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John N. Gray


British political philosopher and author.
John N. Gray
The repression of liberty that took place in the countries in which Communist regimes were established cannot be adequately explained as a product of backwardness, or of errors in the application of Marxian theory. It was the result of a resolute attempt to realize an Enlightenment utopia - a condition of society in which no serious form of conflict any longer exists.
Gray quotes
The idea of a law of progress, or of an all but irresistible tendency to general improvement, is then merely a superstition, one of the tents of the modernist pseudo-religion of humanism. Even if such a law or tendency existed and were demonstrable, the liberal faith in progress would for Santayana be pernicious. For it leads to a corrupt habit of mind in which things are valued, not for their present excellence or perfection, but instrumentally, as leading to something better; and it insinuates into thought and feeling a sort of historical theodicy, in which past evil is justified as a means to present or future good. The idea of progress embodies a kind of time-worship (to adopt an expression used by Wyndham Lewis) in which the particularities of our world are seen and valued, not in themselves, but for what they might perhaps become, thereby leaving us destitute of the sense of the present and, at the same time, of the perspective of eternity.
Gray
The needs that are met by tyrants are as real as those to which freedom answers; sometimes they are more urgent. Tyrants promise security - and release from the tedium of everyday existence. To be sure, this is only a confused fantasy. The drab truth of tyranny is a life spent in waiting. But the perennial romance of tyranny comes from its promising its subjects a life more interesting than any they can contrive for themselves.




Gray John N. quotes
The mass political movements of the 20th century were vehicles for myths inherited from religion, and it is no accident that religion is reviving now that these movements have collapsed.
Gray John N.
We cannot be rid of illusions. Illusion is our natural condition. Why not accept it?
John N. Gray quotes
Moral philosophy is very largely a branch of fiction. Despite this, a philosopher has yet to write a great novel. The fact should not be surprising. In philosophy the truth about human life is of no interest.
John N. Gray
Throughout the years in which the US was punishing countries that departed from fiscal prudence, it was borrowing on a colossal scale to finance tax cuts and fund its over-stretched military commitments. Now, with federal finances critically dependent on continuing large inflows of foreign capital, it will be the countries that spurned the American model of capitalism that will shape America's economic future.
Gray John N. quotes
Today everyone knows that inequality is wrong. A century ago everyone knew that gay sex was wrong. The intuitions people have on moral questions are intensely felt. They are also shallow and transient to the last degree.... Justice is an artefact of custom. Where customs are unsettled its dictates soon become dated. Ideas of justice are as timeless as fashion in hats.
Gray
Even the deepest contemplation only recalls us to our unreality. Seeing that the self we take ourselves to be is illusory does not mean seeing through it to something else. It is more like surrendering to a dream. To see ourselves as figments is to awake, not to reality, but to a lucid dream, a false awakening that has no end.
Gray John N.
Atheists say they want a secular world, but a world defined by the absence of the Christians' god is still a Christian world. Secularism is like chastity, a condition defined by what it denies.
John N. Gray
When closed societies collapse but fail to make the transition to openness the reason need not be that they languish in anarchy or suffer a return to dictatorship. It may be that they adopt an illiberal form of democracy. Along with the liberal democratic tradition that goes back to Locke and the English civil war there is a tradition, originating in the French Revolution and formulated theoretically by Rousseau, which understands democracy as the expression of popular will. The elective theocracy that is emerging in much of post-Saddam Iraq is a democratic polity in the latter sense, as is the current regime in Iran; so is the Hamas government in Palestine... To be sure, these regimes often lack freedom of information and expression and legal limitations on government power, which are essential features of democracy in the liberal tradition. In these respects they are closed societies, but they are not dictatorships. It is often forgotten that democracy, defined chiefly by elections and the exercise of power in the name of the majority, can be as repressive of individual freedom and minority rights as dictatorship - sometimes more so.




John N. Gray quotes
The belief that torture is always wrong is a prejudice inherited from an obsolete philosophy. We need to shed the belief that human rights are violated when a terrorist is tortured. As Rawls and others have shown, basic freedoms must form a coherent whole. Self-evidently, there can be no right to attack basic human rights. Therefore, once the proper legal procedures are in place, torturing terrorists cannot violate their rights. In fact, in a truly liberal society, terrorists have an inalienable right to be tortured.
John N. Gray
A 'postmodern' organisation serving 'premodern' values, Al Qaeda has planted a question mark over the very idea of what it means to be modern.
Gray quotes
Like other human freedoms, the freedoms embodied in market institutions are justified inasmuch as they meet human needs. Insofar as they fail to do this they can reasonably be altered. This is true not only of the rights that are involved in market institutions. It is true of all human rights.
Gray John N.
...the idea of Gaia is anticipated most clearly in a line from the Tao Te Ching, the oldest Taoist scripture. In ancient Chinese rituals, straw dogs were used as offerings to the gods. During the ritual they were treated with the utmost reverence. When it was over and they were no longer needed they were trampled on and tossed aside: 'Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs.' If humans disturb the balance of the Earth they will be trampled on and tossed aside. Critics of the Gaia theory say they reject it because it is unscientific. The truth is that they fear and hate it because it means that humans can never be other than straw dogs.
Gray John N. quotes
The whole world is in some ways better than it's ever been in the past. And, indeed, I think for many people the meaning of their lives really depends on that belief. If you strip out that belief in progress, if you start thinking of the world in the way in which the ancient pre-Christian Europeans did, or the Buddhists and the Hindus or the Taoists of China do, many people think that's a kind of despair. I don't know how many times I've been told "If I thought that, John, I wouldn't get up in the morning" and "If I agreed with you, John, that history had no pattern of that kind, I wouldn't get up in the morning." I said, "Well, stay in bed a bit longer, you might find a better reason for getting up."
John N. Gray
The belief in unity that has fuelled so many utopian dreams is an effort to reconcile the irreconcilable that ends in repression. Berlin suggests we renounce this venerable faith, and learn how to live with intractable conflict.
John N. Gray quotes
The truth that Dostoevsky puts in the mouth of the Grand Inquisitor is that humankind has never sought freedom, and never will. The secular religions of modern times tell us that humans yearn to be free; and it is true that they find restraint of any kind irksome. Yet it is rare that individuals value their freedom more than the comfort that comes with servility, and rarer still for whole peoples to do so.
John N. Gray
Ridden with conflicts and lacking the industrial base of communism and nazism, Islamism is nowhere near a danger of the magnitude of those that were faced down in the 20th century.
Gray John N.
While the Marxist faith in central planning is now confined to a few dingy sects, a quasi-religious belief in free markets continues to shape the policies of governments.


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