The End of Liberalism – John Gray

Posted on July 15, 2010 by

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The End of Liberalism

Excerpt from “Liberalism” by John Gray

As the political theory of modernity, liberalism is ill-equipped to address the dilemmas of the postmodern period. Liberalism was the political theory of the modern age, partly because it was a response to circumstances of diversity in world-views that arose in the early modern period with the Reformation and the Wars of Religion, and partly because it was a version of the animating project of modernity, which was the Enlightenment project – ‘the project’ as Alasdair MacIntyre summarizes it ‘of an independent rational justification of morality’.

The diversity of world-views, which gave rise to the liberal project in early modern times, has not diminished and is with us now; but the Enlightenment project which informed and sustained liberalism is now a dead letter. It lingers on in academic debates about realism in ethics and in the philosophy of science but – except in the United States, where along with an equally atavistic Christianity it continues to pervade the public culture – the Enlightenment project is no longer a living force in contemporary culture.

Within philosophy, the project of rationally reconstructing morality – whether on utilitarian, contractarian or rights-based foundations – is virtually extinct; and, if there remain philosophers wedded to that Enlightenment project, they are few and unimportant in the larger scheme of things, since philosophy itself is not a culturally marginal activity. The intellectual foundations of the Enlightenment project have fallen away; but liberal theory, for the most part, proceeds as if nothing has happened.”

(p 85 of “Liberalism” by John Gray)

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