan, you must agree that is progress, right?