What the Editors Are Reading

I discovered only by accident a week ago a little book called Liberalism, by the English philosopher John Gray, published originally in 1986 and in its second edition in 1995.  For many reasons, I wish I’d known of it earlier, as I’m finding it useful in my continuing pursuit of liberalism—and of the nastier and more notorious members of the liberal species.  Having been commissioned as a single volume in an edited series called Concepts in Social Thought, it is much briefer and more narrowly academic than Kenneth Minogue’s classic on the same subject, published in the early 60’s, though still useful.  Gray discerns, among all the variants of the liberal tradition, four elements that are common to all of them: individualism, egalitarianism, universalism, and meliorism.  He lays special emphasis, in our time, on the last two.

Skipping forward to the Conclusion, added in 1994, I found what I was looking for in particular: an assessment of the future of liberalism in the 21st century.  Here Gray notes that, as liberalism is hegemonic in no society (he is writing in 1994, remember), but rather is partially constrained by the survival of traditional political elements cheek by jowl with it, not even Western liberal cultures can be assured of continuous self-renewal in future.  Nearly 25 years later, the Western world has...

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