A sententious divide: Erasing the two faces of liberalism

Philosophy and Social Criticism 36 (8):953-980 (2010)
Abstract
The political philosopher John Gray is a foremost critic of the liberal tradition. But while many have engaged with Gray concerning aspects of this tradition, few have challenged Gray’s conception of the tradition as a whole. Yet it is precisely this broader, background element in Gray’s account that is most problematic and that requires excavation if we are to reveal the deeper shortcomings of his critique as a whole. This article challenges Gray’s claim, made in 2000, that the liberal tradition is capable of being understood in terms of two faces — one representing the ‘universalist’ aspects of that tradition and the other representing the more pragmatic, value-pluralist, modus vivendi aspects. By focusing on Gray’s erroneous interpretation of the key universalist figure of John Locke, we see how his dichotomous account of the liberal tradition collapses at both ends. The article then looks at Gray’s most recent defence of his critique of liberalism, in 2007, and shows how many of the errors that characterize his 2000 account are compounded in 2007 as Gray seeks to build on his earlier position in contradictory directions. In all these ways therefore, this article seeks to defend the integrity of the liberal tradition by showing how Gray’s excoriating critique falls short
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